It started within minutes of Boris Johnsons’ announcement last week in which he shared a roadmap for easing out of lockdown. People on Twitter, memes on Instagram and WhatsApp group chats were all alight with the news: there were four months to get ready to exit lockdown.
I don’t mean biologically ready, with a flurry of people attempting to book in their vaccines so they could mingle non-contagiously. I don’t even mean mentally ready, to prepare for the anxiety of dealing with being in public again, touching friends you had been too scared to even brush shoulders with over a year. I mean physically ready, with people discussing the fact that they needed to unveil a post-lockdown body that they can be ‘proud’ of.
“My predictions about this were correct,” sighs Tally Rye, a fitness trainer focusing on health first and intuitive exercise from the Strong Women Collective. “There’s going to be a huge pressure starting from now on people to get their ‘pre-pandemic body back’.”
Of course, the ‘summer body’ narrative is not new. But this year the pressure feels more extreme, perhaps because people are conscious of the fact that they’ve been moving less than in previous years, or because it’s been so long since people saw what we looked like. That combination has made many feel unnecessarily guilty about how they’ve acted or how their bodies have changed this year. It’s almost as though we’ve forgotten that we’ve been living through a pandemic.
“I think there’s an awful lot of fear and shame being felt by people who haven’t seen their family and friends in the past year, but whose bodies may have changed. They’re terrified of seeing people who they think may make comments or judge them in some way,” says Tally.
Memes about only eating ice for breakfast, lunch and dinner until June have been doing the rounds. People have been thanking the government for the extended notice so they have time to get ‘hot’ before lift starts again. Maybe it’s intended as a joke, but “during this past year we’ve seen a rise in more disordered eating behaviours, which makes people extra vulnerable to these things,” reminds Tally.
Not to mention that making weight loss jokes taps into the wider problem of fatphobia. “The idea is that this is ‘hot girl summer’, and in order to be ‘hot’ you need to be the smallest, leanest, most toned version of yourself,” says Tally.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look and feel great. After a year of wearing practical clothing and attempting to nurse split ends back together, you can bet that I will be in a non-elasticated waist band and a good slick of mascara all summer long.
“There’s an excitement to feeling glamorous again, but you have to ask yourself about the risk to reward of what you’re doing to feel good in your post-lockdown body,” agrees Tally. While you’re not putting yourself in danger by wearing a cracking dress that you wouldn’t wear when locked up at home, you could be causing your body and health damage by going on a diet or attempting intense workouts every day. Plus, it can put your mental health severely at risk, and verge into disordered behaviour.
It’s all well and good reminding you that you don’t have to lose weight before the pubs open, but how do you actually rid yourself of the pressure to lose weight? Tally shares four tips to overcome it:
Stick to your workout routine
You know that working out makes you feel good, so keep up whatever you’ve been doing to help you through lockdown rather than changing tact to focus on weight loss. “I’m going to focus on getting my fitness levels back because I will be going back to teaching spin classes when the gyms reopen,” says Tally. “I’m so excited to be back on the bike because it’s my favourite thing to do, and I can use that as a motivating fitness goal.”
Personally, I want to focus on maintaining my training right now because I know that, come June, I will probably have less time for exercise. These next few months are going to be about supporting my body and mind before chaos (hopefully) ensues.
Disengage where possible
Unfollow, mute or restrict content that you find triggering, but remember that the pressure can be less intrusive, too. “Blatantly saying things about weight loss isn’t that cool anymore, so things may be a bit more subtle or ‘wellnessy’,” says Tally. “Don’t believe in transformation challenges or programmes that sell you a body type.”
This is easier said than done, we know. “But if you do have friends and family who are telling you that they’re going to be doing XYZ until June, you can say to them ‘you do what you want to do, but please don’t talk to me about it,” says Tally.
It gets harder when June comes around and people make comments about your, or other people’s, body. “Some people’s family can be brutal, but remind them that you’re happy, you’re well, and you’ve spend the past year doing what’s right for you.”
The announcement of life returning to normal should have left you feeling excited about the future, not ashamed of yourself. Picture yourself sitting in a pub garden cradling a slightly watery gin and tonic with late evening sunshine on your back and friends sat close enough to feel their arm against yours. Or imagine being around your family dinner table, in close proximity to people you love. Does your body matter in any of those scenarios?
“You’ve come out the other side of this healthy and well, and that should be your number one priority,” says Tally. After all, if the worst thing that has happened to you this year is that your body or fitness levels have changed, you’ve probably had it pretty lucky.