Sure, the pandemic may have started off with Netflix and banana bread, but it didn't take long for it to turn into the horror show we all know and despise.
In the course of the year and a half, we have had to face challenges beyond our capacity–stress, trauma, work-from-home woes, on top of the looming fear of an ever mutating virus.
And our bodies have borne the brunt of it all.
So after everything that we've been through – all the resets, readjustments and purges we've had – and most importantly, after everything our bodies have been put through, you would think we would come out of the pandemic with a more positive attitude towards our bodies, right?
Turns out, not much has changed.
With lockdowns lifting in phases around the world and social life restoring back to normal in many countries, the long-buried insecurities have come knocking back.
A quick Google search of the words 'pandemic weight' will show you results upon results of how people (read, women) have gained weight during the pandemic, and how much weight they have gained.
So much so that there's even a new term for it–'quarantine 15', referring to emerging from the pandemic having gained 15 more pounds (approx. 7 Kgs).
People are reporting higher levels of self consciousness, body image issues, and the pressure to lose that 'pandemic weight' is ever present.
Close on the heel of these articles is the wellness industry with solutions on how to 'fix' the problem.
The Lockdown Was Not a Cocoon, and You're Not a Moth
Actor Will Smith can perhaps be credited with making the phrase 'pandemic weight' a thing when he posted a picture of himself with the caption, 'I’m gonna be real wit y'all - I’m in the worst shape of my life.'
But, what could have been a strong message of self-acceptance, breaking the shackles of ideal beauty standards was quickly undone when he soon followed it up a few days later with a gym montage that ended with a body 'transformation'.
For those of us who aren't Hollywood superstar Will Smith with a private gym, personal trainer and a job that pays you to stay in 'shape', this video is less inspirational and more aspirational.
This is not to invalidate his experiences and struggles, but simply to put it into perspective.
The pandemic for most of us has looked more like this – cooped up in overcrowded homes, working desk jobs, contorting our spines in ways that it definitely shouldn't be, stressing about work or the lack thereof, life and the lack thereof, stress eating, stressing about eating.
So, no, the pandemic has not been a sabbatical.
To expect yourself to emerge out of lockdown cocoon having transformed into a butterfly is both unrealistic, and downright cruel.
It's okay if you've piled on a few kilos in the pandemic, or even lost a few for that matter. It's okay if you're paler, have been losing hair, have dark circles, and generally worse for wear. You're surviving a global pandemic!
Re-Entering the World: Coping With Self-consciousness
Now with things going back to 'normal'–albeit in waves and phases– we are once again forced to adapt.
For those of us who were self conscious to begin with, the isolation away from potentially judgmental gazes was almost welcome.
After all, with Zoom and social media, you are more in control of how much you want to show of yourself.
For people struggling with low self esteem and body image issues, re-entry into the world and showing yourself outside of little windows of pixels can be challenging.
But the key, according to Dr Ruksheda Syeda, a psychotherapist in Mumbai, is to take it in strides.
People will look at you, and it's okay
"When we're meeting people after such a long time, people are going to consciously or unconsciously check each other out," she says.
"Even though we've been meeting each other on zoom every day, but when we are meeting in person, we're going to look each other up and down, not because we want to assess them, but it's more about connecting again, at a physical level, even visually."Dr Ruksheda Syeda, psychotherapist
She goes on to talk about how this can be triggering to people who already have insecurities, are self-conscious or have a tendency to negatively compare themselves to others. But it's important to remind yourself that it doesn't come from a place of malice.
"Acceptance is something that we all need to really, really strive for and struggle for."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
"And when we are willing to accept other people, for who they are and see the beauty within and without them, we should do the same for ourselves," she adds.
Consent goes beyond physical touch
Check your language and that of others around you, says Dr Ruksheda.
"If I don't give you consent to joke about my body, don't do it," she adds.
"When re-entering social life, it will happen with friends and family where people think that they're being affectionate by calling each other names. But know if you have consent to joke about something, especially someone's physical appearance, because the other person might not be okay with it."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
"If you find somebody else not being empathetic, just remind them as well," she adds.
What is Positive Body Image?
"A lot of the times people think positive body image is promoting unhealthiness, but that's not what it is," says Dr Ruksheda.
Body positivity is in fact about accepting your body for what it is, and knowing that your self worth is not derived from how you look.
"Positive body image actually means you look at your body from both approaches– functional and aesthetic–and if you feel that you need to take care of your body in a certain manner, you want to work towards it," she adds.
"It's always important for us to remember and keep reminding ourselves, if we're not looking for perfection, we're actually looking for very realistic standards."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
Motivation should come from a positive place
It's important to look at your health in a sustainable manner, advice Dr Syeda.
When you do, "then the fear and the anxiety and the negativity towards this is lesser." she adds.
"The aim should be good health and the motivation should always come from a positive place and not from a negative place because that's what is going to then translate into success."Dr Ruksheda Syeda
Although It's far from over, in some ways, the pandemic has presented us with a reset button, and the mindset we choose to carry forward as we re-enter the world is entirely up to us.
Your body is more than an aesthetic accessory and health is more than how you look–the pandemic has taught us that.
So let's make a conscious decision to leave the toxic 'diet culture', unrealistic beauty standards, weight stigma, and narrow definitions of 'health' and 'wellness' as being skinny, back in the pre-pandemic world.