Gaining weight can be a challenging experience at any time of the year. But during a global pandemic? Even more so. But contrary to popular belief, the New Year doesn’t have to mean a totally new you. Instead of jumping straight into crash dieting or intermittent fasting, by working to accept and appreciate your new body, you can — in time — learn to love it again.
I have always admired plus-size women. I identify more with Ashley Graham than Gigi Hadid because I have never had the naturally slim build I spent most of my teenage years wanting. I had always firmly believed that any shape and size is beautiful… as long as it’s on other people. There is a big difference between enthusiastically supporting the narrative of body confidence from the sidelines and suddenly being plucked out of the audience and thrust onto the stage yourself.
Body image has been a difficult topic for me since I can remember, but one easy to brush under the carpet under normal circumstances. The pandemic put a stop to that when — like many others — I suddenly lost any sense of structure in my life. Gym three times a week turned into comfort eating, lie-ins and becoming officially ‘plus-size’ for the first time in my life.
“There is a big difference between enthusiastically supporting the narrative of body confidence from the sidelines and suddenly being plucked out of the audience and thrust onto the stage yourself.”
For years I have been creeping slowly up the sizing chart. UK size 12 jeans were quickly replaced by size 14s in my late teens. Pandemic weight gain meant that the size 16 trousers I only wore on my “bloated days” suddenly became my everyday option. But when they became tight a few months later I soon found myself in front of the plus-size rack, utterly devastated.
I am not alone in this. A survey by King’s College London and Ipsos MORI of 2,254 people from early in the first UK lockdown found that weight gain had been a common side effect of pandemic life. 48% of the respondents reported that they had put on weight during lockdown as a result of lifestyle changes.
It can be hard to know where to start when trying to come to terms with sudden or significant changes to your body. Here are a few suggestions to get you on your way to becoming body confident.
Dismantle your social media echo chambers
If you’ve watched Netflix’s 2020 docudrama The Social Dilemma then you’ll know how easy it is for algorithms to warp our social media feeds. To put it simply, if you often watch funny cat videos, you will get more cat videos suggested to you because that’s what the algorithm thinks you want to see. The same applies to bodies. If you like, comment on or even just linger over photos of slim influencers on Instagram, you will soon realise you’re only seeing slim influencers.
To break the cycle, diversify your feed and find some new mid or plus-size accounts to follow. The more diverse your feed, the more balanced view of the world you’re seeing. In turn, you will start to see bodies like your own represented on social media. Some recommendations for some feel-good body positive accounts to get you started are: Megan Jayne Crabbe, Saam Gatsheni, and Allison Kimmey.
Be honest with yourself
This sounds obvious, but one of the hardest things to come to terms with when dealing with unwanted weight gain is being honest with yourself about what size you are… and actually buying that size. No one else will see — or care — what size you’re wearing, so don’t make yourself unnecessarily uncomfortable just to avoid buying the next size up.
It also helps to find some brands you like that offer a wide range of sizes. Whilst you’d be hard-pressed to find many desirable options beyond a size 14 in Zara or H&M, online retailers often have much more choice available. PrettyLittleThing brought out their first plus-specific collection in 2020, and other brands have made similar pledges to become more accessible for women of every shape and size.
Get comfortable with being naked
When you put on unwanted weight, seeing your naked body any more than necessary is often the last thing you want. But this can be one of the best ways to learn to accept and appreciate your body again. We become so fixated on ‘problem areas’ like love handles and cellulite that we ignore the things we actually like about our bodies. Focus on at least one part you like and the other parts will slowly start to bother you less.
If you aren’t quite ready to stare at yourself naked, put on your favourite lingerie and take some photos of yourself wearing it. Get into the habit of wearing lingerie for yourself. It feels empowering, and is designed to make you feel sexy. No-brainer!
Put it into perspective
Give yourself a break! 2020 was… a lot. If nothing else works, try and remember that there are much worse things going on in the world at the moment. Putting on a bit of weight really doesn’t matter in the scheme of things. As long as you are healthy and happy, try not to put too much pressure on yourself to drop the weight quickly. And if you do want to lose weight, make sure you do so in a safe way. Stay clear of influencer-endorsed crash diets!
Above all, always remember that you are not a ‘before’ picture. You are just as beautiful and valid as a girl three sizes smaller or four sizes bigger than you. Size does not define worth.
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