Those Quarantine 15 Jokes Show How Fat Phobic We Really Are
These memes reinforce the troubling narrative that gaining weight during a pandemic is almost as terrifying as the virus itself.
On March 20, I was stress-scrolling through Twitter when a tweet from award-winning filmmaker and director Taika Waititi came across my feed. "Now is the perfect opportunity to get motivated, workout, and come out of this absolutely shredded. Sadly we're human and will probably come out of it looking like the people from Wall-E," it read. I stopped, feeling every word like a punch, especially coming from a person whose work I had long admired.
This wasn’t the first time — nor will it be the last — that someone famous has tweeted something fatphobic. In fact, body shaming is thriving online since we’ve been forced into social isolation due to the coronavirus pandemic. Next to the targeted ads hawking the next best weight-loss plan, there are countless tweets, like "quarantine 15 is the new freshman 15" and "Y’all can call it a quarantine but I'm calling it a 2-week extreme weight loss boot camp."
Then, there are the terrible memes, like the fat-shaming before-and-after-COVID-19 Barbie (surprise, surprise the “after” Barbie is overweight). Everywhere I scroll, people are either sharing their latest livestream workout or posting about making comfort foods like homemade pasta or some type of bread, and although there are psychosocial benefits to both of these, there’s almost always guaranteed to be a caption about burning those cals or the associated weight gain of tucking into a plate of bolognese.
Even in the middle of an international health crisis, as the economy teeters on the edge of a recession, and one in eight households across the country can’t afford groceries, diet culture has found a way to remind us that being fat or gaining weight is bad and losing weight is good — and quite frankly, I’m tired of it. For all the growing discussions about body positivity in recent years thanks to women like models Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser, yogi Jessamyn Stanley, Lizzo, and more, COVID-19 has proven that society still values certain bodies over others.
Even in the middle of an international health crisis, diet culture has found a way to remind us that being fat or gaining weight is bad and losing weight is good.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: Amanda, some of these are funny! People use humour to cope with their discomfort and fears during a crisis. Listen, I get it; I do it too. But ultimately these jokes reinforce the mentality that gaining weight during a pandemic is almost as terrifying as the virus itself. Poking fun at marginalized bodies is anything but hilarious; it’s harmful. Quips like “Looking for the quarantine snacks I just bought knowing damn well I already ate them all” are rooted in the (inaccurate and unfair) stereotype that overweight people can’t control themselves around food (that we’re lazy or lacking willpower).
These memes can also be triggering for people with a history of eating disorders where changes in eating habits can set off disordered eating. For some, it's about food deprivation (not knowing if the foods they rely on will be available at stores). For others, the increased access to certain foods, say if you're stockpiling groceries for two weeks as recommended, can cause anxiety and stress. Those in recovery may also simply find themselves being unsettled by the lack of control of our current circumstances and resort to disordering eating to self-soothe. Keep in mind that 1-million Canadians have eating disorders, with young Canadians between the ages of 10 and 14 increasingly dieting. (That most of this fatphobic messaging is being shared on social media where teens are spend most of their free time, even more so now that they’re housebound, is especially worrying.)
Social-distancing only exacerbates those feelings — eating disorders thrive in isolation. Loneliness, according to studies, can also stir up negative emotions and patterns. Even as someone who is usually fairly body confident, without proper access to my regular support systems, including friends, chosen family, support groups, and therapy, has brought out some of the worst body days I’ve had in some time. I’ve had more time to examine the small things I don’t like about my body in the mirror.
Instead of focusing on weight and bodies and demonizing specific foods and eating habits, let’s change the conversation to focus on things that matter: how can we help at-risk Canadians get access to the food they need, how can we provide people with the masks they need to stay safe, and finally, how can we equip the country with proper mental-health resources to get through the next weeks and months. And, if you want to share a photo of your killer bolognese, go for it. Just keep your carb-phobic comments to yourself.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder and are in need of support, please call the National Eating Disorder Information Centre hotline at 1-866-633-4220.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the Public Health Agency of Canada website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources