The Dangerous Pressure To Have A Lockdown Glow-Up

Photo by Sophie Mayanne/Eyeem
For those of us still under lockdown, it's proving to be a mixed bag. From learning to work from home to navigating mental health issues, One hour you’re disappearing down a bleak news hole that you can’t climb out of, the next you’re feeling overwhelmingly happy to be alive, warm, safe and fed. 
In among these ups and downs, many of us are trying to fit in some exercise, too. We know an at-home workout will level our mood and help to make up for the fact that, unless we are vital key workers, we’re probably a lot less physically active than usual. Plus the government keeps telling us that we should be doing it – it’s one of the only reasons we’re allowed out of the house these days. 
With gyms shut, the online fitness industry is booming. Joe Wicks is pulling in over two million viewers a day for his YouTube workouts, Barry’s Bootcamp is offering free Instagram Live workouts, and celebrity fitness apps like those belonging to Chris Hemsworth and Kayla Itsines have seen huge rises in sign-ups.
When news of the lockdown hit, home fitness equipment such as dumbbells and kettlebells sold out everywhere online. Meanwhile, head over to Instagram and you’ll see that it’s teeming with personal trainers who are trying to get your attention. 

Last week I was on a group Zoom call when the conversation turned to what we could do to optimise our 'post-lockdown bodies' which is basically code for 'are you dieting and overexercising too?' 

Now, it’s great that we’re being encouraged to exercise. It’s amazing that modern technology enables us to connect in so many ways and do it from home. But as you might expect, some of the messaging is more than a bit problematic. 
Last week I was on a group Zoom call when the conversation turned to what we could do to optimise our "post-lockdown bodies" which is basically code for "are you dieting and overexercising too?" 
The pressure on women to be constantly working on our appearance is nothing new but this pandemic and subsequent isolation seems to have spawned a particularly pernicious brand of it. 
Many trainers and fitness influencers are promising lockdown glow-ups: the chance for us to emerge like a butterfly from lockdown with amazing abs and a perfectly peachy bum. Exercising for your mental health, to help you sleep, and to keep your blood flowing is one thing. But as we grapple with the emotional and economic fallout of a global pandemic, isn’t promising women – or pressuring them into – a whole new body by the time lockdown ends just another unrealistic and unattainable ideal in an already claustrophobic time?
For those in recovery from an eating disorder or exercise addiction, the lockdown glow-up poses a particularly pernicious threat. Lois, 23, a PR manager from Hampshire, says she found herself overwhelmed by Instagram when she started looking into ways to keep fit during quarantine. "I suffered from bulimia when I was at university, and though I now eat healthily, I have been left feeling triggered at points during lockdown," she says. 

The pressure on women to constantly be working on our appearance is nothing new but this pandemic and subsequent isolation seems to have spawned a particularly pernicious brand of it. 

"I feel like there’s a big pressure to come out of this period like a new person, looking amazing, and I’ve seen lots of girls popping up on my Stories showing off their lockdown abs, but the reality is that it’s not going to be that easy for most people. I’m currently single and I’d like to line some dates up for when this is all over, and that’s another reason I’ve felt pressure to achieve this lockdown body transformation. The sheer choice of workouts out there is mind-boggling." 
While Lois feels she’s now reached a happy medium when it comes to her exercise regime in lockdown, she is still running into problems because of targeted advertising. 
"I’m now doing Couch to 5K and have been focusing on body positive fitness influencers. This feels more achievable and progressive. But the other day I still got a targeted ad from an influencer called V Shred, giving 'tips' on why certain people might not be able to lose weight as easily as others. I have no control over seeing this kind of ad and it’s things like this that are really triggering to me."  
Jessica, 26, works in communications in London and has found herself considering taking a break from social media completely after she began to feel that looking at fitness accounts during this lockdown had become "obsessive" for her. 
"I made it my goal to get fit at the end of last year," she explains. "I have a few weddings planned for the end of 2020, so I’d already been aiming to get in shape before lockdown happened. But with more time on my hands, I found I literally couldn’t stop myself from looking at the accounts of fitness and surfing models. My 'explore' page is now populated with motivational fitness pages, which have in turn fed into my desire to get fit." 
The uncertainty caused by this pandemic, Jessica reflects, has made embarking on a fitness journey and transformation more appealing than it might ordinarily be. 

There's a big pressure to come out of this period like a new person, looking amazing, and I've seen lots of girls popping up on my Stories showing off their lockdown abs, but the reality is that it's not going to be that easy for most people.

LOIS, 23
"I feel like it is one of the only things that I can actually have some control over," she explains. "As a result I’ve been watching what I eat and trying to get in multiple forms of at-home exercise each day: at least one HIIT video followed by yoga. There’s a lot of pressure out there to really use our time in isolation 'well' and I’ve felt like my self-pressure is reaching an unhealthy level. I don’t have an eating disorder but I’m definitely getting too obsessive and not really letting myself have a rest or break at all." 
Photo by Sophie Mayanne/Eyeem
Behavioural psychologist Emma Kenny says that exercise is undeniably brilliant for us both physically and mentally, if we’re being realistic about it. 
However she warns that a healthy dose of realism is definitely needed. "You’re not actually going to get a six-pack just from doing seven minutes of a trainer’s ab exercises a day – to get a six-pack, you also have to diet intensively, which is why most people won’t have one," Emma says. 
"It’s an unrealistic pressure to take on and it feeds into the myth that marketers are always trying to sell women: the need for a 'perfect' female figure. Exercise, especially during a really stressful time for the whole nation, should be about feeling healthy and strong – not looking perfect." 
That’s not all we need to be wary of. There’s another negative side to pushing our bodies to do these often savage workouts. 
Without a professional in the room to warn us when our form is poor, the risk of injury is high. After just one week of attempting my own lockdown glow-up via a fitness influencer’s videos, I had to take a step back because I realised that what was okay for her – zillions of weighted jumping squats and lunges, day after day – wasn’t okay for me. My knees were in bits and it made me reassess whether these one-size-fits-all fitness regimes are a good idea. 
You may have thousands of people tuning into an Instagram Live sweat session on their lunch break but with many of those people very inexperienced in performing complex exercises, the possibility of injury is very real. Go easy on yourself and really listen to your body if it’s telling you that something doesn’t feel right. Don’t just push through. 
Personal trainer Aimee Pearce from Sheffield, England, has been posting brilliant motivational Instagram posts with a focus on taking the pressure off women to use up every second of the day during lockdown. "Rest is just as important as action," she says. 
"The most important thing to keep in mind right now is to do what works for you as an individual," she adds. "It might be about moving more generally through the day rather than doing one intense workout. Exercise should be as much for your mental health as it is about your body, and even more so during this time of mass uncertainty." 
Emma agrees that rest days are of the utmost importance right now. In fact, though it might feel like you have to be active and productive all the time, she argues that downtime is more important than ever. 
"One of the most valuable things we can do during lockdown is to slow down and reflect," Emma tells me. "If we’re always trying to change things, and thinking about how we want to look in a month or three months’ time, then we won’t be existing in the present. Mindfulness and meditation can really help, if this is something you’re struggling with." 
Whether you’re embarking on socially distanced park runs, tuning into Instagram Live lunch break classes or taking a day out to do nothing, let’s remember that having an appreciation for our bodies and the fact that we are healthy and alive is the ultimate goal for when we finally get out of this.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, please call Beat on 0808 801 0677. Support and information is available 365 days a year.
The World Health Organization says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.

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