In a world transformed by coronavirus, some people might think talking about body image is inappropriate. When our lives are stripped back and we are focused on survival, to think about measuring up in the beauty stakes is not OK for some, even morally wrong.
The virus has transformed all of our lives, but some people’s lives more than others. Many will be sick or grieving or in fear of their lives or their loved ones’ lives.
In the current circumstances, every day we find ourselves safe and well, we should feel exceptionally grateful. This change might continue for some, and as we come out of this crisis ,they might continue to value every day, and care far less about things they used to think mattered. We fully recognise this and are not speaking about body image because we think it is the most important issue for everyone right now.
But for some, it is an issue which is a continuing concern and one which is intensified in lockdown. Many, especially young people, are finding the pressure to be perfect ratcheting up. Time at home, leads some people to reflect more, to focus on themselves, and in particular, on the flaws they believe they should fix. Video conferencing, Skype, Houseparty, Zoom, WhatsApp and FaceTime mean that we are looking at our faces on a screen constantly. These technologically mediated pictures of ourselves are bringing attention to flaws we didn’t know we had. We are noticing our odd teeth, wrinkles, strange expressions, and are feeling insecure, and lacking the reassurance we usually get from other forms of engagement. Social media is making it worse.
There are vast amounts of posts on how you should exercise and diet in lockdown. ‘Don’t put on the pounds in lock down’, ‘Be sure to exercise everyday’, ‘Do the lock down diet’.
|Daily Express, March 24th, 2020|
These suggest that working on and worrying about your body is your top job in lockdown. Either an opportunity to work towards the body you want, or a time of vigilance to make sure you don’t lose the body you’ve worked for. It’s exhausting and there is no letup!
There are posts about what we’ll look like after lockdown, and panic about not being able to engage in our normal beauty practices. Haircuts in lockdown are themes in the mainstream media, as well as social media. With mainstream media talking about a new trend in men cutting their hair at home, and on social media it’s everything from long eyelashes to acrylic nails.
In this brave new world of selfie culture and HD television, perfect skin has become a must. In lockdown, Skype, Zoom and FaceTime make us anxious as we stare at our digital faces. But the perfect skin we want isn’t human. It’s smooth and firm and doll like. Human skin is soft, has hair, pores, pigment, it moves under the hand. We can’t be perfectly smooth, nor can we be perfectly firm or have a perfect small waist with perfect curves. Perfect isn’t human. So, what can we do? How do we push back against the pressure to be perfect, celebrate and enjoy our bodies without being obsessed with them?
One answer is body positivity, but there are problems with this solution which we’ve written about elsewhere. But if confidence is hard in normal times, in the heightened anxiety of lockdown, it is even more difficult. Being confident doesn’t change the culture. Real change is not about how individuals feel, but about how society treats bodies. Our answer is #everydaylookism. Calling out lookism reduces the pressure, turns down the heat and takes the focus off bodies. Body positivity asks the individual to feel differently, to do it on their own. Ending body shaming asks everyone to behave differently so we all feel less pressure. When you shame bodies, you shame people. Body-shaming – whether fat shaming, a nasty comment about hair colour or a body part – can make you ashamed, can stay with you and make you insecure. The #everydaylookism campaign, taking inspiration from the #everydaysexism campaign, shares body shaming stories. The campaign highlights what’s wrong with body shaming, and gives us the words to recognise lookism when we see it. For more about the campaign see: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/perfect-me/201911/join-the-everydaylookism-campaign
Check out the #everydaylookism websiteand join the hundreds of people who have shared their story anonymously. Each story is a drop in the ocean, one person’s painful memory, but together they are a tidal wave, a call to arms, a kick back against body shaming. Like many people right now, we’ve been at a bit of a loss for words recently as we watch events unfold, and adapt to the new situation we all find ourselves in. We are not key workers and we can’t contribute to the bigger fight, but we can support and help those who are struggling with body image anxiety and body shame. Sadly the horror of the coronavirus hasn’t stopped body shaming and body image anxiety. The pressures show no sign of suddenly stopping, so neither will we.
We will keep sharing your stories as we’ve already received some that relate to the situation we are in and we want to play our part, however small, in supporting you.
From the #everydaylookism team at the University of Birmingham