Taynee Tinsley, instagram @tayneetinsley

Content note: This article contains details discussion of weight gain and dieting, and mention of disordered eating.

After a day spent binge-watching the first season of Issa Rae’s Insecure, I finally prepare to write one paragraph for this piece. Distracted and staring into oblivion, I wallow in the guilt of not having done enough work and the unhealthy snacks I continue to buy during my shopping trips. The laptop screen goes on standby. I wince at the pronounced, plump face that’s reflected on the black mirror. I’ve gained too much weight.

Other than trying to find the will to do something, what’s been difficult during several weeks of this COVID-19 induced lockdown is trying to regulate my fear towards weight gain. The resurgence in my discomfort toward weight gain has been stirred by the subliminal fat prejudice that lies behind advice about productivity and weight gain jokes.

“I’ve quelled the call to ultra-productivity that uses the mantra: you’ll never have this much free time again”

An excess of time in the house has resulted in advice overwhelmingly geared towards increasing productivity. Suggestions have ranged from writing the next King Lear, to starting a new business to undertaking weight loss challenges. I’ve quelled the call to ultra-productivity that uses the mantra, ‘you’ll never have this much free time again.’ Because of that mantra, I’m trying to get through all four seasons of Insecure. But, as people working from home and taking online classes may have come to find, the constant reminders to remain productive in this pandemic have been physically and emotionally demanding. In some ways, this demand reveals that we are wedded to capitalist notions of time: a fortune never to be wasted but always used to produce, in surplus.

Merely existing in a capitalist society inextricably links our bodies to ideas of productivity and economic stability. The stereotypes that surround fatness and slimness feed into the need to remain productive and the cost of being unproductive. Productivity becomes personified:

Productive = weight loss, slim, active.

Unproductive = weight gain, fat, lazy.

An awareness of this relationship allows me to evaluate how I project my feelings of helplessness and lack of agency onto my body. In the context of this pandemic, my body’s appearance is one thing I do have control over. I have come to understand that, in these turbulent times, I satiate my craving for normalcy through my body. I conjure a greater sense of stability through striving to be slim. Weight gain, on the other hand, reflects the current, unstable political predicament and my failure to be productive. 

Technologies marketed to facilitate productivity, such as Zoom, evidently remind us to endure working remotely. The devotion to productivity parallels advice to remain physically active. I am not attempting to denigrate a commitment to fitness during this period, as it is a great way to maintain health and wellness. Yet the increased stream of home-workout videos from social media fitness influencers adds to my guilt. The excess of these videos confirms that there’s no lack of resources, inspiration or information; therefore, the weight of failing to be productive falls on me. I’ve spent lockdown lamenting the pressure to write the next King Lear and achieve my #bodygoals. The actualisation of these goals (writing a play and acquiring ‘desirable’ slimness) will, of course, be flexed for the ‘gram - one platform that’s assisted in creating this pressure. The struggle to remain productive and slim has been voiced by social media users through jokes and memes:

Screenshots from Twitter

Social media provides an explicit glimpse for us into the broader fear of fat — society’s perpetual fixation with weight gain. Grievances like, “Due to coronavirus, my summer body will be postponed until 2021” were funny, relatable and even comforting. The former was a viral tweet (with over 100,000 retweets and 400,000 likes) which inadvertently gave way to increasingly morbid quarantine weight gain jokes and memes. One user stated, “I just stepped on the scale, I don’t need to eat again until 2021.” These complaints allow us to recognise that in the face of this pandemic, many of us find ourselves increasingly and obsessively mourning weight gain. 

“I anchor myself not with self-deprecating jokes, but by reaffirming that my body may change and weight may fluctuate during this lockdown - and that’s okay.”  

But it’s possible to renounce the capitalist notions of productivity which lay claim to our bodies through a change in our perspective. Along with months spent predominantly indoors, feelings of anxiety, exhaustion, stress and grief are but a few reasons for weight gain. In times of productivity-related feelings of guilt and shame, it’s important to remember that doing nothing and gaining weight during this period are as natural as those feelings. Being in lockdown can be triggering for people who deal with disordered eating, and can exacerbate weight-related anxiety. I anchor myself not with self-deprecating jokes, but by reaffirming that my body may change and weight may fluctuate during this lockdown - and that’s okay.  


Mountain View

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Sometimes we forget there’s real power within the ease of the (re)post button. Individual feeds can seem divorced from the wider world. Still, weaved in the complex social and political matrix of social media, our digital actions don’t just have individual impacts. Being digitally connected with people across the world enables us to forge community - this is what makes social media compelling. Hashtag Insecure lets me virtually engage in discussions about the importance of sisterhood with strangers. However, we must examine how our actions can feed into prejudice. We should steer the conversation to promote an understanding of how overarching economic structures dictate our functional and corporal value. The ceaseless pressure to produce personal, academic and professional ‘results’ has converged with the abundance of sardonic humour about weight gain. This intersection reveals a culture that practically and physically aligns with the economic system, instead of evaluating and dismantling it.

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