The world has continued spinning, and we have finally arrived at the once mystical and seemingly fantastical year 2021. Though not everyone we love has made it, we’ve scraped our way out of 2020. We’ve survived a very difficult, emotionally taxing year, and yet, it seems we have learned very little. Social media is still filled with encouragements to ‘get shredded’ and ‘transform your body’ – i.e. focus on weight loss. New year’s resolutions fuel investments in the fitness industry, with hopes for quick, 60 day abs and overnight transformations.
The ‘ideal’ shape for women has long been dictated by cultural trends, demanding that women change their genetic code to fit in. Even within the span of a decade, wide hips have fallen into fashion only to be replaced by a preference for bigger busts. As one year wraps up and another arrives, today’s body fad takes center stage, demanding more women fall in line. After the year that was 2020, social media ads should be more concerned with mental health or strengthening relationships. Unfortunately, ‘get fit quick’ schemes continue to be pushed and draw in young, impressionable women from around the world.
Social media’s weight-loss obsession
I did a deep clean of my Instagram account about a year ago. After living with disordered eating patterns and workout obsessions, I recognized social media’s influence on my weight-loss obsession. The constant ads and recommended (shredded) influencers had instilled in me a deep hatred for every imperfection. I chased perfection by abstaining from eating and working out two, three times a day. Along the way, I lost myself, friends, and family, as I forgot what truly mattered.
I scrolled for hours, staring at perfect women, then pick my body apart, eager to find the imperfections and ‘fix’ them. My social media accounts picked up on my behaviors and helped me walk down that path. Instead of being directed towards fat activists, meditation experts, and self-love gurus, I was shown 1200 calorie diets and 30-day ‘fat blasting’ plans. When I deep cleaned, my social media allowed me to engage in a year of activism and self-love. Sadly, all that stopped when 2020 closed its chapter.
As January 1st rolled around, I started being shown crazy workout plans again. My ads started being women excitedly yelling at the camera, showing off their tanned abs, telling me I can look just like them if I start today. Everything continues to scream at me, “It’s a new year! Become a new you – with less fat!” And it is only made immeasurably worse by the pandemic that surrounds our every move.
Covid’s influence on ‘fat blasting’
Some ads poke fun at quarantine weight, insisting that just because it’s a pandemic, you cannot let yourself go. So the message continues, “Loose the ‘covid weight’ and get back to the real you!”
What’s more harmful and upsetting is that many of these messages have a subtext. That subtext reads, “It’s a pandemic, and you tried to stay safe by staying at home. But now you ate too much food and now you’re f*t. Get off your butt and lose that weight, now. Also, PS, getting outside for a walk might help your mental health – but remember, this is about weight loss!”
Shift the focus: not weight loss, but activism
Every fat-phobic comment and message is couched between the pandemic and mental health, as though the cure for our struggles in the new year is food restriction and unrealistic weight-loss goals. In 2020, we saw inspiring activism across the United States, from Black Lives Matter to short-notice Women’s Marches. In 2021, we must do better than obsessing with weight loss.
This is the year that we have been waiting for, for what seems like forever. The wait began when the pandemic fully set in and cut us off physically from each other. This was the year that inspired hope in many of us for so long. It was supposed to be better. But we are starting it with the same old crap.
The lessons of 2020 transform 2021
After the lessons and challenges of 2020, let 2021 be the year we discard this vapid and harmful weight-loss obsession. Let 2021 be the year we stop trying for short term physical transformations and instead chase long term structural changes.
Learn from 2020, and let this year be the one in which we uplift and embrace the voices and stories of those that have been marginalized, and let them help us make more inclusive, lasting, and impactful resolutions.
Let this year be the year that starts answering the demands of change that were shouted across streets worldwide last year.
Social media has a responsibility for us to do better, as do influencers and the leaders of our media diets, but we must also take a stand against the goods they are trying to sell us. We do not need to be fixed or improved – we are surviving a global pandemic and a massive economic recession like this just fine, thank you very much. What we need is a complete restructuring of how we understand and deal with the world today. And in 2021, I look forward to meeting that challenge head-on, soft tummy and all.