Eating Disorder Awareness Week: You Don’t Need To Lose Weight For June 21
There is so much I’m looking forward to come June 21; that feted day when – hopefully – the restrictions that currently hem our lives in so tightly will lift like rainclouds.
In my mind, this day is a perfect, piercing blue. My shoulders are bare and my hands are slippery with sun cream as they clasp a glass of cider.
There’s probably a wasp buzzing about somewhere, but I won’t mind. I’ll just be happy to be crammed into a beer garden with friends and strangers alike; the grey, stifling months of waiting fading into a bad memory. The rest of my life will feel spread out before me like an endless summer evening.
I’m idealising of course, but I’m excited and I do feel a sense that I’m about to leap into the ‘after’ like a freejumper rushing towards the lip of a cliff. I want hugs, I want other people’s sofas, I want to share crisps and post-pub cigarettes without a sense of mortal dread.
And yet, when I heard about the plan to roll back restrictions over a period of four months, the first thought that came to mind wasn’t being finally able to see my friend’s baby, or book a train ticket somewhere – anywhere! – just because I could.
No, the first thought that came to my mind – and indeed the minds of so many people – was that I had four months to get ‘hot’ – i.e. attractive in all the most socially-acceptable ways you can imagine. Toned, slim, flawless skin that radiates 5am work-out sessions and gallons worth of chilled water.
I fall short in all these departments, and don’t usually mind too much. After all, I’m a reasonably happy person and don’t think of myself as being somehow ‘less than’ for not looking like I’ve just tumbled off the cover of a fashion magazine.
However, once the road map announcement was made, I found myself liking and relating to various diet memes, imagining a perfect, golden-tinged summer where I would look like a girl straight out of a stock image search for ‘having fun in the sun with friends’.
These memes ranged from jokes about only eating ice at dinnertime in the lead up to clubs reopening, to tongue-in-cheek expressions of gratitude towards Prime Minister Boris Johnson for giving us a bit of a warning to get party-ready.
After many months of not laughing all that much, I admittedly found these memes funny at first, even feeling a bit relieved that there were so many others out there who were still working on feeling good within their own bodies.
But then I started feeling quite uneasy about the pressure of this four-month countdown, especially given the gruelling, painful stretch of time so many of us have already endured.
Millicent, a 26-year-old journalist from London who suffered from an eating disorder from 2013 up until 2016, told UNILAD:
I only started to recover in 2016 when I came home from university and spoke to a friend, who helped me realise what I was dealing with.
I didn’t realise how unhealthy my eating habits had become, but once I understood I was able to get a handle on it.
Millicent doesn’t feel as though the #June21 weight loss memes have affected her too much, as she overcame her eating disorder many years ago, noting that she was ‘a lot more impressionable back then’.
She also remarked that the media was ‘less welcoming to bigger women’ back when she herself was struggling, adding, ‘Now being thicc is fashionable and I’m happier to embrace it.’
However, Millicent has also admitted that when she’d realised everything would soon be reopening, she’d let out a ‘big sigh’, having felt that she had put on more weight than she would have liked over lockdown.
Having recently started a new job, Millicent – like so many of us – is now feeling the pressure to lose a bit of weight before the office opens up again, with the additional anxiety of meeting colleagues face-to-face for the first time.
As things currently stand, Millicent feels too self-conscious to have her camera on during Zoom calls, telling UNILAD:
After I saw the announcement, I did feel panicked and definitely stepped up my weight loss goals.
However, for Millicent, the weight loss memes currently doing the rounds are actually a source of comfort and amusement, which show that ‘we’re all in the same boat, we’re all insecure’.
Millicent believes such memes originate from the ‘extremely self-deprecating’ British sense of humour, and feels much more comfortable with them than she would feel about posts shared by those showing off about their health and weight loss.
This is definitely a sentiment I myself can relate to, having a very British and very self-deprecating sense of humour myself. However, as explained to UNILAD by activist, influencer and public speaker Lindsay McGlone, we do have to consider others who might be seeing our jokey tweets.
23-year-old Lindsay, aka The Fierce Fat Feminist, speaks for those who ‘live in larger bodies’, with her activism focused on tackling fat phobia and championing body positivity.
Lindsay was named Young Changemaker of the Year 2020 at the Inspiring Women Changemakers Awards for her work in this area, which has so far included campaigning against discriminatory Airbnb proprietors and taking on issues such as the ‘Fat tax’.
Speaking with UNILAD, Lindsay expressed concern about the number of #June21 memes she’s seen that ‘reference larger people’ in a ‘derogatory way’:
So it will be a character of a larger person, and it will say things like, ‘I can’t stay like this for the 21st June’, or saying, ‘Me coming out of lockdown on the 21st June’, and it’s a larger body.
[Others have] people saying they’ve got to get their skates on and lose weight, that they’re going on a diet. A lot of things about the idea of ‘letting themselves go’. They’re very much connecting that with larger bodies.
They feel that because they are larger, they have let themselves go. Not being funny, we’ve survived a pandemic.
Lindsay, who in her words has ‘always been big’, has warned those with ‘socially-acceptable’ bodies who have put on a couple of pounds over lockdown to be careful about what they share over social media.
As emphasised by Lindsay, those sharing such memes should bear in mind their ‘permanent bigger friend hears you very loudly’.
If, of course, somebody wishes that they need to lose weight, that’s absolutely fine – that’s why we have autonomy over our own bodies.
But it’s the way that we choose to do that. It’s the memes that we put on Facebook, the counting of syns at dinner tables.
It’s things like that where we really need to watch ourselves, and make sure that we’re not putting that pressure on other people who are surrounding us.
In the months ahead, I’m personally concerned about how the additional social pressure to lose weight for June 21 will be harnessed by decidedly less-than-ethical brands and influencers.
This is a worry shared by Lindsay, who has urged people to first consider whether they themselves actually do want to lose weight, or whether their desire to do so actually stems from ‘society telling them it’s the right thing to do’.
Offering advice to those who might be feeling negatively about their own bodies at the moment, Lindsay said:
Whatever your body [type] is, whenever you feel rubbish about your body, take yourself back to a memory where your body physically enabled you to do something.
So not its appearance, not how you’ve coloured your hair, not what colour eyes you’ve got. Something that you’ve physically been enabled to do by your body, whether that be look after your grandma, go for a drink with your friends, go on that holiday, win that race, pick up that award.
Think of something that you’ve physically been enabled to do because of your body. And remember how that made you feel, because that’s your body that’s allowing you to do that.
There will, of course, be those suffering from eating disorders right now who will be seeing the barrage of #June21 memes in a far different way to those who have a healthy relationship with food.
As much as you might enjoy poking fun at yourself, or just wanting to keep yourself motivated for a pre-summer health kick, it’s important to remember those who might be struggling right now who wll be scrolling through your tweets and Instagram posts.
Tom Quinn, Head of External Affairs at eating disorder charity Beat, has given the following statement to UNILAD:
Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses with complex causes. Messages around weight loss or restricting your diet are unlikely to be the sole cause of becoming unwell, but they could encourage eating disorder behaviours in those already unwell or vulnerable, which has the potential to be very damaging.
We’d encourage anyone affected to mute or unfollow accounts which are sharing this kind of content, or consider taking a step away and focusing on other positive sources of support like Beat.
Likewise, we’d advise anyone thinking about sharing this kind of content to think twice, as you don’t know if someone in your network might be struggling.
Please do get excited for June 21, but don’t worry about fitting yourself to an impossible, idealised image in time for those first pints. You can absolutely have a wonderful, memorable summer without pushing yourself to lose weight.
If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in this article and would like to speak with someone in confidence, call the BEAT Eating Disorders helpline on 0808 801 0677. Helplines are open 365 days a year from 9am–8pm during the week, and 4pm–8pm on weekends and bank holidays. Alternatively, you can try the one-to-one webchat.
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