It seems that I need to return to a subject that will likely be familiar to those of you who have been following my column (thank you readers!) This review is due to the fact that we have so much work to do.
I know with both my emotional self and my logical self that I cannot expect change quickly; just because I write about and advocate for a subject does not mean that I can expect differences overnight—my entire line of work is about detaching from the results, focusing on the process. Growth is a process—it is not about waiting for results; it is not about looking for a fix—it is about the journey and opportunity. So I know that I cannot expect such a drastic change so quickly and yet I find myself tired and frustrated.
Because I care.
I have been seeing and hearing about the ongoing comments being made surrounding weight loss and appearance in our community. We are barely able to see one another—we cannot hug or connect in the same way—and yet people continue to compliment one another’s changing bodies. People continue to joke about gaining the “quarantine weight.” People ask one another for their secrets to weight loss. And yet, they do not realize that the secret may, in fact, be an eating disorder. They do not stop to reflect that disordered eating and eating disorders are so prevalent and are so greatly influenced by the media, culture and judgments around us, including the attitude and attention given to appearance by those we know.
There is an assumption that one can tell if someone else is struggling—which is a gross misconception. There is no one way that an eating disorder looks. People assume that eating disorder diagnoses are not common, and yet they are rampant and the numbers seem to be greatly increasing at this time.
Beyond eating disorders, commenting on others’ bodies and shapes is simply not a good idea. It comes from a place of fat-phobia. The proof is that we easily throw compliments about weight loss but cringe when someone accidentally comments surrounding weight gain. This is direct evidence that supporting weight loss is also a support of diet culture, a phenomenon that highlights value and worth as they are tied to shape, size and weight.
Furthermore, so many people have told me that the main topic of conversation during the COVID-19 pandemic in schools and at work is about weight loss and exercise; people compare workout routines (that are geared toward weight loss, not toward strengthening the body or enjoyment) and discuss their current fad diets. So much of our lives have been cut out from our reach, and so food, weight and exercise have become a preoccupation. (I have seen this morph into an eating disorder more times this year than I can count.) And instead of asking one another how we can be supportive, instead of using our energy toward embarking on a way of connecting that will yield increased self-esteem rather than body esteem, we resort to thinking about, talking about, and judging our and others’ bodies.
We can do better. We can stop commenting. We can instead say how nice it is to see one another. Look at one another and truly connect. Our faces may be covered by masks, but this does not mean that we need to conceal ourselves or hide behind talk of weight loss, hide behind our outer shells. Instead, we can make the effort to change; to foster growth and connection and to save lives. Because ultimately, when people are fighting for recovery, it is a comment about weight that can “show” the individual that accepting himself or herself might be difficult.
Do this for those fighting for their lives. Do this for those who need role models to show that weight is not a priority. Do this for yourself, to remind yourself of your own depth and interests, to show yourself that you have the ability to be challenged in the hopes that it may help others.
I have written before about comments, judgment, fat-phobia and the risks of perpetuating the cycle of displaying and endorsing preoccupation surrounding appearance. Take a moment and reflect on how you may be contributing. Challenge yourself, because when we do this together— when we cease body talk and instead focus on who we are—we can move one step closer toward value and meaning and community.
Temimah Zucker, LCSW is licensed in New York and New Jersey and working virtually at this time, specializing in supporting individuals with mental health, body image and eating disorder concerns. Temimah has a passion for working within the Jewish community and also speaks nationally on the subjects above. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com