Toxic weight loss

Cate Lloyd

How did social media turn a global pandemic into a toxic weight loss contest?

In March our lives were turned upside down indefinitely. Within days I went from being at college with all my friends, hugging and laughing, to not being able to leave my house. The unknown became all we knew as we headed into lockdown, engulfed by fear as we watched the daily death total rise and any normality vanish. The chaos of our daily routines being ripped away sparked even more unsettling nerves, whilst facing the reality of not being able to see our loved ones left us panicked. Thousands of people were dying around us, the reality was beyond surreal. How were we living through a global pandemic? Our country had not faced such tragedy since World War Two, something the social media generation couldn’t begin to fathom the realities of. Despite all the tragedy and hardship faced, of course there was a toxic uprising across social media platforms. 

People suddenly had all the time in the world. Everyone was either working from home or furloughed and as were contained to our houses, we had what felt like infinite time as an ending to this madness seemed impossible. It felt like there were no excuses to sit down and not do anything, at least this is what was subtlety ingrained into us via none other than Mr social media himself. Most of us started something new in lockdown, whether that was learning a new skill or practising a little bit more self-care. It appeared people were trying to better themselves, with innocent intentions, to use this time productively but of course it wasn't long until weight loss became the most prominent topic of conversation on social media. I wasn’t shocked. Harmful exercise and diet content had circulated social media since its beginning. ‘Home workouts’ became the new norm along with our one daily exercise outside, our last bit of freedom. These home workout plans flooded my feed with advertisement after advertisement of new influencers sharing their different plans and routines. Most of them promoted unrealistic results and unhealthy habits, this is something many professionals have been trying to combat for years as can lead to eating disorders and body image issues. There was post after post about ‘a new me’. Let’s leave that cliché to New Year’s day. 

Now although I support a healthy lifestyle, there was an absurd amount of pressure to join in on these ‘quick results’ workouts. People were going above and beyond to lose weight in record times. It wasn’t long until these new behaviours turned into a competition of who could do it the quickest and have the best results. The pressure might not have been laid out clearly, it hid behind the posts and words of people with thousands of followers. Phrases like ‘two week abs’ and ‘quick fat loss diet’ circled around the internet at a higher speed than the increasing Covid-19 cases. These toxic promotions, which created a growing pressure to be productive during lockdown, grew daily along with the death total. Now call me too sensitive, but I can’t be the only one thinking this was a tone deaf movement? People were benefiting financially off impressionable audiences by convincing them their bodies needed to be changed, spurring on the unhealthy diet culture and the glamorisation of eating disorders. All whilst, parents were being wiped out, whole families were gone, NHS staff weren’t being protected, people were risking their lives selflessly, unemployment rocketed. Instead of encouraging self love and mindfulness to help us all through this anxious time, the pressure to lose weight was forced on us. Why did no one tell us it was okay to be scared and to have a day or two of doing nothing? It appears that diet culture will never be eradicated even during a global pandemic.