How Doja Cat Is Helping Me Overcome My Pandemic Weight Gain Anxiety
On the aftermath of adolescent fat-shaming, eating disorders, and body positivity
I have always been relatively skinny. I am also fatphobic, meaning (as per the definition), I am pathologically afraid of gaining weight. This intense fear ends up consuming me to the point that I will stare at the mirror anytime, I gain even just a couple of pounds of water weight. I would literally call myself the most disgusting names and insults, things I would never imagine saying to anyone else, out loud or ever. Anyone but me.
When did this start?
When I was a kid my dad bullied both me and my brother for our weight constantly. We ate too much, we looked ‘fat’ (looking back at the photos we were a bit chubby and chunky, but that does not excuse the fat-shaming we got). Whenever we ran, we were shamed for not doing an extra two laps. Even though we were both athletic competitions in martial arts, we were still just not good enough.
This ‘hate’ and bullying towards my body continued during my adolescence, so it became greatly internalized over time. Right before high school, when I had to put braces on, I told myself:
You can’t be both fat and ugly, and you will be ugly for the next few years, so you have to lose the extra weight.
Mind you, the extra weight was about 10 pounds, but I digress. So, I did. Any way a teenager would — through trying the most extreme diets and then just simply not eating. I have done everything from the Cabbage Soup 7-days Diet to making myself vomit, or even the good-ol’ classic ‘48-hours or more without food’ marathon until you pass out. My only goal was to lose weight and I would feel intense fear should I not succeed.
I idealized the size 0–2 models that were popular in the 90s and early 00s and have fought this obsession with weight my entire life. I have always been very athletic, but have never reached my ideal super-skinny-looking body, which I now understand is great, as I have always maintained a healthy weight with plenty of physical activity.
Enter a Global Pandemic
Right before the start of the pandemic, I returned home after living in the UK for 5 years, bought a flat, and moved in with my boyfriend. Very suddenly, I dropped from riding the bike to and from work every day and swimming 4 times per week to being at home permanently. I kept myself busy with DIYs and renovations, but I could see the effects that food now had on my body. Following the quite simple rule of ‘calories in-calories out’ was no longer simple.
As any other mentally delusional individual, struggling with negative body image would do, I restricted the food I consume and started doing at-home workouts. I failed to keep any sort of consistency. Slowly but surely, my weight was piling up. Fast forward a few months, I now have the all-too-common ‘Quarantine 15’ plus maybe another few extra pounds (honestly, I am too afraid to check). The other day, I had a conversation with my mum, who said:
You have another few pounds until you stop feeling like yourself and start feeling really bad.
Jokes on her, I stopped feeling like myself that ‘few extra pounds’ ago.
Behind the Scenes
A study on bullying behavior in children demonstrates that it can lead to anorexic and bulimic behaviors. Even though visually, I never considered myself part of that tribe, I have throughout my life struggled with the most common mental symptoms of these illnesses:
- feeling fat, despite being physically thin
- consistent dieting
- having a great fear of gaining weight despite obvious low weight
What is more worrying, is that these disorders are never come unaccompanied. The same study goes on to show that:
adolescents differently involved in bullying reported co-occurring disorders (depression, anxiety, excessive psychosomatic symptoms, frequent excessive drinking or trials with other substances than alcohol).
…and sadly — I can relate.
In the context of the global pandemic, studies demonstrate people with eating disorders are at high-risk as a result of the restrictions placed. Specifically, a 2020 study by Cooper and colleagues states:
Environmental precautions to limit coronavirus spread have affected food availability and access to healthy coping mechanisms, and have contributed to weight-stigmatizing social media messages that may be uniquely harmful to those experiencing EDs. Additionally, changes in socialization and routine, stress, and experiences of trauma that are being experienced globally may be particularly deleterious to ED risk and recovery.
Even though the in-depth research analyses the issue robustly, the recommendations are what ultimately inspired me to write this article. Here is what scientists have to say on how to handle the pandemic weight gain if you have an eating disorder:
- Reduce exposure to media
- Manage social comparisons
- Educate oneself on strategies in false advertising and marketing of bodies
- Focusing on fat positive imagery
- Incorporate activities that enhance one’s self-esteem
- Shift focus from food, weight, and shape to other domains to create social meaning.
How does Doja Cat’s ‘Juicy’ (and other songs like it) help
Trust me… I know, I am very late for the Doja Cat Celebration Party. I saw the video clip and heard this song just a couple of days ago and was overwhelmed with so many conflicting emotions. First of all, I am simply amazed at the confidence and sexiness of this woman — and others like her, who celebrate their natural bodies. I am also very humbled at my lack of sexiness during these few months, derived from — you guessed it — my utter lack of self-confidence in my body.
Going back to the recommendations listed above, looking at this very honest and unedited imagery for me was like looking at a body-positive role model, who is urging me to create social meaning through embracing my sexiness in whatever size this comes as opposed to rejecting it. Beauty comes from within, at any size.
For me, beauty is health — both physically and mentally. Even though I have been physically healthy, I have a long road to walk before I achieve the mental balance of many women from the body positive community.
If you resonated with any part of this story, I am here for you. Know that millions of people in the world are going through similar issues and body struggles, whether mentally or physically. I sincerely hope my experience is not triggering anyone reading, and if there is anything you can take away from this article it would be to:
- Follow the advice of medical staff and mental health professionals
- Find sources of beauty within you and try to lift yourself every once in a while (even though, as I am painfully aware, this is easier said than done)
- Surround yourself with imagery that minimizes your fears and anxieties.
Remember, each person is fighting their own battle, many of which are intensified under the current circumstances, so trust that this too will pass.
If you or anyone you know needs urgent assistance with combating their eating disorders, contact The Eating Disorders Foundation on their hotline (303) 322–3373 or consult their library of resources, related to the current pandemic.