With parts of the world slowly re-opening and re-emerging following the global COVID-19 pandemic, many are excited to return to some sense of “normalcy”- seeing family and friends, going out to eat, and beginning to travel once more. But this “return to normal” is also an opportunity for anxious thoughts and feelings to develop around body image and physical changes that may have happened during the quarantines, lockdowns and stay at home orders that many faced throughout the pandemic….

“What will people think when they see me?”

“Will people think I’ve ‘let myself go’ during the pandemic?”

“What does it mean that my jeans from last year no longer zip up comfortably?”

Your potential fears of emerging in the world and concern for what others think is human nature, but it can help to remember that the body you are living in now, is simply that body that lets you live! Your body survived a life-threatening, world-altering pandemic. It kept you alive amidst a devastating virus and you don’t need to punish it for not being “small” enough or “toned” to fit into our narrow and ridiculous societal standards. As you begin to step out into the “new normal” it could helpful to keep these reminders in mind:

1. Remember who capitalizes from your insecurity – the diet industry!

Diet culture does not rest, and will take advantage of any opportunity to sell you the latest supplement, meal plan or exercise regime to change your body and bury it beneath trendy terms like “lifestyle” change or “wellness” routine. Now, the weight loss industry is taking advantage of post-pandemic anxiety to come after our bodies. They try to convince folks of the “quarantine 15” and “flattening the curve” to sell their products to “fix” us before we can comfortably be reintroduced into the world. Author Jennifer Weiner recently posted an excellent essay for the New York Times about the marketing logic and the importance of resistance against the ineffectiveness of diets and their advertising gimmicks.

2. Focus on being present – what do you see, hear, feel, taste?

Being able to see loved ones again and engage in activities as simple as going to the cinema, or meeting a friend for a coffee are moments to be cherished rather than plagued by self-conscious thoughts about your weight. Try to focus on being present in the situation and what you’re grateful for. When you wrap your arms around your friend to hug for the first time in a year and half you likely won’t be thinking “wow her tummy feels a bit bigger.” Instead, you’ll be present in savoring the moments that used to pass for ordinary. In these first social interactions try to ground yourself by internally naming what you see around you, what you hear (and the novelty of the hushed, constant tones of fellow diners chatting nearby!), what you feel beneath your feet and seat, and what you taste on your tongue. These observations help to ground you in the present moment and avoid some anxiety that may arise from over-thinking and obsessing about what others think of you in social situations.

3. Surround yourself with fat positive social media accounts

In our social media inundated world, who you choose to follow can have a significant impact on how you perceive yourself and those around you. Try to follow fat positive accounts and allies to expose yourself to ways of living and relating to the world that aren’t tied to societal notions equating thinness with being “right” or “good.” These activists often provide helpful content, advice and reminders that we are more than our bodies and our lives are worth living fully regardless of your size.

Your body changes, as do the seasons and you don’t need to try to control it. As your emotions of worry or fear come, let them rise and fall like the waves of the summer sea, knowing that they will come and go. You survived a global pandemic – the least you can do is give yourself permission to enjoy that chocolate croissant.

By: Maddy Weingast, Assistant for Therapy for Eating Disorders and Body Image