Ambassador voices: ‘Lockdown-glow-ups’ and the pressure to lose weight

Illustration shows a young person reading in an armchair surrounded by plants. Next to her is a flight of stairs, with an sign pointing upwards which says, "glow-up"

My name is Rachel Elder. I am an English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh and a Young Ambassador for The Mix, most recently involved in The Body and Soul Club.

Lockdown has put a huge amount of pressure on young people in the UK. Whether you’re working, studying or just juggling family life, things look very different at the moment. To add to all the new challenges we’re facing, social distancing has also greatly limited our usual support systems.

Yet somehow, society has found a way to add a further, unnecessary pressure to our lives.

What’s a ‘lockdown glow-up’?

My phone has been bombarded with articles about how to achieve the perfect ‘lockdown glow-up.’ I’m all for controlling what you can in times of uncertainty, but there’s a fine line between healthy coping mechanisms and toxic beauty ideals.

I thought that a global pandemic would really level out society’s key concerns. But alas, the 21st century beauty industry has other ideas.

The confidence and mental health of young people has definitely been impacted by lockdown. I for one know that having my social life stripped away for months has left me anxious about returning to everyday life.

Despite this, many beauty companies have leapt at the opportunity to expose our growing insecurities by designing their adverts to convince us that we should either leave lockdown looking red-carpet ready or continue hiding in our homes.

Toxic lockdown trends

The new ‘freshers 15’, ‘quarantine 15’ is another of the delightfully damaging trends circulating right now, which aims to make us all hyper-aware of possible weight gain over lockdown. We’re encouraged to exercise more, eat less and embrace the fear of weight-gain that society has imposed upon us.

This is such a damaging message to be sending. Even the memes joking about lockdown weight gain are inappropriate. How can we tell ourselves that weight loss is about health when we are willing to sacrifice our mental wellbeing and satisfaction for it during such a stressful time?

BMI bullshit

I could write a book on the vast number of reasons why I disagree with weight being used as an indicator of health, but I’ll summarise.

BMI (body mass index) is used globally as an indicator of ‘health’ by comparing your weight and height. The calculation was created by Adolphe Quetelet in the 1830’s. It’s important to note that Quetelet wasn’t actually a doctor; he was an astronomer and mathematician with no interest in medicine.

When deciding the ‘healthiest’ weight for each height, Quetelet only used white Europeans as test subjects, meaning that BMI is completely unrepresentative of race, ethnicity, or lifestyle. It also fails to consider body proportions, muscle mass and bone density which varies hugely between individuals.

To put this into perspective, 80% of black females are considered ‘overweight’ according to their BMI. However, I know that most of my friends who are both female and black lead a healthy life.

I also know that those who are black and considered ‘overweight’ because of their natural body, not their lifestyle choices, are consistently failed by health professionals who assume that any physical health concern is caused by their weight. These women (as well as men and non-binary friends) are refused appropriate medical treatment and told just to “lose a bit of weight.”

Long story short; the use of BMI or weight as a health indicator is inherently racist.

As if this wasn’t enough reason to discard Quetelet’s study, professionals only began to use BMI in the 1900s, however it was not used for health purposes – it was used by insurance companies to make it easier to determine rates.

In 1998, the National Institute of Health then decided to lower the threshold for what was considered ‘overweight.’ Their reasoning? To make it a more memorable number.

Basically, BMI is bullshit and weight should never be used as an indicator of health. How you choose to live your life – finding a balance of exercise, rest and all food groups – is a much more important focus.

A different perspective

Food is about much more than just calories and exercise should be about celebrating our bodies and enjoying free movement. There is no hidden happiness in losing weight and our worth depends on so much more than our physical appearance.

As someone recovering from an eating disorder, I have found the increased flood of mainstream media shaming people for weight-gain a real challenge for my own body-image over the past few months. However, I know that this is another media frenzy which will pass. I know that none of my friends or family have actually transformed their lifestyle or appearance during quarantine. And, I know that the same is likely for most others.

How to avoid the pressure of a ‘lockdown glow-up’

If your social media is bombarded by demeaning memes or excessive beauty standards, don’t be afraid to switch off for a while and take a break.

If your peers are pressuring you to partake in fitness challenges, remember that everyone is different. I personally have declined all online fitness classes that I have been invited to and instead rediscovered my love for yoga on my own terms.

Finding other self-care activities can also be helpful. I’ve enjoyed face-masks, movie nights and time in nature to clear my head. Talking to friends if you’re feeling overwhelmed and being honest with others if your confidence takes a hit is also really important.

Whatever you do, don’t forget that you were enough before lockdown. You will be enough when it is over, no matter how you have or haven’t changed.

If you need some support on this issue

For more support on coping with the pressures of lockdown, visit The Mix’s coronavirus hub.

You can also read The Mix’s article on coping with an eating disorder.

Next Steps

  • Beat help people overcome eating disorders through helplines, online support and self-help groups. Call 0808 801 0677 or, if you're under 18, call their Youthline on 0808 801 0711.
  • Eating Disorders Support has a telephone helpline with 24/7 answer message service and email support for people with eating disorders and anyone concerned about them. Call on 01494 793223.
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Rachel Elder

Updated on 04-Aug-2020