Content Warning: This article contains references to eating disorders
Can someone please explain to me why, in the grand old year of 2020, we still feel the need to comment on other people’s bodies?
On July 18th, New York Post published an article with the baiting title: “Zac Efron's 'dad bod' transformation on Netflix show shocks fans”. In actuality, the piece praises Efron for his rugged good looks. Nevertheless, the carefully worded title proves that body transformations still fascinate us as a society and they are a tried and tested way to attract clicks online.
Despite the fact Zac Efron has seamlessly earned the title of ‘my type’ from High School Musical 3, to Hairspray, to Baywatch; this article is not a destination for harmful sexual objectification. That being said, watching Zac Efron on Baywatch is arguably a lot more ethical than supporting porn hub so continue at your discretion.
In the new Netflix series, ‘Down to Earth with Zac Efron’, the Hollywood star is joined by close friend and wellness expert Darin Olien. Throughout the series the pair set out on an exploration across the globe; to investigate how different countries approach sustainable living. Though the show successfully brings awareness to the immediate horrors of climate change, it also asks which diet offers the most health benefits and quality of life within different cultures.
In episode four, Efron even becomes emotional when eating pasta in Italy, expressing his joy to be eating carbs again after his strict Baywatch diet left him aesthetically fit but mentally strained. He says “I went years without eating carbs […] I almost lost my mind, you need this.”
This sentiment highlights the disturbing truth that the societally approved version of beauty can trigger dangerously restrictive routines. And *shock horror* slimness does not always equate to happiness.
So if in 2020 we are aware of the harmful impacts of beauty standards and diet culture, why are we so infatuated by body transformations? Our obsession with celebrity weight gain and loss certainly did not start with Zac Efron. Only a matter of months ago the internet exploded, expressing unwanted opinions regarding the weight loss of multi-Grammy award winning artist, Adele.
If Adele herself did not feel the need to address her weight loss then why did we?
Another recent example comes from the superstar that is Lizzo. Lizzo took to Instagram on June 12th posting a video of her work out routine, but the caption read: “If posting my journey and cussing ignorant insecure wannabe ‘comment section doctors’ out is what I gotta do to make sure fat shaming is shamed then thats what im gonna do”.
In the video she states: “I’m not working out to have your ideal body type, I’m working out to have my ideal body type and you know what type that is… none of your fucking business.”
As you (with all good intentions) praise someone for their weight loss, you simultaneously imply they look better now than they did before.
Even when the comments made regarding someone’s body are positive on the surface, we never truly know the reason behind another’s weight loss or gain and subsequently, you should (in the words of our queen Lizzo) mind your fucking business. As you (with all good intentions) praise someone for their weight loss, you simultaneously imply they look better now than they did before. Reaffirming that slimness equals beauty and their self-worth is dictated by the number they see on the scales.
Lockdown has sent many individuals into a spiral of self-critique. Particularly in the UK, as a country we spent the first two months of quarantine drinking away the worrying presence of a global pandemic. Our weekly take out became the only glimpse of normality to look forward to, and we all collectively concluded that baking copious amounts of banana bread was the only way to rescue an otherwise unproductive furloughed day. (I’ll have you know that the Dominoes you just ordered was not greedy at all, in fact you single handedly saved the British economy so hurray to you). Truly, if you can’t have a slice of bloody cake amidst a pandemic then when can you.
The worst bit, we were stuck with ourselves. All day. Every day. With time to notice even the slightest change in our body. Our only solace of human connection was found within Instagram story updates from our peers; who all seemed to magically become Olympic runners within two months, set with a Strava account and a suspiciously impressive 5K time. Between the brutal comparisons and damning self-critique, lockdown has amplified the suffocating body pressures already harmfully present within society. And between updates of Boris destroying our country and racists defending a statue before the equality of human beings; our drip fed, guilty pleasure of celebrity gossip once again intensifies the message that our weight stands in direct correlation to our worth.
Heartbreakingly, eating disorder charity BEAT has reported that since lockdown was announced, their demand for services has increased by 72%. This harrowing statistic emphasises the damning impact lockdown has had on a large percentage of public mental health. BEAT has advised those who are struggling with lockdown to try to avoid body checking behaviours and limit access to social media that may negatively harm their mental health.
Olivia Petter wrote for the Independent that “it’s a damning indictment of the insurmountable beauty pressures women face that even during a global pandemic we feel we must consider our appearance”. In such extreme circumstances, we can objectively see the frivolousness in harshly critiquing ourselves, but with the constant pressure being placed upon ‘normal’ people and celebrities alike, it is inescapable.
And yet as I sit and wait for daily Tik Tok updates to see whether Flo has fit back into her jeans I have to ask myself, am I part of the problem?
This systematic programming is ingrained so deeply that being aware of it is still not good enough.
We have been indoctrinated. We have been brainwashed to believe that we are not good enough by a patriarchal, capitalist society that lusts to sell us diet pills, protein shakes and low carb high fat cooking books. We all know this is poisonous to anyone’s self image but this systematic programming is ingrained so deeply that being aware of it is still not good enough. We have to actively search for sources that rewire our brain into accepting ourselves for who we are and not the bodies we have. Your social media feed is what you make it. Mute any accounts that make you feel negatively about yourself and instead, search for accounts that inspire you to be kinder to yourself.
Maybe, just maybe, our bodies are not an ‘after’ photo waiting to happen purely for the gratification of other people. And while we are at it, neither is the body of your favourite celebrity.
So, as lockdown begins to lift and we flick through the final drabs of what Netflix and Disney+ have to offer, please remember your favourite actor or actress may not be as happy as what their outward self portrays. They too, are probably craving a bowl of pasta just like our childhood sweetheart, Zac Efron. The East High alumni is here to remind us that we are all in this together.
Pass me another slice of banana bread and for the love of god, let’s stop talking about other people’s bodies.
If you are struggling with the themes mentioned within this article then please contact your local GP or visit https://www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk/ for information and resources.