Can we please stop talking about our quarantine weight?

By Sophie Clark

I got lucky with Covid. I only lost my senses of taste and smell for a month. Last week when I told this to a friend, her first reaction was, “Did you lose weight? If I couldn’t taste anything, I simply wouldn’t eat.” And — as much as I wanted to respond with, “I was more preoccupied with the terror of having the coronavirus” — I couldn’t because, well, she was right. No senses meant no appetite, and I thought that was great. 

Please do not take that paragraph as a lesson. It is SO messed up that my first reaction to having a potentially deadly illness was that I could lose a few pounds. It also reflects the brutal influence of growing up for 22 years in a culture fixated on the false pretense that size equals success. 

Now that we’re back on campus, this fixation on weight is even more glaring. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had this conversation at least 10 times now: 

“Hey, how was your quarantine?”

“It was fine but ugh, I totally gained so much weight.”

“Me too, yikes. The Covid Fifteen, am I right?”

It’s understandable, of course. We’ve been stuck inside with our bodies, trapped in an inescapable mental and physical hell with only our own reflections for comfort and ire for the last six months. Of course we’re going to fixate on what we look like. But do we have nothing else to say to our friends? Nothing

Are we, the so-called “liberal-arts-outside-the-box-thinkers,” so stuck in this obsession with our physical forms that we can’t imagine a world outside of our bodies? There must be a way that we can take everything this school has taught us about reimagining the world around us and apply it to our friends and to ourselves.

Let’s have conversations about how we’re actually doing. Some of us got sick. Some of us lost loved ones. Some of us were living in the epicenter of a social revolution. We need our friends now more than ever, and being a good friend includes stanching the flow of conversations steeped in societally ingrained self-hatred, even if it’s much easier to talk about a few pounds than our current mental state. 

This sentiment isn’t unique to Covid-19 times. Last year Quinn Boyle’s op-ed “The Skinniest College in America” was one of the most widely circulated articles in The Campus’ history. This was not only because she brilliantly shed light on the college’s failures around mental health resources but also because her struggles with disordered eating were far too relatable to far too many people. 

This college — and country — has pandemic-level rates of disordered eating. It’s an intrinsic part of our moral code, with people far too casually tying “good” and “bad” to food groups and exercise. 

In a time when we are surrounded by genuine evil, why are we pretending that our standards of good and bad are based on how many leaves we consume, and why are we wasting our time applying these fake moral standards to ourselves? Nobody is winning a Nobel Prize for going on a jog, just as nobody is going to a grand jury for having an extra slice of cake. 

And yet, we spend a lifetime being our own judges and executioners. It’s exhausting. ”

I recognize that saying “don’t talk about weight” will probably result in a lot more people talking about weight… but if we do have to talk about it, can we at least shift the conversation away from attacking ourselves and onto attacking the culture that has invaded our self-worth? 

We do not need to “bottle this all up” — I think we do enough of that on this campus already. But we desperately need to reevaluate our value systems for ourselves and each other before it’s too late. Before we have to pack everything up again and regret missing out on that Flatbread dinner with friends because we equated “healthier” with a salad instead of with a friendship — or regret sleeping through an entire day when we didn’t eat before drinking because we thought that calories counted more than hours on this campus. 

This is not to minimize the reality of those struggling with eating disorders here on campus. This semester’s limited food options and strict dining hall hours may be frustrating to some, but they are borderline cataclysmic to others who need control over their meals in order to satisfy the crippling conditions of a mental illness. Eating disorder recovery is slow and nonlinear, and being thrown out of a routine during a larger crisis is terrifying. If you or a friend is struggling with this, please call Midd TeleHealth and/or the National Eating Disorders Crisis Hotline at 800-931-2237.

We have been through a lot this year. Our bodies are surviving a pandemic. Our bodies are sitting in the library taking in information that will help us lead the world out of this mess. Our bodies are hosting dance parties (six feet apart) and holding our friends close (soon). We need our bodies now more than ever, so can we please, please, stop talking about our weight?

Sophie Clark is a member of the class of 2021.