Maddy Mitchell / Gavel Media

The Pressure of the Quarantine "Glow Up"

The fresh start of a new year typically brings the hope, and often pressure, of a reset—an undoing of the “bad” from the past year, a resurgence of new habits, and a clean slate. When the clock strikes midnight on a new year, there is a sense of relief as we say goodbye to the old and welcome in the new. 

The beginning of 2021 brought a whole new meaning to this sigh of relief. A new sense of hope has emerged with a coronavirus vaccine finally in circulation and cases dropping worldwide after being at all-time highs in the months following the holiday season, and with that, there is much we are all waiting to accomplish as the world slowly opens up again. After what is hard to believe has almost been a full year spent living and working from home, we are anxious to get back to the things and people that bring us joy.

With the sight of a coronavirus-free world on the horizon, there is a new pressure to come out of quarantine better than when we entered it—a pressure unlike any sort of New Year’s push we have seen in prior years. Going into 2020, common New Year’s resolutions for Americans included exercising more (48%), improving diet (45%), and losing weight (44%), but due to more sedentary lifestyles and the halt of life as we knew it, 71 million Americans gained weight in 2020. Whether inspired by TikTok treadmill trends or stories of people whose health thrived during quarantine, there is a newfound pressure to glow-up in 2021 on top of the pressure already presented by the tradition of resolutions. While it is important to start and maintain healthy habits in the new year, the anticipation of an open world presents an incredible amount of pressure to come out of this period better than before.

I am no stranger to the struggles of eating disorders or the ever-present pressure to fit societal body-standards, especially those targeted towards women. It is estimated that 30 million Americans have suffered from eating disorders throughout their lifetimes, not to mention the millions who go undiagnosed or suffer from disordered tendencies. For many of these people, myself included, the pressure of the quarantine glow-up is incredibly triggering. 2020 derailed every aspect of our lives, forcing people to come to terms with incredible loss, hardship, sadness, pain, and much more. We have endured so much loss over the last year—why does weight need to be added to that list? We are going through what may be some of the most painful moments of our lives—one of the most unprecedented occurrences in our history—why is there even more pressure to come out of it skinnier?

Boston College is known to its students as being an institution that strives for greatness, yet it’s also one that thrives on toxic gym culture. There is an expectation on campus that everyone should fit a certain look, whether this be the size of one’s body or the way one dresses. As many have seen recently in how competitive it has become to reserve spots at the Margot Connell Recreation Center, the pressure for the New Year’s glow-up is at an all-time high on this campus as well. Perhaps we are all looking for outlets to manage the stress we are under right now, especially as the threat of tightening restrictions looms over all students, but the competitive nature of going to the gym often appears to supersede the actual want and need to workout. It is great to have become more physically healthy during the pandemic, and to want to go to the gym on-campus to work out now. I, too, like working out, and it is commendable to have taken the feat upon oneself to improve physical health amidst everything going on, but it is also okay to have not done so. It is okay to not want to work out right now. It is okay to have gained weight during the pandemic. We are all going through it, we need to stop pressuring ourselves more than what we are already feeling.

Perhaps instead we can take some time to focus on the things we have gained this year, besides maybe weight. We have learned so much about ourselves, of the power of the human spirit. We have learned of the ways in which people can come together amidst adversity and in times of suffering, even when we must physically stay apart. We have gained so much in scientific research, in the ways people have streamlined the vaccine creation process under time constraints to create effective solutions. We have gained new relationships, and a new appreciation for the things we used to take for granted. We have gained perspective that we never would have had. Among all these losses, there has been so much gained. We should be kinder to ourselves for the ways in which we have adjusted to the craziness of this past year.

For those suffering from disordered eating, refer to the Office of Health Promotion, or University Counseling Services for these and other mental health problems.

Political Science major, avid res walker, and certified bagel snob.

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