Weight gain is not unhealthy, obsessing over your weight is. You are never obligated to “work” on your body, but especially not during a pandemic.
This essay discusses fatphobia, disordered eating, and weight change.
When Fat Thor was revealed onscreen in Avengers: Endgame a year ago, the sight of his belly was met with raucous laughter from the theater audience surrounding me. I know from the anecdotes of others that this same kind of laughter erupted at this exact moment in many, many other theaters, but I didn’t need their testimonies to affirm what I already knew: much of the world enjoys laughing at fat people’s expense and the filmmakers were very intentional and specific about what they wanted to achieve with this scene, to elicit laughter at the very idea—and, of course, the sight—of Thor, God of Thunder, in a fat body.
The remainder of the film is marked by continuous reminders that Thor’s body has changed—no longer a ripped and chiseled rock-hard body, now a softer and rounder one—and those reminders are marked by body-shaming from the people around him, as well as insulting commentary and assumptions about his eating habits, even from his own mother. We are meant to accept that he deserves these jabs about his body because we are meant to understand that his body is shameful.
Each and every one of these moments are included for comedic relief. Their very function is to encourage laughter at Thor’s fatness, and they do so with the specific context that he has always been considered extremely attractive, driven, and formidable with a more “fit” physique in past films. Audiences are meant to understand his fatness as both a symbol and a direct result of this Thor’s laziness, apathy, and self-loathing. It’s to signify that he has given up and lost heart. Moreover, it’s meant to signify the degree to which he has surrendered to despair, failure, and ruin. The film is able to achieve this only because of the already accepted widespread societal understandings of fatness and weight gain, and beliefs regarding what they denote about us.
When fat activists, scholars, and thinkers explained quite plainly why this treatment of Thor was so problematic and fatphobic, we were overwhelmingly met with explanations of, “Well, actually, weight gain is a common result of depression.” As if fat activists, scholars, and thinkers did not know this, and as if the way this was presented in the film was not also a part of the problem. The fact that Thor’s body changed, or even why it changed, was never the issue. It’s how his weight change is framed within the narrative, how it is achieved (via an artificial fat suit), and how other characters respond to his body’s change that are intentionally fatphobic and cruel.
The connection between that cultural moment and this one feels rather striking to me. Now, the body in question is not that of a Norse god trying desperately to drink away the pain of failure and loss, but our own. People are now openly and frequently remarking on their personal anxieties about weight gain during quarantine, preemptively shaming people who inevitably will gain weight, or aggressively promoting dangerous rhetoric encouraging obsessive exercise and unhealthy dietary restrictions. It’s a damn near unavoidable discussion, popping up in every corner of the internet and in conversations with colleagues and loved ones.
Bodies and how we exist in them are heavy on my mind right now, particularly because I recently had to part ways with a personal trainer after they went out of their way to purchase a new scale for me as a birthday gift. I’d hired them to support me with strength training, but there was a sustained and uncomfortable amount of focus on my weight and body measurements throughout our time together. Even though I reiterated multiple times that my weight was not a concern or priority, they always listed “weigh yourself every morning” as a goal for me, along with an arbitrary “goal weight”—a number we never discussed or agreed upon. It seems that they could not fathom the idea that a fat person could be invested in their body without being inherently invested in the number on the scale or in becoming less fat.
The biases and belief systems that kept weight loss at the forefront of my former trainer’s mind and methods are the same biases and belief systems that make Fat Thor into a comedic spectacle and a target for continuous body-shaming for having gained weight. You draw upon these same things when you talk about your fears of gaining the “COVID-15” or “Quarantine 15” and lamenting what your “post-quarantine body” might look like, even if you are doing so jokingly. It’s frustrating and disheartening to see so many people expressing these sentiments, more and more. As we are reeling from collective trauma, loss, and grief, what we need more of is compassion and grace for ourselves. We need rest, comfort, and care. Instead, people are overwhelmingly feeding into damaging misconceptions about our bodies, what their worth is rooted in, and what “work” we should be doing with them.
It’s okay if you gain weight during quarantine or any other time. You do not need to obsessively track your food intake, especially if you are currently experiencing food scarcity. It can lead you into an even more unhealthy and detrimental relationship with food. Step off the scale. Stop poking at your midsection and frowning at yourself in the mirror. Weight gain is not unhealthy, obsessing over your weight is. You do not need to over-exercise while in quarantine. Don’t punish yourself because it’s not safe to go to the gym right now. It’s okay if you lose some progress on fitness goals you were already working towards. Progress doesn’t have to be linear anyway. You haven’t failed. You are never obligated to “work” on your body, but especially not during a pandemic.
We should not regard our bodies as products, facilities, or exhibits, as things that require constant upkeep and curation. We do not owe a “kept” body to anyone, including ourselves, and we don’t deserve to subject ourselves to the detrimental demands of diet and fitness culture. We are not required to come out of this with bodies that look the same as they did before quarantine. We don’t need to emerge on the other side more “healthy” and more “fit” than we were before—especially because both concepts of “healthy” and “fit” are rooted in fatphobia and ableism.
Diet and fitness culture so closely resemble the ugliness of capitalistic “Rise and Grind” rhetoric that I would not hesitate to call them kin. These are cultures that worship exploitative, self-sacrificial labor. They are tirelessly promoted by those who have been taken in by the myth that labor is the reason for our existence, and that labor is what we must do to justify that existence and earn our right to sustenance. They insist that we must always be working towards something and that it somehow reflects poorly on us if we are not doing so. It glorifies exhaustion, pain, and deprivation, even commanding us to seek them out.
We owe it to ourselves to do everything in our power to resist the sway of these dogmas. Now is as good a time as any to challenge every fucked up notion of diet and fitness culture—especially the lie that weight gain is an indication of immorality and poor character, that it makes us sinful, tainted, disposable, and deserving of ridicule. It’s the perfect time to interrogate how and why so many of us have been convinced that constantly “working” on our bodies is what signifies our health, self-love, dedication, ambition, and morality.
Gaining weight during quarantine, or any other time, doesn’t mean that you are lazy, apathetic, or self-loathing. It doesn’t signify that you have given up or lost heart. It doesn’t mean that you have surrendered to despair, failure, and ruin. Now is the perfect time for you to learn that it was always a mistake to attach any meaning to body size and weight gain in the first place. Our bodies often change when our routines, access, environment, and stability do, and you are no exception.