Today’s post comes from Taniya S. Nagpal. Taniya is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at The University of Ottawa. She is also the current outgoing OC-SNP Chair of the OC-SNP National Executive. This blog post also included contributions from all of the OC-SNP executive members

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has changed lives all around the world – from adapting to working from home, sudden closures, prevention of travel, physical distancing to the daily feeling of uncertainty. This is a difficult time and most definitely will be unforgettable. In fact, these days will likely be written in our history textbooks for future generations to read and learn from. As most people around the world are staying home and most recreational activities are unavailable, social media has become an even bigger community than perhaps before this pandemic. We are not only using social media to share our experiences; we are also using it as a space to almost entirely replace in-person interactions. In addition, we are relying on social media for social connectedness, up-to-date news, and an opportunity to make light of the situation. Making light of the situation includes memes, relatable quotes and images. Unfortunately, this social media space that is meant to help us stay connected during this pandemic may also become a space for promoting negative body image and weight stigma, and thus negatively influence the health and well-being for many individuals, including those living with overweight or obesity.

Weight stigmatizing images, quotes, and memes promote negative stereotypes associated with body weight. Online images and quotes suggest that this period of physical distancing will result in weight gain due to “over-eating” because “there is nothing to do at home”, or reference being “lazy” and “binge-watching series” and therefore being inactive. These misconceptions have also led to popular terms such as “Quarantine-15” or the “Covid-19” referring to weight gain during this time. This further promotes the misconception that overweight and obesity are a sole result of physical inactivity and unhealthy eating, and that both behaviours are entirely under the control of the individual. This misinformation ignores the evidence that has consistently shown that obesity is a complex disease condition. In fact, it takes away from obesity being recognized as a disease condition at all, and instead promotes poor body image and negative stereotypes for larger bodies.

Importantly, weight stigmatizing messages will have a negative impact on everyone’s mental health but may be especially harmful for individuals living with overweight or obesity, body distortion, or other weight-related health conditions that they likely had been experiencing prior to this pandemic. During this time of physical distancing, we may not be able to meet one another in person, but social connectedness is needed to help everyone get through this trying time and social media is an effective outlet to allow this to happen. Therefore, we must be cautious in the way that we share messages and assure that our interactions include promotion of positive body image and prevention of weight stigma. The online space should be inclusive, motivational, encouraging and at this time especially – supportive of everyone and their health and well-being.

As Obesity Canada Students and New Professionals members, we can assure our interactions on social media promote body positivity and we can be agents for change in the way that we represent weight and weight gain in a social context. For more resources, you can visit the Obesity Canada website. For example, Obesity Canada image bank includes photographs that provide a non-biased representation of obesity.

We wish you all the very best – hope you stay safe, healthy and connected.