I’ve put it off.  I’ve delayed, obsessed, equivocated, but I’m going in.  It’s time to talk about “The Quarantine 15” — the smugly termed, weight gain phenomena many Americans have experienced during the Coronavirus quarantine, the butt (no pun intended) of endless memes and boozy confessionals on Instagram, the source for celebrity TikToks and alarmist media articles.  Yes, America has gained a lot of weight during the pandemic. Many of our bodies look and feel different after four months in lockdown — some of you may be in the best shape of your lives, but others of us (myself included) have lost our workout mojos.  Some of you have been growing your own vegetables and baking your own breads — others of us (myself included) have turned to comfort foods high in sugar and fat to get through the long days.  Some of you chose to swear off alcohol during this time — others of us (myself included) have barely gone a night in four months without a drink.  And now it’s summer and we have revealed our Quarantine Bodies to ourselves and the world, i.e. the small circle of folks we actually see.  Some of us feel great about our changed bodies and some of us (myself included) don’t feel so great.

The embarrassing thing is that my work is all about empowerment — empowering girls to grow stronger, to learn new physical and emotional skills, to love their developing bodies; empowering parents to support their children and help them push back against unrealistic societal pressures of how girls and women should look and act.  And yet, here I am, expending so much emotional energy feeling disempowered by worries of weight gain, echoed on endless Zoom calls and run-ins with my bathroom mirror in the hamster-wheel existence of lockdown.  I feel like such a hypocrite.  Who am I to talk about empowerment when I’ve done a pretty crappy job empowering myself, saddled with the reverberations of the annoyingly rhyming “Quarantine 15”?  So starting today, I’m re-empowering myself and to do that, I need to change the conversation away from the “what” of the Quarantine 15 and move it toward the “why” of the Quarantine 15.  

Instead of focusing on the fact that during this strange and scary time we have made different eating and exercise choices, leading to significant weight gain, I’d rather focus on what our choices reflect about our emotional state.  I want to have an honest (one-sided, soul-bearing, confessional) conversation about what’s underneath the Quarantine 15, and I don’t mean the added cellulite on my hips, I mean the really hard feelings this time has wrought on us all.  As my colleague Mary Pat Draddy, LMSW counseled me, our outsides often match our insides — so what are our outsides telling us about our insides right now? What do our less healthy choices about food and alcohol demonstrate about the challenging things have we faced these past four months?  

And here’s where things get real.  Where the snarky memes and the snide tweets about getting fat in quarantine are not only not funny, they’re tone deaf to some really painful truths.  Some of us have lost loved ones; some of us are frightened for our safety and our family’s safety; some of us are facing financial insecurity and job loss; some of us are seeing the return of depression or anxiety; some of us are struggling with sobriety and addiction; some of us are lonely; some of us are smothered by unhappy relationships; some of us feel like failures at parenting or failures at our jobs, or both; some of us are caring for special needs children without our support system; some of us are caring for ailing loved ones without help; some of us are trapped in our homes with abusive partners; some of us have missed major milestones for ourselves or our children; some of us are wrecked by the overwhelming political and racial situation in this country; some of us are terrified of the return to school; some of us are praying for the return to school; some of us are hopeless, lost, afraid and alone.  The list of difficult experiences in this pandemic is seemingly infinite, a ghoulish parade of gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, soul-crushing disappointments, losses and setbacks.  At every turn we are met with such profound uncertainty that many of us have stopped planning more than a week or two ahead.  So the Quarantine 15?  Pardon my French, but fuck the Quarantine 15.

When we look at the why, the painful reality of what so many of us have been facing in our lives, a bigger pair of shorts (who am I kidding, I never wear shorts) is the least of our problems.  When worries circle the existential truths of life, causing us to question even our perceptions of reality, who cares if we have to buy new jeans come fall? To that end, with a month left of sunshine and blooming flowers and Aperol Spritzes, here is my goal today and tomorrow and hopefully in the weeks to come: I am going to stop judging myself for the choices I have made in order to cope with this pandemic. I am going to stop berating myself for finding comforting ways to manage life when the world has turned upside down.  I am going to be grateful for every day through which I made it safely when I did not know what would happen to my family, my city, my country.  I am going to applaud myself that, like an infant finding her thumb, I was able to self-soothe with food, drink and Netflix.

And then, when I have successfully shifted my perspective, moved from seeing my choices these last four months not as embarrassing but acceptable, not as weak but necessary, not as destructive but caring, I am going to make a list (my favorite activity in normal AND pandemic times.) The list will have three items on it:

  1. Something I have been doing during quarantine that helped me cope, but I am now ready to let go of.
  2. Something I have been doing during quarantine that helped me cope that I would like to continue doing.
  3. Something I used to do in my pre-pandemic life that I would like to get back to.

Make your own list. Write it down. Keep it private or share it with your family. Send it to me if you think it would inspire others.  Stop judging your choices or your body or your needs.  Love yourself for all the ways you survived this time and helped others survive.  Congratulate yourself on the tiniest victories and the smallest successes.  And most of all, remember — fuck the Quarantine 15.

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