(and it isn’t a reason to make a joke out of disordered eating)

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

Since the announcement regarding the path to easing restrictions last week, social media has been a breeding place for fatphobia. Memes that manipulate images and text to advertise a collective consciousness obsessed with losing weight never have been, and never will be, funny.

Because where these jokes – references to getting slim for June—pictures of plates of ice with the caption ‘my meals until June 21st,’ images of plus-size actresses captioned ‘me outside the club this summer’— may seem harmless, they are viciously feeding the starvation of a population dominated by a toxic idea of body image.

Already, the charity BEAT estimates that around 1.25 million people in the UK suffer from an eating disorder; lockdown has provoked an unprecedented growth in the numbers of people struggling. Popularising jokes around disordered eating does not only run the risk of triggering dangerous habits for millions of people and jeopardizing their recovery, but it also normalises and, to an extent, glorifies harmful behaviour around food and eating.

Social media’s preoccupation with allowing these memes and jokes to be broadcast, while simultaneously censoring and shaming the photos posted by plus-size models and influencers, is a hypocrisy born and bred out of fatphobia. Even after the horrors that have unfolded over the past year, the deep-rooted hatred towards fat people is still trying to convince individuals that there is one thing in the world scarier than anything we have endured, and that is gaining weight.

So, essentially, these ‘harmless’ jokes are not harmless at all. The comment section below memes joking about lockdown weight, full of women tagging their friends, the exaggerated use of the ‘laughing face’ emoji – it is all sinister. Sinister because people are finding these relatable. Sinister because, not only do they find them relatable, but they are also using them to bond with each other, so that groups of society are becoming knitted together by this shared fear of gaining weight. Furthermore, the popularity of these jokes reflects a nation that is obsessed with dehumanising and demonising fat people—a population of people, young and old, who cannot fathom anything worse than stepping outside and living life as a fat person. And as these jokes gain likes, and shares, and coverage, they begin to take over our screens and conversations in a manner that is completely and utterly inescapable, with a message that is more so.

It says something about the consensus of the population, and how we think about body image, when memes are not formatted out of fear of catching the virus which has dominated our lives for a year, but around the fear of coming out of lockdown with weight gain. When fat people are reduced to laughing emojis and the struggles of the 12.5 million people who live with eating disorders are turned into memes, society feeds the dehumanisation and subsequent marginalisation of a huge number of people. Beyond that, the idea that the lifting of restrictions can be used collectively as an excuse for people to desensitise themselves to the struggles of those who deal with eating disorders, when the popular subject of all discourse throughout lockdown was mental health, is incredibly worrying.

Toxic diet culture must not be allowed to find further footing as lockdown begins to lift. We must not remain deaf to the insensitivity and harm that comes with joking about and normalising disordered eating. Fatphobia has no place in our society, and it cannot be allowed to predominate post-lockdown discourse.