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Illustration by Dhabia Al Mansoori

“Quarantine 15”: Let’s Leave that in 2020

Expressions like “Quarantine 15” or “Freshman 15” might seem like innocent terms, but these little jokes contribute to a larger cultural framework in which we prioritize size and weight over actual physical well-being.

Nov 1, 2020

If you have been on social media lately, you might have seen jokes about “Quarantine 15.” A play on “Freshman 15” — a term teasing the 15 pounds college freshmen supposedly gain — has been revised to shame weight gained over the past few months in quarantine. Yes, during a pandemic that has reached every corner of the globe, taken thousands of lives and disrupted our entire way of being, we are still hyper fixated on demonizing weight gain.
Expressions like “Quarantine 15” or “Freshman 15” might seem like innocent terms, poking fun at how our bodies change during moments of transition. However, these little jokes contribute to a larger cultural framework in which we prioritize size and weight over actual physical well-being.
Despite the collapse of the world as we know it, this pervasive cultural norm continued to spread, with its most obvious embodiment appearing on social media. Influencers can choose whether to uphold social norms or use their platforms to challenge them. Some have focused on ways to take care of our mental health or retain strength, but others have specifically targeted our insecurities. Workouts titled “Do This Workout to Lose Weight” or “Abs in 2 weeks” went viral during the pandemic. While exercising is important for a healthy lifestyle, tying it to aesthetics only discourages people from participating. If exercise is seen exclusively as a way to preserve or create an attractive body, its other benefits are ignored. Better sleep, improved mental clarity and stress relief are replaced with a feeling of guilt. For example, why do we need to know the calories burnt on an elliptical? Our bodies are not mathematical equations, yet exercise is seen by some as another formula to create our dream body, or achieve our dream weight. And what do you do when workouts that promise aesthetic benefits, using buzzwords like “toned,” “slim” and “shredded,” don’t give you those promised abs? Content advertising “weight loss” only reinforces the idea that it is always necessary to lose weight, and that it is always a positive thing.
When we make jokes about weight gain and perpetuate the idea that it is something to always avoid and be shameful of, we enable the creation of an extremely unhealthy relationship with our bodies. While some may need to lose weight for health reasons, that simply is not true for everyone. Weight gain can actually be a result of healthier practices. For example, a person suffering from an eating disorder may need to gain weight as a part of their recovery process. When this person moves through the world hearing the constant demonization of weight gain, it can cause a relapse, or perpetuate their disorder. Many illnesses, like some cancers and Crohn’s disease, can cause the patient to become underweight. For them, returning to a higher weight could be a move toward better health. Gaining weight may also be the side effect of gaining muscle mass and performing better athletically. The idea that less is always better is not just harmful; it is incorrect.
Bodies change. Pandemic or not, that’s natural. But within the context of the last 10 months, the continued demonization of weight gain is more illogical than usual. The initial stay-at-home orders and lockdowns created the perfect environment for weight gain, necessary or not. Many of us were abruptly yanked out of our routines, leaving behind our healthy habits and practices. Gyms were closed, and many remain shut. In many countries, even going outside for a walk or run was forbidden. Healthy eating habits were quite naturally replaced with unhealthy ones — thanks to our being home all day, with the kitchen only a few feet away. Our movement was limited, and our consumption increased. It only makes sense that our jeans fit a little tighter.
The pandemic has been a shock to our system in many ways. We’re forced to reconsider so many previously held beliefs about politics, race, social life and, of course, health. Consulting with your doctor and not your scale is important. Take time to reflect whether what you value and work towards is truly for your health or not. We should all try to incorporate more healthy habits, like eating a well-balanced diet, moving our bodies regularly in a way that feels good to us, drinking ample water and taking care of our mental health.
But we should not be coerced into doing these things for the sake of achieving an ideal body type. We should also be conscious and compassionate in our interpersonal relationships. If someone’s body looks different from yours, even if you think it’s a positive change, don't comment on their body or weight. Their weight change could be the result of stress, sickness, an eating disorder or many other things. The pandemic has changed so much for us, and leaving behind this stigmatization of weight gain needs to be a part of those changes.
Colleen Mader is a Staff Writer at The Gazelle. Email her at
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