Lena Dunham Opened Up About the Pressure to Change Your Body During Quarantine

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US actor Lena Dunham attends the premiere of the seventh and final season of HBO's "Veep" at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York City on March 26, 2019
US actor Lena Dunham attends the premiere of the seventh and final season of HBO's "Veep" at Alice Tully Hall at the Lincoln Center in New York City on March 26, 2019

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

It's no secret that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has caused some people to become hyper-focused on their bodies. Damaging phrases like "quarantine 15" have been thrown around on social media, and many have voiced their guilt for falling off their fitness wagon. Now, with the new year around the corner, it's likely that you're being bombarded with even more weight loss and clean eating messages — and if the mere thought of that is making you anxious, Lena Dunham is here to tell you that you're not alone.

The former Girls star recently took to Instagram with a photo of herself poolside in a bikini, along with a vulnerable caption. "You know I've been thinking a lot about my pot belly in quarantine — especially as I notice an unusual amount of articles with titles like 'how I lost the weight' and 'diet is everything,'" she wrote alongside the post. "Are there more of them or do I just have more time to notice?"

Usually, Dunham continued, she's relatively unbothered by such content. But this time something's different, she explained. "Somehow, headlines that used to roll off my flesh rolls sting in a new way," she wrote. "Not because I think that's the body I'm meant to have, but because it feels like it's adding yet another item to the epic to-do list we are all creating for ourselves in Covid." (Related: Why It's Okay to Enjoy Quarantine Sometimes — and How to Stop Feeling Guilty for It)

Given the so-called "extra time" COVID-19 has granted us, Dunham pointed out that there's this unrealistic expectation to accomplish as much as possible in quarantine, whether it's learning a new skill or changing your entire wellness regimen. "But for most people, pandemic life has not proven to be a break from the world or themselves," she wrote. "And so the list grows, the items remain unchecked, and the suggestion of a revamped clean eating plan in my newsfeed somehow feels like a personal assault." (Related: The One Thing You Can Do to Be Kinder to Yourself Right Now)

Dunham admitted that she's always struggled with body image, so her current feelings aren't new to her. "Growing up chubby, fat, thicc, whatever you wanna call it, I always felt my body was a sign that read, 'I'm lazy and I have done less,'" she wrote in her post.

But after a lot of hard work and self-reflection, Dunham thought she'd turned a new leaf, she shared. "Over the years, as my body guided me through my career and illness and disability, I started to appreciate what it was capable of," she wrote.

Recently, however, she said she's felt a resurgence of those negative emotions about her body — something she attributes to the pandemic. "Somehow, this pandemic time has brought back some of those old feelings of self-loathing and I think it all comes back to that damned to-do list, the one that started when we went into lockdown," she wrote in her post. "Should I be revamping my fridge with veggies and showing off before/after pics, emerging from quarantine with a revenge body?"

"Why, after all these years spent fostering self-love, do I still feel like weight loss is an item for my to-do?" she continued.

Plenty of people are feeling the same emotional rollercoaster as Dunham. In fact, research published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences suggests a link between COVID-19 anxiety and a rise in negative body image. "Certainly during the initial spring lockdown period, our screen time increased, meaning that we were more likely to be exposed to thin or athletic ideals through the media, while decreased physical activity may have heightened negative thoughts about weight or shape," lead study author Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, said in a press release. "At the same time, it is possible that the additional anxiety and stress caused by COVID-19 may have diminished the coping mechanisms we typically use to help manage negative thoughts."

That being said, experts caution against being too hard on yourself for slacking on your workouts or eating habits during this time. "The quarantine has caused a massive shakeup in many of your regular routines and health habits," psychologist and therapist Sheava Zadeh, Ph.D. previously told Shape. "It is so easy to fall into a lethargic mood each day as you wait around to get back to your normal busy lifestyle." (Related: Why You Might Want to Cool It On High-Intensity Workouts During the COVID Crisis)

Rather than trying to sustain your pre-pandemic lifestyle, Zadeh suggested a complete shift in mindset. "Understand that you're in the midst of a pandemic, and things are likely different for you now," she explained. "You can't realistically have the same expectations [for yourself] as you did before."

Most importantly, you can't let your workout or eating habits determine your self-worth. "It's understandably difficult not to let expectations of what you think you 'should' be doing affect your self-worth to some degree," Talkspace therapist Meaghan Rice, Psy.D., L.P.C., told Shape. "You may feel like you're not doing as much as your friend, for instance, but maybe your friend is dealing with different circumstances than you are — while you may be feeling lonely and needing to veg out on your bed, your friend may be quarantining with roommates or a significant other who monopolizes all her time, and therefore needs to work out to be alone."

Truth is, everyone has different ways of coping during this pandemic. Regardless of what works for you, remember that health isn't just about eating a certain way or burning off calories. It's about taking care of your mind, too.