There are things I miss and don’t miss from The Pandemic Years. I don’t miss Zoom quizzes, or googling whether certain amenities lie within a 5km radius, or the flakes on my palms from excessive hand sanitiser use. I’ll tell you what I do miss. I miss the snacks.

know we have (heavy air quotes here) collectively moved on to other things, but indulge me in a brief moment of nostalgia. In the very first few weeks of lockdown, things took on a sort of festive, ‘Storm Ophelia’ sheen. We’d gone full Christmas round these parts. We could stay in for two weeks, no bother. It would be like Christmas Day, or ye olde Good Friday. We would simply keep away from family and friends, and stave off the boredom by eating and drinking our way through our domestic exile.

Except it didn’t quite work out that way. Two weeks famously became two years, and somewhere along the way, I forgot to drop the habit where we ended every night with the sort of feast worthy of a trip to the Cineplex. We were anxious. We were bored. We were whacking all those uncomfortable, anxious feelings down with Haribos and Doritos, night after night. Pretty soon, dresses began to pinch in the wrong places. Buttons and buttonholes refused to meet. Body parts got softer and more rounded. Yet, for the first time in perhaps my life, I genuinely didn’t care. With bigger things going on in the world, my body seemed to be among the least important things to worry about.

The two people I lived with didn’t seem to care, either. Since we exchanged matrimonial vows, one of them is pretty much contractually obliged not to throw up when I undress. The other, aged three, hasn’t a clue what some extra weight means or doesn’t mean. She launches herself on to my body, this new bouncy castle with arms, with total glee. She folds herself into my body’s lumps, because it’s warm and safe and comfortable.

Something interesting happens to a woman and her body when she is shut away from the scrutiny of others, or at least it did to me. I spent the last couple of years feeling like a brain in a jar. It didn’t matter to me one way or the other whether or not everything on my person was the shape and size it was meant to be because… well, if a tree in the forest grows bingo wings and no one is around to see it, is it really happening at all?

Whether they’ve liked it or not, women have entered this unspoken social contract, and because of it, their duty is to stay ‘in shape’. You’re only really adulting properly as a woman if you are eating ‘properly’ and undertaking an acceptable amount of exercise. For years, not keeping up your side of the bargain was tantamount to a moral failure.

God knows when it comes to getting thin and staying thin, I’ve tried down the years. I sweated it out for hours a day, seven days a week. I choked down the foods I hated because some well-meaning person told me to eliminate the ones I liked. I counted down the minutes between glasses of ‘wonder’ juices. There was always a bit of mental arithmetic — calories, food groups — to do before I ate anything. Genuinely, it was exhausting.

Not caring about any of it was, to be fair, a new one on me. It’s not a body positivity thing. In fact, ‘body positivity’, masquerading as a sort of emancipation from the tyranny of thinness, is just swapping out one bodily ideal for another. The body, big or small, is still politicised, and still a talking point. No, the real freedom here would be making peace with our bodies, whatever their shape and size. Not giving a fiddler’s about how we look, or what others might think of how we look, or knowing that we may never look how we might want to.

But now I find myself, like everyone else, returning to the wider world. For two years, I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like to anyone else, and now the scrutiny of others — friends, colleagues, strangers — is back on the table. I will be out in the world, and I will be looked at. Appraised. Perceived. An unwelcome thought keeps cropping up when I see someone that I’ve not seen in ages. “Are they thinking about how much weight I’ve gained?” To have this eating into my mental bandwidth all over again feels like a huge step backward.

I can only hope that the body neutrality that came so naturally in lockdown will continue. I don’t want my brain to fall back into reflexive, self-conscious thoughts.

Of course, I feel sluggish and slow and depleted — treating Doritos as a food group will do that to you — and I want to get back to moving more, and gaining energy, and moving toward a more healthful, less apathetic mindset. Wouldn’t it be great to find some kind of middle ground, somehow?

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