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Maeve Madden opens up about how the pandemic is affecting our body image

Sometimes, being on Instagram can feel like a blessing and a curse. We have access to this resource that lets us connect with others, find new interests, nurture ones that we already have and entertains us for hours on end.

But there is a flip side to all these positives. Because it is an image and aesthetic-drive platform, it can feel overwhelming sometimes, when we are bombarded with the snapshots of the perfect moments in people’s lives. Because those are the moments that people choose to share, it can be easy to look at our own lives in comparison and feel unworthy or inadequate.

The point is, a little dose of reality can really make a difference on the platform.

And Maeve Madden’s page is fantastic source of necessary realness. It’s easy to fall into the influencer trap. They’re relatable, they’re gorgeous, they’re funny, they post a picture of them eating pizza and then the next one on their grid is of them looking impossibly tiny in the latest season’s fashion.

Person Using Smartphone Application

It can cause confusion and disrupt our image of what we as women – or even as men – are supposed to look like when we are well-fed and enjoying life. It can seem like inconsistent messaging at times, when we are shown these perfect people who apparently eat and talk and act like us, and yet somehow, we don’t look like them? It creates an aspiration to live up to and it nurtures the idea of chasing the perfect body – because if they can do it, why can’t we?

This kind of mentality can far too easily slip into something far more dangerous than Instagram envy. An eating disorder is an illness that actually begins in the mind, even though its effects show up on the body. If an eating disorder sounds like an overdramatic reaction to Instagram envy, then you might be surprised by how closely the two are linked. By internalising these perfect images of people – which can be manipulated or photoshopped – we internalise the idea that this is the perfect way to have a body. If those thoughts begin to lead to controlled eating, it is a slippery slope to a poisoned relationship with food.

woman holding plate of cake

Which is why Maeve Madden’s page is a welcome pushback against aspirational body culture. A fitness influencer, Maeve has battled with and continues to overcome disordered eating. Her page is full of workout routines and nutrition tips – but not in the usual manner. This is not a page full of workouts entitled ‘Beach-bod abs’ or ‘toned arms workout’. Calorie counting, unachievable lifestyles or body negativity has no place on this page. Maeve is all about strengthening our bodies, feeling the positive mental benefits of exercise and feeling fit – not thin.

But what is most striking about her page is that, peppered amongst all the workouts, funny selfies and (admittedly) stunning hair care, there are serious, considered and honest posts about her struggle with disordered eating. Madden lays bare the pitfalls of the ‘wellness’ and fitness industry and how easy it is to go from being interested in bettering your body to being consumed by it. She doesn’t hold back, posting old pictures of herself that she used to consider beautiful for their thinness, and now she looks back on with horror at the wasted body she sees.

She recently shared a post about how the conditions of the pandemic can trigger a surplus of eating disorders among the population. Eating disorders are never about food. It’s about controlling food and your body when you feel other elements of your life are out of your control, are overwhelming you or that you can’t handle other stressors;

‘We have an epidemic of purposeful starvation in one of the worlds most advanced countries. Eating disorders are on the rise due to the strain of the pandemic. With trends like 9’waist challenge going Viral it is unbelievable saddening to know that there has been a huge increase in ED [eating disorders]. We don’t need to know what your # what [you] eat in a day!!!! Diet culture has made restricting food seem normal & socially acceptable.’

The fitness influencer shared a photo of herself when she suffered from the eating disorder vs now when she has undergone the journey to recovery.

‘Looking back now, it’s crazy how warped my view of my own body once was. How did I become happy in my own body is a question I am regularly asked? You may think that’s ridiculous question but I am finding it more and more common these past few months. Your healthy happy weight is that in which your body settles into when you no longer engage in disordered eating patterns and thoughts. In order to work past this I had to learn what triggered my symptoms I had to learn to change the way I thought about myself.’

Interrupting the pattern is one of the most essential but most difficult parts of trying to recover from an eating disorder. The habit and mentality has formed in your mind and it can feel totally frightening to going back to normal eating habits, when it has become something shameful, something that you hide from those closest to you.

Maeve shared some of the most helpful mantras and thoughts that helped her to get through the difficult phases of beating her eating disorder.

‘1. There is a size my body wants to naturally be and I am not going to waste my life fighting it.

2. My body is not the problem, what I have been TAUGHT to think is the problem.

3. Dieting does not make me a better person, nourishing my body does.

4. It is never ever shameful or wrong to want more food.

5. Hunger is necessary - it is a basic survival signal.

6. Choosing movement that is fun and brings me joy - rather than a punishment.

7. Rejecting mainstream fitness culture.

8. No amount of restriction is going to make you fear food less. Trust your body with all foods.

9. Someone’s judgement of what you are eating is a reflection of their own discomfort.’

‘A positive relationship with food is not about eating fruits & veg, counting numbers, points, syns, etc but about nourishing your body with joy, trust and unconditional permission. You can still enjoy life and work towards your own goals without this immense pressure of criticising your body daily.’

Maeve’s bravery and upfront approach to this little-spoken-about topic is the dose of reality that your Instagram feed needs. Too often, it’s easy to be sucked into the vortex of Instagram and to be convinced that you, exactly as you are, are not enough. To be shown people who seem to eat what you eat and exercise as much as you exercise and to still not look like them is frustrating. But frustration at an idealised image (that probably isn't real to begin with) can easily turn to something darker and Maeve shines a cold harsh light on the reality of the insecurities that fitness-Instagram can create.

Her posts show her body at every stage of her journey, from just after her dinner to just after an intense workout. She highlights how our bodies – particularly women – don’t look the same from one hour to the next, never mind one week. We bloat, we deflate, we look lean at certain angles and not at others. Bodies are not designed to aesthetically please, they are designed to get us places, to help us achieve our goals and dreams and to eat and exercise and laze around. And Maeve shows us they deserve to be properly nourished and cared for because of that.

Fiona Murphy is a freelance writer, specialising in book-related content, fiction and poetry. She can be found drinking tea, craving tapas or attempting to finish her never-ending-novel.

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