Quaran-Teens 2020: Quarantined Bodies: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

Quaran-Teens 2020: Quarantined Bodies: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

[The following students are high school seniors at “KTH School” taking International Baccalaureate Social and Cultural Anthropology. After their final IB exams were cancelled, they decided they would like to do an auto-ethnography of their life in coronavirus quarantine. They have collected data for three weeks (including photographs, screenshots of social media and virtual school, interviews, and personal reflections) and written anthropological analyses focused on different terms (communication, society, belonging, materiality, classification, the body, health, and conflict).]

By: Ambria Williams, Tevy Byrd, Jade Sublett, and Robert Jungklas

Introduction

The coronavirus has made a large impact on the entire world. As seniors in high school, we have investigated how the coronavirus has impacted students around the world and how social media and the news have shaped our lives. Throughout our investigation, we focused on how COVID-19 and general health has changed the way people communicate and how identities have been established through language, rituals, and kinship. Each student demonstrates how coronavirus has impacted their lives through participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and visual anthropology. As the picture below indicates, whether through social media or spending quality time with family, we have each discovered our own way to establish a positive and motivating lifestyle during the pandemic.

A person rides their bike at night.
Photo by Author

Social media can help keep people connected

I heavily rely on social media during the pandemic as it helps me feel a shared connection and identity with others. Identity can be defined as being one with a certain group. Group identity can be interpreted, created, and maintained by an individual through agency (the capacity of a person to make their own choices). For example, I feel as if I share a group identity with the class of 2020 as we have the shared experience of not having a normal end to our high school careers. Social memory is one resource that can shape identity and I have been able to witness social memory unfolding before me on social media. One day rainy afternoon as I was flipping through my social media, I saw a message to the class of 2020 that brightened my rainy day. The message made me realize that I identify with a group of students who have lived through historical events such as the coronavirus pandemic. As such, the shared experiences of being quarantined at home, having online schooling, having to miss prom and other iconic high school events, as well as having to witness a  global pandemic has created a social and shared memory amongst students and the class of 2020, therefore forming a unique group of students who I relate to and identify. Even though I have missed out on some iconic high school experiences, I realized through social media that I am not alone and that I am extremely grateful for what I have during this time of unrest.

Dear Class of 2020: You entered the world during 9/11, you graduate during a pandemic. No doubt these events will shape you. You see beyond boarders and political parties. You savor the good. You relist healthy lifestyle habits. The celebrations may need to wait. And you are okay with that. We are proud of you!
Image seen on Facebook by Author

Another resource that has been used to shape my identity during the coronavirus is language. In terms of the data I collected, my experience during the pandemic has primarily consisted of nonverbal communication on my computer and telephone in the form of written language. Written language can be defined as communication through impressions and symbols. Language is universal and is essential for the survival of the human species as it allows for knowledge to be transferred between groups of people and generations. Without the language used to communicate the memes and news posts regarding the coronavirus, I would not be able to understand what is happening in the world or understand the cultural contexts behind the humor in the memes that make me smile during such a tragic and difficult time. For example, one day I was scrolling on my socials and saw a coronavirus meme with a superhero. I smiled because I understood the cultural reference of the meme and how it relates to social distancing. The language used in the meme also made the meme more humorous. The Dr. Manhattan meme below utilizes nonverbal language by bolding the word “no”, further emphasizing how important social distancing is by utilizing an iconic DC character in the message. Essentially, the meme made me happy during an unpleasant time, which helped me feel more reassured that I will persevere despite social distancing.

Dr. Manhattan (Watchmen) sitting alone on Mars. Text reads "There is NO taking to too far with social distancing."
Image seen on Instagram by Author

Bringing positive vibes through family time

Being with my family during this pandemic has brought us even closer together than ever before. Before, my parents were always working, and I was always at school or either out with my friends. As a result of the novel time together, we were able to establish better kinship social relationships, an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies. Being with my family has helped me mentally. Being around their positive energy has given me a new thought on life and to not take anything for granted. I feel my mental health has grown stronger because I have been able to focus on myself and also having my family here to help me reach my goals. For example, exercising with my mom has become our daily ritual activity. Ritual can be defined as actions with intentional symbolic meaning undertaken for a specific cultural purpose, such as a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood. We use these rituals to help our bodies physically to stay in shape and keep us healthy. We have also instituted a ritual family game night every Tuesday where we play UNO. My mom is very competitive when it comes to playing games and so am I. We will play against each other for at least two hours just laughing and having fun.

 Staying connected and active

 While there have been many positive physical and social impacts of social distancing, it has also had some negative impacts. For my research, I talked to three of my friends from different states about quarantine via Discord and found that while all of us had different school situations- one homeschooled, one graduated, one a junior in high school, and me, a high school senior- all of us felt the emotional impacts having our daily rituals disrupted by quarantine. I felt stress and worry on a personal level, and also felt empathetic towards my friends struggling with their own emotional health and sleep schedules. However, spending more time at home also gave me the opportunity to take up new hobbies that support my emotional and physical health.

Despite the term “social” distancing, social relations are as strong as ever. My friends and I talk about how our days are going online and “hang out” through video games like Animal Crossing, and I take the time to go on bike rides around the block with my sister and chat in the afternoon. While many social interactions rely on physical place and space, people are finding ways to construct digital places and spaces to stay connected.

Animal Crossing avatars crowded on a virtual beach.
Photo by Author

Staying positive and helping your community

At the beginning of April my mom told me about a group of local men and women making mask covers as per request of hospital workers. The making of these masks is a quite intricate and involved process, but they are a necessary commodity during this time. The mask covers can be washed and reused and are implemented to extend the life of the medical masks that go underneath. First, I cut out the interior layer of the masks from a pattern in our living room. Then my mom sews the front layer of a more decorative fabric to the inner lining. Either side of the mask needs to have a slot for the elastic to be threaded through, which I do as the final step. Me and my mom have been listening to a variety of podcasts during this time and it has really served as a bonding experience more than anything, especially since I’m about to go off to college.

Mask materials
Photo by Author
Mask materials
Photo by Author

These masks and hand made mask covers provide a perfect example of material culture and interconnectedness in how an event can turn an average object into a universal symbol. Clothing is important material culture for our bodies. Material culture is the concept that we as humans have cultures and rituals that revolve around material objects. This can be seen in “mask culture”. Doctors will always wear masks when dealing with contagious patients, as to not contract whatever contagious affliction their patient has. This establishes a very unidirectional line of thinking with a mask. You wear the mask to not get sick, and that is all it is. However, what the pandemic has brought to light is all the hidden elements of a mask that no one ever thinks about. Masks are a finite resource. They are more important than ever and doctors are no longer the only people that need to wear them on a regular basis.

Amongst all this turmoil and uncertainty, it is important to actively seek out the positive sides of the pandemic. Not only to remain calm and support your mental health but also to learn how others are helping make a difference and how you can too. I think growing up, maybe more in our generation than others, there is a huge emphasis on the idea that not caring about something is “cool”. The more nonchalant or unaffected a character appeared in a TV show or movie, the “cooler” they were. This could be attributed to typical teenage angst and the general concept of counterculture, along with an entire section of the media being aimed at children for the first time in history. This glorification of moody teenagers doing whatever they wanted ingrained a certain pattern of thinking into an entire generation of kids. However one of the most important parts about growing is realizing that caring about something is not only “cool”, it’s most people’s reason to live. Finding a passion can grant you a lifetime of fulfillment. And the pandemic has shown me that if you care about something enough, you can make truly wonderful things happen.

Conclusion 

Despite the abrupt negative changes in everyone’s lives due to the pandemic, there are ways in which to ensure that everyone maintains a healthy mind and body. During unprecedented times, it is valuable to know that connecting with other people can help keep the body motivated. For the body is symbolic, and bodily practices can indicate meanings to the grander society. Whether through social media connections or by playing a card game with family, social interactions are key for keeping the body social. Mary Douglas’s theory of social bodies points to why being social is important during quarantine. The theory states that the physical body is symbolic of a person’s role in society, and that society attempts to control the physical body. During a deadly pandemic, it is important to understand that physically distancing oneself from others can help mitigate the deadly effects. Through the news and social media, people are urging others to physically distance themselves. However, just because one is physically distant, does not mean that they must be socially distant as well. By being open, talking, and helping others during quarantine, people can establish a healthy mind and body during stressful times.

References

Douglas, Mary. (1996, December 4). Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. Retrieved April 23, 2020, from                                                                                        https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/330384.Natural_Symbols

Pountney, Laura, and Tomislav Marić. Introducing Anthropology: What Makes Us Human?,Polity Press, 2015.

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