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‘I’m not ready for prime time’: Appearance anxiety is mounting as we emerge from our bubbles

Teeth are being whitened. Personal trainers are being retained. Wrinkles are being Botoxed.

Claudia Thompson of Malden is getting ready for the end of the coronavirus pandemic restrictions. After drinking a lot of tea during the shutdown, she has started whitening her teeth.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

We’ve spent the past year yearning to see each other. But now that the countdown to “hard pants” has actually begun, we’re afraid to be seen.

“I’m not ready for prime time,” said Dana Gitell, a marketing manager at Hebrew SeniorLife, who’s recently started going for walks during her conference calls, but has not yet achieved desired results.

“I’m on day two of whitening my teeth,” said Claudia Thompson, of Claudia Connects, “and if I don’t see a massive difference soon I’m going to ask my dentist about [whitening].”

“I’m afraid I’m going to be judged,” said Amanda Bedford, an administrator at a local college. “My fear is seeing co-workers and everyone taking stock of everyone.”


Bedford, of Jamaica Plain, spent her free time reading historical novels instead of riding her exercise bike, a choice that she said was good for her soul but bad for her waist.

“Call it ‘self-care’ or whatever,” she said. “I needed to give myself some grace.”

Grace. That’s a nice thought. But with the vaccine rollout accelerating — and 42 percent of adults reporting an undesired weight gain, with an average gain of 29 pounds, according to the American Psychological Association — many people feel the race is on.

At the High Voltage Wellness and MedSpa, in Roslindale, a nonsurgical facelift treatment — starting at $600 a pop — has a wait list, and the people calling to book an appointment with a high-intensity electromagnetic body sculpting device sound urgent.

“It’s like, ‘I have to get this done, I am going on vacation,’ ” said owner AnnaMaria Locilento.

Denise Gonzalez-Ramos, the owner of a Stoughton company that specializes in post-cosmetic surgery compression garments, Shaped Curvy, is seeing enormous demand from people who’ve had tummy tucks, liposuction, and rear-end lifts. “People are hungry for a quick fix,” she said.


Some people are trying to sneak in cosmetic procedures while masks (or working from home) can still provide cover or privacy for potential bruising from injections, said Mary Dealy, a nurse practitioner who owns BeautoxEtc, in Medfield.

She’s getting an unprecedented number of calls from people who have been staring at their faces on Zoom for a year and are now frantic. Women have been coming in for lower facial and lip fillers, and men for Botox. “They want to come in right away,” she said.

In Dorchester, personal training clients who used to work out once a week with Erin Madore have gone twice-weekly, and one new client wanted to come in five times a week.

“She hasn’t worked out in literally a year, only walked the dog,” said Madore, a co-owner of Connected Through Strength. “I was like, ‘That’s how you blow out your back. Let’s take it slow and steady.’ ”

“It’s like working with people who are trying to look good for a wedding,” Madore said.

Or for a beauty pageant. In fact, asked which is harder, whipping herself into shape for Miss Massachusetts USA and Miss New Hampshire USA competitions over the past few years or getting ready to reemerge into society, Alexa DiMario described the situation as nuanced.

“I’m not being judged in a bikini on stage,” said DiMario, who lost a job at a startup thanks to the shutdown, and gained a bunch of weight, “but I’m putting so much pressure on myself.”


Even as much of the nation frantically tries to prepare for the reckoning, others say the continued focus on physical appearance is the wrong lesson to take from this horrible year.

“Hopefully, the pandemic has taught most of us that the ridiculous things we did to ‘look good’ made us miserable,” Nour Langendorfer, an attorney, wrote on a Facebook post in a Jamaica Plain group, in response to a Globe query. “I’ve stopped wearing most makeup, jeans, and anything that makes me remotely uncomfortable. Most women I know have stopped wearing bras.”

The looming pressure to be seen once again is causing a lot of anxiety, said Sarajane Mullins, a licensed mental health counselor in Woburn, who specializes in eating disorders. “You’re vulnerable to how other people see you and to the feedback you might get.”

Mullins, who subscribes to the “healthy at every size” philosophy, is hearing from clients who are worried about seeing family members who may make remarks. “Many people are self-conscious that they didn’t spend the time working out or losing weight as they saw people on social media doing,” she said.

In Medford, Pam Morse is so disheartened by the impressive pandemic bodies filling her social media feed that she’s trying to start a pandemic-weight-gain support group.

In the meantime, her 23-year-old daughter, a special educator, has pointed out that the only people on Instagram are the ones who feel good about themselves.


“Do you think that people who are baking and getting fat are posting?” she asked.

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her @bethteitell.