The holidays are a time filled with love, joy, positivity and good cheer, and unfortunately for many of us, they can also bring up an awful lot of negative emotions. As a result, a lot of us wind up dealing with body loathing during the holidays.
When you look at everything that we have to contend with, it’s not hard to see why even the most confident woman’s self-esteem can take a nosedive in December. Family dinners and lunches with friends, talk of New Year’s Resolutions and large meals as a cultural tradition… these elements can all form a veritable minefield for someone who is struggling with their body image in some way.
Unfortunately, you can’t always trust your long lost aunt not to mention that your body has changed. Similarly, you can’t control your friends relentlessly pushing diet-talk, you can’t control backhanded compliments and you can’t control scrutiny over your body, your food, your exercise and your life in general from people who might not even be aware of the profound impact that their contribution to a diet-centric discourse is having on you.
However, there is one thing that you can control… and that’s how you choose to handle those moments.
Let’s run through navigating some of the most common body positivity roadblocks during the holidays:
Situation 1: Your long lost relative rocks up at your holiday dinner and holds nothing back on how they feel about your body shape.
Let’s look at this objectively – they’re a long lost relative, so they’re unlikely to be a consistent influence in your life. However, this doesn’t mean that they’re entitled to make negative comments or thinly veiled insults towards you just because they haven’t seen you in 10 years. This is a great opportunity to (politely) let them know that their comments are not okay (without causing an argument to the effect of “I haven’t seen you in 10 years and the first thing you can say to me is….”) by diverting the topic to focus on something positive, instead.
To do this effectively, a diversion is best placed at a point in the conversation where you sense the insults coming, rather than immediately after they’ve occurred. This relies on you being attentive to what they’re talking about – if they make one insult towards you, they’re likely to do it again, so after the first insult flies start mentally preparing your diversion. Then, when you sense the conversation heading down a dangerous path again, nip it in the bud with something along the lines of:
- “I don’t think we really need to be talking about that… but hey, that reminds me of a movie I saw a few months back, actually. [Insert actress’ name] has talked about that stuff before and she was in [Insert movie name]. Have you seen it? I think you’d love it!”
- “Come on guys, it’s the holidays. Let’s talk about something more holiday-appropriate – do we have any Christmas carols? We should listen to something festive!”
- “[Insert name] – sorry to interrupt but I’m just looking at your hair in the sunlight, it looks great! Did you get something done to it?”
Anything that diverts the focus away from yourself and onto the other person or another subject can be a great way to quickly and silently diffuse negative conversations. This is a good tactic if you don’t feel confident discussing why you don’t want to talk about food/body image/exercise (which you’re not required to justify).
Situation 2: A close family member or friend who knows you well has a favorite past-time of picking at you. It’s happened every year, and you’re dreading it again this year.
Unlike a long lost relative where you can very subtly divert the topic away from unwanted subjects, dealing with a close family member or friend requires a little more thought, tact and careful planning. If you’re not particularly phased about the prospect of their comments continuing as long as you’ll know them, then by all means, use the response suggested above. But whilst it might feel great to dramatically flick your napkin down on the table, yell something across the table at them and storm out, for the sake of your sanity (and harmony amongst the dinner guests), addressing these issues head-on is often the only way to stop the same comments from occurring year after year after year…. trust me.
This is easier said than done because when someone picks apart your appearance, lifestyle or character (particularly if they’re someone you care about), that can sting. Add holiday social pressures and alcohol to the mix and… well, you’ve got a recipe for disaster. The way to handle this lies in education, rather than defensiveness – and these responses are best prepared and rehearsed ahead of time. Try and anticipate the sort of comments that your judgemental friend/relative may make, and then rehearse a series of responses. If you know how to respond inside and out, you’re less likely to be left flabbergasted, and you can use that chance to lay down some total truth bombs, leaving them floored and making them rethink their behaviour (and leaving you feeling totally empowered).
Additionally, your response will differ depending on whether you feel the person making the comments is deliberately trying to hurt you or is just misguided in how they should approach sensitive topics.
You’ll need to take control of the situation and stop negative comments at the source (which may prevent them from occurring again down the line) and in many cases, you’ll need to give at least a little context on why their comments are out of place. Depending on whether the person is being intentionally hurtful, how much you wish to reveal and how big of an impact you want to make, your response can vary from sweet to completely ballsy. Here are some example guides that you might like to follow:
Sweet: “Do you mind if we not talk about my body weight/food/exercise like this? I’m working through some difficult themes at the moment and I just want today to be about enjoying the company of the people I love! Does a dissection and criticism of my body/eating/fitness really need to be a part of that?”
Kind, but taking no prisoners: “[Insert name]… I have to say, I really don’t appreciate your discussion of my weight/eating fitness/health and truthfully, there’s a lot that you don’t know. My weight/eating fitness/health isn’t up for public debate – nor is yours, or anyone else’s – so let’s keep this civil, shall we?”
The jaw-dropper: “You know what, [insert name]? I’m honestly quite appalled that you feel it appropriate to discuss my health weight/eating/fitness here in a social setting. Just as I can’t diagnose you based on the small snippet of your habits that I see here today, and just as I wouldn’t do you this dishonour of critiquing you on something that I know nothing about, I would hope that you’d be able to give me the same respect. You’re making the holidays an uncomfortable experience, and I’m asking you nicely to stop.”
(And for some great one-liner comebacks, some of these might help!)
Situation 3: Those around you are engaging in diet-talk (such as shaming their own food choices, discussing “bikini body” based New Years Resolutions and perpetuating a vicious cycle of insecurity) – and although they’re not directly critiquing you, their words/actions are impacting you.
This is a common situation that a lot of us find ourselves in, particularly with coworkers making water-cooler conversation. A lot of us don’t feel fully comfortable around our coworkers and thus may “go along” with their conversations, even when those conversations are to our own detriment – such as agreeing that we hate our bodies even if we don’t at all, or nodding along that we too will be starting our diet on January 1st even if we most definitely won’t be dieting.
Similarly, if our families & friends are openly discussing their body dissatisfaction at the dinner table or critiquing each other or swapping diet tips, this can be a triggering experience even if we’re not directly involved in the conversation. In situations like this, context is important. Ask yourself a few questions to assess:
- Is the subject matter outwardly destructive to anyone who might hear the conversation vs. something that is destructive mainly to you?
- How might the people involved react if confronted?
- Are there any obligations tying you to continuing to interact with those people?
Depending on your answers, you have a few options.
- Throw in the towel. If bringing up a sensitive topic with your boss at the water cooler is more likely to get you fired than it is to bring about any understanding, you might be well advised to leave it alone (and in the meantime, look for a less judgemental workplace).
- If you’re unable to confront the individuals, don’t feel that you have to keep yourself in harm’s way – practice some internal self-care rituals if you’re feeling particularly impacted at any point. Politely excuse yourself from the dinner table or kitchen, and steal a few moments alone if you can – the bathroom is great for this. In this situation, remind yourself that you are in control of your reactions and although you can’t control being triggered by comments, you have the power to get yourself out of that situation and keep yourself mentally healthy. That’s your right, and your priority.
- Politely address it with them. In this case, as they’re not directly commenting on you, it may be inappropriate to confront them so a diversion (similar to what we discussed in Situation 1) is often the best way to make sure the subject is changed without ruffling too many feathers. However, if this talk continues throughout the year or if it starts to really bother you, you may also want to address it with them.
Related: How to Be Body Positive During Sex
Finally, depending on your family & social situation, a lot of the people in your life might be in a very negative headspace, and you might know that there’s just no way on earth that they’ll be able to hold back on the hyper-judgemental remarks. And maybe, depending on the relationship, nothing you say or do will be able to change that.
Please remember this: If the mere thought of being around those people during this time is causing you to have some serious anxiety around your body image, you are under no obligation to spend time with anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself. It doesn’t matter how closely related you are, how thick they lay on the guilt-trip about not spending time with them or how much you think they’ll gossip about you in your absence… your mental health needs to come first. Always.
And it’s up to you to make that choice to prioritise your mental health.
Wishing you a safe, prosperous and diet-talk free holidays!
Photo by iko for Dollarphotoclub.