Here's How To Deal With Holiday Body-Shaming
Have your cake and eat it.
We should be feeling overjoyed right now; there's food EVERYWHERE. Hands up if you spent last weekend with a cup of mulled wine glued to your glove, weaving in and out of creepy plastic Santa effigies and equally rosy-cheeked drunkards as you hunted down the next hot roasted sausage or oozing festive dessert. Twas delish, wasn't it? And then there's all the too-cheap-to-be-true supermarket offers on cheeses, chocolates and syrupy spirits. How many of those have you got stashed in your larder right now? If your answer is “too many,” you must be mistaken, my friend.
Because, look, there's nothing wrong with a bit of festive indulgence – especially after the year we've had – and you shouldn't let anyone tell you otherwise (unless any of this poses a serious risk to your health, that is). Who are we talking about here? Why, that nosy family of yours, of course. The moms, dads, siblings, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts who feel strangely entitled to make negative comments about your body that nobody else would dare ever think – let alone blurt out over the dinner table. Knowing that we'll be heading home to such brutal Bridget Jones-esque body-shaming does put a bit of a dampener on our Christmas spirit, it has to be said.
So what can we do about it? While you can't necessarily change what people say or do, you can control how you react, assertively challenging your family's problematic beliefs. Talking to Refinery 29, Sheila Addison, PhD, LMFT, a therapist who specializes in size acceptance, provides some helpful suggestions for how to pivot a conversation, based on a few body-centric scenarios that you may encounter this holiday season.
You're scanning the dessert table and your aunts start making self-deprecating comments about calories and food.
Think of some other positive compliments and praise for people's efforts at setting the table or decorating the house, Dr. Addison says. “People will often join in when you start complimenting others,” she says. Or, just have something else ready to talk about (for example, “So what do you think will happen with the Winter Olympics since Russia can't attend?”), and then re-direct and find an exit (for example, “Hey, it looks like Grandma could use some help with the napkin rings; I'm gonna go help out.”), she suggests.
What to say:
“Hey, I'm trying to cut down on the amount of negative self-talk in my life, so could we change the subject to something else?”
“Well, I sure appreciate all the love Grandma and Uncle Martin and Cousin Priya put into making such a beautiful spread. Thanks, you guys! You always make such a beautiful table.”
“Well, the rest of us will just have to enjoy the cookies without you, I guess!”
“It's just a brownie; it's not a moral test.”
You're coming home from a semester at college, and your older cousin makes a joke about the “freshman 15.”
If someone is determined to have a conversation with you that you want nothing to do with, Dr. Addison suggests using advice from the Captain Awkward Blog. Basically, the best thing you can do is make it as boring as possible for the person by giving them nothing to engage with, she says. “Don't debate them, don't get drawn in,” she says. “Just acknowledge they've spoken with as little interest or content as you can offer, and change the subject.”
What to say:
“I don't really think about it.”
“Let's pretend you didn't go there.”
“Oh, I didn't notice.”
“My body isn't up for discussion. Hard pass.”
Your uncle blatantly makes a body-shaming comment about you.
In this case, you might have to say something frank and blunt to diffuse the situation, Dr. Addison says. Feel free to walk away from the conversation, and call a warm line (a line you can call when you're not in crisis, but you need to talk) or text a friend who you know will be able to support you in the moment.
What to say:
“I don't like that.”
“Knock it off.”
“Okay, I need a break from this conversation.”
Your mom tries to gossip with you about your sibling's weight.
Even if you're not the direct prey of this body-shaming, it's worth it to stop the conversation, Dr. Addison says. “Being an ally to someone else who's being targeted is a good way to practice standing up for yourself, and it's the right thing to do,” she says.
What to say:
“I don't know what you want me to say here. I'm not interested in discussing this.”
“We need a new subject.”
“I'll think about that. Have you seen the Christmas card collection over here?”
“Well, that's one way to look at it, I guess.”
Your grandma says something really out of line about your body.
You don't need to school your older relatives on the intricacies of the body-positivity movement in order to get across that it's a good idea to work on having a positive relationship with yourself, Dr. Addison says. “Older generations of folks may remember when the media wasn't so airbrushed and Photoshopped, and when women weren't expected to be wrinkle-free, thanks to Botox and facelifts, right up to the moment they die,” Dr. Addison says. So, they may be able to relate to some ideas that you present them with.
What to say:
“I notice I take better care of myself when I'm feeling good about myself, rather than when I'm criticizing myself over how I look.”
“I'm trying to focus more on what I like about myself, instead of trying to be someone else's ideal.”
“I don't like the idea that there's only one way to be beautiful or handsome.”
“Can I show you some examples of more diverse ideals of beauty that you might be able to relate to?”
Your family member suggests that you sign up for an exercise class, because they're “worried about your health.”
Concern-trolling occurs when someone phrases criticism as “concern,” typically in a self-righteous and condescending way. Not only is concern-trolling irritating to have to listen to, but it can also be harmful for your health. In a perfect world you wouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing at all; but in the meantime, providing a short, logical comeback can be effective. And for the record: No, you can't tell how healthy a person is just by looking at them.
What to say:
“You can't tell anything about a person's health just by looking at them.”
“I prefer to take health and fitness advice from my doctor and trainer.”
“Actually, I find dance cardio classes to be the most fun for me, but thanks for the suggestion.”
“What gave you the impression that I'm not already working out?”
Next up, read our single gal's Christmas survival guide.