The holidays are here. We’re reunited with loved ones we haven’t seen in a while, enjoying delicious food abundant enough to satiate an army, and singing Christmas carols completely out of tune. But, oh, it’s so much fun!
Until someone cracks a negative comment about your looks. Or makes you feel guilty for even thinking of having a second piece of cheese. As fun as they are, the holidays are full of occasions that can trigger body insecurities and self-hate.
To gear up for the upcoming family reunions and parties, I’ve put together this little guide to help you keep your, and your loved ones’, self-esteem and body acceptance intact:
1. Don’t allow anyone to body police you
“Oh sweety, you look so skinny! How did you manage to lose so much weight? Tell me your secrets!” Or “honey, you look too skinny! Come, sit down to dinner and put some meat on those bones.” Or, “darling, how chubby you’ve become! You like your food, don’t you? But, maybe you shouldn’t eat that much tonight.”
Ah, family gatherings and holiday parties. Joyous occasions where everyone feels entitled to comment on your body. There’s just one way to deal with it: ignore it.
When someone makes a comment on your looks, whether positive or negative, simple change the subject. Talk about the weather. Ask them about their job or plans for New Year’s Eve. Or go to the kitchen to see if someone needs help with something.
Whatever you do, don’t acknowledge the comment. If you feel in the mood, you can also try to explain that focusing so much on physical appearance reduces women to objects to be looked at, and can lead to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and bad lifestyle choices.
Most of your loved ones will think you’re nuts (body policing is so normal, most people believe it to be harmless), but you never know who may be influenced by what you have to say. Maybe your little niece will remember your words and be inspired by them.
2. Don’t body police others
Just like others shouldn’t comment on your appearance, you shouldn’t comment on theirs. Not even when you believe your comment is a positive one.
You may think that your cousin may like to be congratulated and praised for losing so much weight. But you don’t know how she’s done it. Maybe she’s going trough a hard time, or has an eating disorder, or other illness. Sometimes, it’s best to say nothing than hurt people unintentionally.
Instead, complement people on their accomplishments and good character traits. Tell your aunt how much you enjoyed her cooking. Or your cousin how proud you are she quit her safe, well-paid job to start her own business. These compliments are a lot more meaningful, and your loved ones will appreciate them a lot more.
3. Enjoy food… in moderation
Have you been dieting all year and plan to use the holidays as an excuse to binge on those forbidden foods you crave and love so much? Or are already thinking of how many hours you’ll have to spend in the gym to work off all those slices of panettone?
Binge eating, yo-yo dieting, and feelings of guilt around food can do some serious damage, both to your physical and mental health. Food isn’t an enemy. It’s the delicious fuel that keeps our bodies going, allowing them to lead a full, active lifestyle.
So, enjoy it. But, in moderation. You don’t want to eat so much you’ll feel sick (that always happens at Italian family gatherings; we cook for a regiment!), but you don’t even want to eat too little for fear people’ll judge you and make nasty comments on your weight. If you really crave something, go ahead and have it. Guilt-free.
4. Don’t buy gender-stereotyped presents for your little loved ones
Ok, your niece may really be into pink, Barbie dolls, and Disney princesses. In that case, go ahead and buy her a pink toy castle.
But, don’t assume that all girls like pink stuff and all boys are into sports. Everyone is different, and has different tastes and passions. Buy them something they’ll love, not something you think they should be into because of their gender. They deserve better than to be put into tiny, stereotypical boxes.
If you really don’t know what they may like, don’t fret. There are plenty of gender neutral toys to choose from. They’re fun, and much more empowering!
5. Help others
Nothing improves self-esteem more than helping others. The holidays are the perfect time to start to be more active in your community. You can volunteer at a canteen that gives food to the homeless, or visit the sick in hospital, or spend a few hours with old lonely people who desperately need some company.
There are so many people who need help. And when you help them, you soon realise how much more they’re helping you. Serving others gives us a purpose, makes us happier, improves our self-esteem, and makes everyone’s life so much better.
How do you deal with body image issues during the holidays?