A lot of us wind up dealing with body negativity during the holidays.
Family dinners and lunches with friends, talk of New Year’s Resolutions and large meals as a cultural tradition can all form a minefield for a person who’s struggling with their body image in some way.
And whether you’re recovering from an eating disorder, trying to lose/gain weight, trying to maintain your weight or are simply struggling with a few body-based insecurities, the holidays can set you up to be confronted with far more negative triggers than you’d experience at any other time.
Unfortunately, you can’t always trust your long lost aunt not to mention that your body has changed. You can’t control your friends talking about how much weight they gained over Christmas and how they need to starve themselves in the new year. 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 distant relatives who don’t know any better.
All that you can control is how you handle this time.
First up, some ground rules for entering holiday situations where you feel there’s potential for negative or triggering comments that may harm your body image:
- Go in prepared. Take some time to take deep breaths before you enter a situation. If there’s a particular person who you feel is likely to make negative comments about your body, prepare yourself for how you’d like to respond to any comments (more on that below).
- Divert the focus. Although the holidays can be a nerve-wracking time for those struggling with body image, try and re-frame your anxiety into gratitude. Is there anyone you’re looking forward to seeing? Are you enjoying time of work? Any exciting vacations planned? Do all that you can to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind, and you’ll make the process easier.
- Have a holiday buddy. If you know the holidays might be a difficult time to you, it’s important that you not feel isolated in your struggles. Identify someone in your life that you can confide your struggles in – even if they can’t physically be there for you, it can be comforting to vent any situations on them to get the negative comments out of your head (Note: if you don’t feel comfortable including anyone in your life in this, I’m always happy for you to privately message me on Facebook).
- Keep your mental health as a priority, no matter what. Although it’s important to be prepared, acknowledge that you can’t possibly predict every situation that might occur – for this reason, it’s crucial to keep up your regular self-love practices and do your best to keep yourself mentally healthy during this time. Remember to take care of yourself – there’s no shame in backing out of a situation to look after yourself if you don’t feel well-prepared to handle it. Self-care is paramount, as usual!
With this in mind, going into holiday situations, there are a few options in terms of your reaction to any negative body/food/exercise/weight comments that may come your way – whether the comments are deliberately hurtful or purely ignorant.
Here are some ways that you may like to respond to such comments:
Response 1: Diversion
If you sense a conversation steering down a pathway that’s triggering, negative or judgemental, you may like to try to nip it in the bud by redirecting the conversation somewhere completely unrelated. Try and find a natural means of redirecting the conversation away from food, fitness and body related themes.
- “That reminds me of a hilarious 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?”
- “OH! [Insert name], I’m so sorry, it just occurred to me I haven’t asked about your work! I heard you had some big projects, how’s that all going?”
- “[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.
Response #2: Education
If a particularly negative and judgemental comment occurs – either directed at you in general, you may wish to use this as an opportunity to address misconceptions and spread a little body-wisdom. Of course, it’s imperative to do this as nicely (unless you want a full-on holiday argument… which, let’s be fair, usually happens anyway!) as possible. The aim here is to get those around you to understand your P.O.V. and take it on board, and they’re much more likely to be mindful of what you say if you address the issue from a perspective of kindness and understanding.
Note: If you’re going for educational responses, these will usually require a certain degree of preparation to ensure you voice your points eloquently and free of emotionally loaded words or internal hurt. An educational response is perfect for recurring comments that you can sense coming before they even begin – from a mother who constantly comments on your weight, or your grandpa who always queries why you’re eating so much/little or that co-worker who won’t stop suggesting that you join her gym.
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.
This is a great opportunity to take control of the situation and stop negative comments at the source (which may prevent them from occurring again down the line).
A good, all-purpose response is along the lines of: “You know what… 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!”
Response #3: Let that shit go!
Sometimes, you need to know when to throw in the towel. Assess the situation – is bringing up a mental health topic with your stubborn grandma who’s never conceded to agree to disagree since 1912 going to achieve anything, or is it just going to inflict more hurt and anxiety on you?
Sometimes, the best thing to do is just to ignore the comments, remove yourself from the situation and go take a few deep breaths while practicing some internal self-care rituals.
Politely excuse yourself from the dinner table or kitchen, and steal a few moments alone if you can – the bathroom is great for this.
This response is generally appropriate when you only see the person making the comments rarely, and they’re not a major factor in your life. 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.
Response #4: Burn bridges
If there’s a particularly toxic person in your life and you’ve been looking for excuses to distance yourself from their negativity, any comments they make may provide you with a platform from which to address their negativity and let them know of the situation.
Now, when I say burn bridges, I don’t mean throw your drink in their face, dramatically flick your scarf around your neck and storm out while screaming “See you in hell, you motherf***er!” (no matter how theoretically good that plan sounds… it never goes well. Just don’t go there).
Let’s take the example of a juice cleanse obsessed friend who keeps making kind “suggestions” that you’d be much more attractive if you focused on an eating plan and went to the gym with her. Let’s call her Betsy, and you’re sick of Betsy’s shit.
This is a great chance to (politely) let Betsy know what’s up in a way that keeps you in control of the situation. When Betsy starts up with her negativity, you might like to say: “Betsy – I’m gonna have to stop you there. I appreciate that you’re trying to look out for me, I really do… but to be completely honest, all this diet talk/talk about my body is starting to really wear on my nerves. I’m dealing with some issues right now and your comments aren’t making it any easier for me, so for the sake of my mental health, I’m going to have to ask that you stop making those comments. If you can’t do that, I’m going to have to cut down our time together.”
Response #5: Flying solo
Now, depending on your family situation, a lot of your relatives might be incredibly negative people who you know aren’t going to be able to stop themselves from making negative or triggering comments, and nothing you say or do will change that.
If the mere thought of being around those people during this time is causing you to have some serious anxiety around your body image, please know this: you are under no obligation to spend time with anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself.
No matter how closely related you are, no matter how many times they guilt-trip you that they haven’t seen you in ages, no matter how much you think they’ll talk if you don’t attend…
Your mental health needs to come first.
And it’s up to you to make the decisions that are going to best benefit your mental health. Spend the holidays in a way that assists your mental health, not drains it.Make your mental health your priority this holiday season Click To Tweet
*Disclaimer: The above advice can only work if you approach your reactions to body-based critiques from a place of calm understanding. If you’re immensely hurt by the comments, questions and behaviours of others…. well, it’s going to be damn hard to stand up for yourself, even internally.
You have to keep yourself at the front and centre of your mind as you approach the holiday season. You have to remember that your opinion of your body is the only one that matters, and that no one bar your doctor can give you an accurate judgement of your health.