'Tis the season to be... calorie-counting. And fat-shaming, and thin-shaming, and all around body-shaming, while we're at it. Oh, and jolly. Can we be that too? Actually, can we just be that? Because body-shaming during the holidays can really put a damper on the whole season. And I'd venture to say that it can also stop us from spreading good cheer and all the other things we're supposed to be spreading. None of which include body-shaming.
Of course, resisting fat talk and diet talk is easier said than done. For many, body shaming is practically a family bonding activity. When you go home for the holidays, dinner table conversations — not to mention pre-dinner and after-dinner discussions — tend to revolve around how much food you're about to eat, how much food is on the table, and how much food you all just ate because you're literally about to add twelve food babies to the family. And then there's the greeting portion of the day, where you all tell one another that you must have lost weight because you look so fantastic.
These behaviors might seem benign or even kind, but they actually encourage us to view certain behaviors, like eating a lot or losing weight, as good or bad when they should have no moral connotations whatsoever. Here are some ways we can combat the body-shaming that has become ritualized during the holidays.
1. Don't Buy "Flattering" Clothes As Gifts
When we wear "flattering" clothes, we're trying to hide our perceived flaws so that we look more like an arbitrary societal ideal and less like ourselves. "Flattering" clothes for short women make them look taller. "Flattering" clothes for fat women make them look thinner. (Body positivity doesn't just apply to women, of course, but I rarely hear men told to wear something "flattering.") Why can't we just be who we are, whether that's short, tall, fat, or thin? When we buy someone an outfit that we think will "flatter" her, what we're saying is that she is more attractive when she wears that outfit than when she just looks like herself — i.e., that she looks her best when some visual illusion is clouding our view of her body.
2. Don't Complain About All The Food
I've seen people spend holiday meals griping about how much food is on the table even as they eat it. Dear lord, if the amount of food on your plate is bothering you so much, don't eat it all. Nobody's forcing you! Or, if you actually have problems with emotional eating and feel that the holidays are a trigger for you, you're welcome to discuss that — but don't project the problem onto other people or the food itself. After all, there's no such thing as too much sweet potato; that's what leftovers are for.
3. Give Compliments Unrelated To Weight
Look, I get it. You haven't seen your second cousin Julie in a while, and you really just forgot how cute she is. Plus, her coat looks fabulous. That's fine! But try to keep that to a minimum and focus on what she's been up to all this time. And, most importantly, don't compliment her by saying she lost weight or looks thin. Even if she has, this will imply that she looked worse before she lost the weight and will look worse again if she gains it back; it also conditions her to believe that weight loss is worthy of a compliment, when in fact she is worthy of being compliment exactly as she is, no matter what weight. Plus, you don't know everyone's situation: What if she lost the weight from an illness or an eating disorder? You wouldn't want to imply that getting healthy would lead her to look worse. And, obviously, don't give insults related to weight either, but hopefully that goes without saying.
4. View Clothing Sizes Neutrally
If you're exchanging clothing as gifts, chances are not everything will fit everyone perfectly. Try to remember that size is a property of an item of clothing, not a person, so it's completely normal to need a bigger or smaller size for a particular brand or item. It doesn't necessarily mean your body has changed — and even if it has, try to view this neutrally as well. We're conditioned to think that smaller is better, but the truth is that all bodies are good bodies, and size numbers don't dictate them any more or less good. Don't try to talk someone into keeping a shirt that doesn't fit them quite right, don't act like you feel bad for them if something is too small, and don't congratulate them if it's too big. And, while you're at it, try to adopt this attitude toward your own clothes as well.
5. Don't Encourage Weight Loss As A New Year's Resolution
I understand that some people truly want to lose weight for personal reasons, and they have the right to use the New Year as a motivation for their own reasons. In fact, I don't even judge people who try to lose weight for purely aesthetic reasons or take other measures to alter their appearances, like getting plastic surgery; we live in a toxic society that encourages these things, so they are understandable if not praiseworthy.
But all the talk we hear around New Year's about losing weight because we think it will make us more "beautiful" contributes to this toxicity. Equating weight loss with self-improvement triggers people into believing they should. And (again, perhaps with the exception of specific diets prescribed by a doctor) dieting doesn't work; it just leaves people feeling ashamed and disappointed in themselves for their "failure" to force their bodies to do something they won't.
Try to make your New Year's resolution unrelated to your appearance — or if it must be appearance-related, don't pressure other people to congratulate you for something you didn't need to do in the first place and are probably making yourself unhappy by doing. And if someone around you is kicking off the new year with weight loss, don't feel like you have to support them. If they try to get you on board, steer the conversation toward the other benefits of exercise or a balanced diet, or change the subject altogether. You don't need to take part in anything that encourages unhealthy attitudes.