The One Thing You Can Do To Stay Body Positive This Holiday Season

The holidays are a trying time of year for many of us. From having to interact with extended relatives we'd very much rather not see to the "how to curb your Christmas tummy" ads we're likely to spot on every magazine stand, staying body positive during the holidays can begin to feel like an even more mythical concept than the damn Force. I mean, can you really remember a holiday dinner that didn't end in someone musing over how "bad" they were for eating both the ham and the turkey or talking about how their New Year's resolution would be to fit into pants two size smaller come the spring?

Yep: The holidays can bring out the best in us. You know, the part of ourselves that truly believes in the importance of giving; maybe even in exercising mindfulness over those who could use some help the most. But they can also bring out the worst in us. The part of ourselves that hears fat shaming and doesn't say anything, and maybe even takes it to heart. The part of ourselves that can become filled with self-loathing over something as benign as a calorie. The part of ourselves that is tempted to believe the words the Nutrisystem lady is spewing on TV, because everyone seems to agree with her.

But there's one little thing you can do to remain body positive despite all the holiday diet talk. When I find myself in situations that lend themselves to body shaming — which seems to be an especially common thing as soon as Thanksgiving turkeys are stocked at your local grocery store — I remind myself to ask why this type of shaming exists, rather than accepting it as normal.

No, it's not a perfect formula. It's not an app you can pull out of your iPhone. It's not an affirmation or meme or blogger to turn to or movie to watch. It's just a question. I've found that questions are sort of the foundation of most things. It's kind of like they say in Morrowind when you're being given advice on how to navigate and explore the universe: "Ask questions. You don't ask, you don't learn."

If you catch yourself feeling guilty, sad, or frustrated about the second serving of food you really want to eat, the holiday weight gain you're putting on, the fact that you are no longer the same size at 25 as you were at 15 when that one uncle last saw you, or that you never did grow to be as tall and leggy as the other aunt thought you would, just ask yourself why. Why do you feel guilty? What is it about eating — this thing we have to do to survive — that's making you feel terrible about yourself? What is it about having physically grown in the last 10 years that seems so wrong? Why do you actually need a second or third gym membership?

If we're going by social conventions, the answers may go a little something like this: Because you should only eat the bare minimum you need to survive, and anything excess means you're a horrible, greedy person. Because staying the same size your 15-year-old self was means you've succeeded! You've managed to hold onto your "best body." Because you might already work out, but you can always work out more. Because your No. 1 goal in life should be to stay slender.

There are a lot of problems with these society-friendly responses, though. For one, throwing out excess food or turning your nose up at the calories you're lucky to be consuming feels far more insulting to those in need than eating two helpings of Christmas ham. Additionally, as people age, they are supposed to grow: Physically, intellectually, etc. And no one in this world can tell you what your "best body" is, because no one else in this world lives in your body. So when you actually ask yourself why, and give yourself that moment to think up all the answers, doesn't it all just seem, well, absolutely absurd?

Chances are, if you're a person who is already familiar with the wacked-out idea that all bodies are worthy of acceptance, then you probably already know, at your core, that there's no reason to be feeling shitty. There's no logical reason to assign moral value to size or to the amount of peppermint cupcakes you stuff in your face. There's no logical reason to doubt that your body — as it is — is already fixed, because it was never broken. And there's certainly no logical reason to believe that anything you derive joy or excitement from (so long as it's not hurting anyone, I suppose) is problematic.

The "why" to all the questions and internalized body shaming that may be surfacing this time of year is, usually, about society. But society — whatever that even means — isn't always right. If we went off everything society has said, at some point in history, we would never evolve. We'd never fight for LGBTQ rights. We wouldn't have fought for integration. We would be banning people from entering whole countries based on their religion. We'd still be binding our feet to make them more "dainty" (despite the deformity this can cause) or consuming arsenic to make our complexions clearer (despite the death this can cause).

When you take a moment to ask yourself "why," what you'll often discover is that the worries you're having aren't actually yours. They're constructs, and products of a culture that's taught us — and especially women — that being fat is the worst thing that could ever happen to us, á la Daphne in Scooby Doo . So when you take that moment to ask the question, you'll likely realize there was never an actual answer. And then you'll be able to carry on participating in the things the holiday season is all about: Feeling joy, sharing in joy, and eating really frickin' delicious roasted potatoes.

Images: Marie Southard Ospina/Rachel Crittenden Photography; jadeandserif, eveyinorbitshop, EnsCurrent/Etsy