How To Manage Body Image Issues During The Holidays

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While no time of year is inherently body positive, the holidays can be a particularly tough time if you struggle with your body image. With so many social events — plus exposure to possibly judgmental family members — many people find the holiday season to be a challenging one. Experts suggest going into the most intense part of the holiday season with a plan can help you preserve your feelings of self-love. That way, you'll be prepared for unexpected curveballs, and come away feeling supported.

It's important to remember that you're not alone; many people find this time of year hard for the same reason. Singer Sam Smith posted about struggling with self-esteem during the holiday season on Instagram in December, writing, "This time of year always triggers tricky body image issues with me. ... Let’s make sure we remind our bodies during this time that no matter what weight we are, we are deserving of love and acceptance." The comments showed that thousands feel the same way.

If you're experiencing body image struggles for the first time, there are many resources to help you and those around you, according to experts. "For anyone open to learning about how various forms of oppression perpetuate body shame, and how to love all bodies, a good place to start is The Body Is Not An Apology," Dr. Jessica Vechakul, a psychotherapist, tells Bustle.

Here are nine ways to get through the holiday season feeling good:

1. Talk To Your Family And Friends

If you're dreading comments about your body, or about bodies in general, it can be worth attempting to have a conversation with those around you about how it makes you feel, Vechakul tells Bustle. "Try having heartfelt conversations with family or friends about how to be supportive," she says. "Even if they don't fully understand, hopefully they will try to avoid making harmful comments about food or bodies."

It can be good to have scripts for these conversations so that if you feel overwhelmed or upset you can fall back on prepared statements to help in the moment. Psychotherapist Sherry Lyn Kaplan tells Bustle she recommends saying things like, “Worrying about calories is stressful and unhelpful for me,” or “I’m working on loving my body as it is, so it’s better for me to focus on how I feel and not my size.”

“Once you decide which ones you want to practice using, it’s good to write these phrases down or put them in your phone to help you remember them,” she says.

2. Curate Your Social Media

Social media can be a font of wisdom for body positivity, but it can also spur feelings of self-criticism. Make sure you curate your social media feeds so that they don't spark any negativity about your body. "Follow body positive and fat positive social media accounts so you know you are not alone in struggling, and also to get a reframe on what you might be telling yourself about your body," Lisa Du Breuil, a social worker specializing in body positivity, tells Bustle. Vechakul recommends following hashtags that celebrate body positivity, including #EffYourBeautyStandards and #HealthAtEverySize, to make sure that your feed is filled with supportive messages and images.

3. Say No When Needed

Sometimes enough is enough. Du Breuil recommends keeping an eye on your own feelings, and refusing invitations if you're not feeling great. "It’s OK to say no thanks to activities, parties, and so on," she tells Bustle. "It's also OK to limit your time at events, or to make sure you get some alone time over a weekend with family." A bit of restorative time on your own, in which you help remind yourself of how awesome you are, can be the ticket to making the most of the holiday season.

If you're in the middle of a conversation, you can also check out, Kaplan tells Bustle. "Sometimes, it’s just too hard to say something after a triggering comment," she says. "Simply excuse yourself from the situation." Say you're getting another drink, or there's somebody else you need to see — and escape with grace.

4. Change The Conversation

Some people won't be deterred from talking about your body — or about theirs — even if you try to have a conversation about why it upsets you. When that happens, Vechakul recommends using diversionary tactics. "Redirect conversations away from body policing or criticism with topics that inspire connection and joy," she suggests. Focus on positive memories, family stories, recipes, traditions, and achievements. It maintains the conversational flow, but redirects attention toward other more positive and supportive topics that make you and those around you feel joyful, rather than dwelling on aspects that will bring you down.

5. Make A Self-Care Kit

Particularly if you're traveling for the holidays, it's important to carry self-care techniques wherever you go over the holiday season. Du Breuil recommends focusing on your sleep, regular mealtimes, treats, and hydration to make sure your body feels loved at all times. It can also be a good idea to have a pampering kit on hand. "Make yourself a self-care package, including things like a journal, music, images that inspire you, uplifting notes, a massage ball, fidget toys, grounding objects, or essential oils," Vechakul says.

When things get overwhelming or you're experiencing a lot of rumination on negative thoughts about your body, have this kit nearby. Even if you don't carry anything physical, a mental list of self-care techniques can help. "I’ve found that meditation is one of the most helpful things we can do because many techniques can be practiced anywhere and at any time," Kaplan says. She recommends yogic breathing exercises, deep belly breaths, and compassion meditation.

6. Create A Support Network

Holidays can be an isolating time if you're separated from your usual support network of friends. Du Breuil suggests making sure that you always have somebody to call or contact when you're feeling particularly negative about your body. "Partner up with at least one friend or family member who gets it so you can message one another for support, venting, or validation as needed," she tells Bustle. That way you can share frustrations, feel mutually supported, and avoid sensations of loneliness in your toughest moments.

If there's an ally physically present with you, Kaplan suggests asking them to act as a buffer whenever triggering topics come up, or helping you when you ask for the conversation to change. "You may be surprised to see how some loved ones make an effort to follow your wishes when they understand what they are," she says.

7. Use Coping Skills

This is a campaign to love yourself, so plan ahead of time, experts tell Bustle. "Integrate coping skills from your everyday into your holiday," Vechakul says. Remember tactics that make you feel good about your body — going for a walk, dancing, eating whatever nourishes you and makes you happy, taking time to meditate — and continue them during the holidays.

Your holiday coping skills can include planning what you'll wear in advance. "Figure out an outfit or two that you feel really good (or at least not awful!) wearing, and give yourself permission to make them your 'holiday uniform.'" Du Breuil tells Bustle. For me, that's a black skirt and a turtleneck. There's no need to deviate from what makes you feel safe, happy, and comfortable. If necessary, buy identical copies and wear them repeatedly.

8. Use Mantras

When things get difficult, it can be helpful to have body-positive sayings to repeat to yourself to help you get through the moment, Kaplan says. "This could be anything from, 'I choose to put energy into my growth, not shrinking my body' to 'Counting calories does not bring happiness,'" she tells Bustle. Repeating these mantras silently to yourself — or even writing them down — when you feel the bubble of bad self-image rising can help remind you of how far you've come, and how much love you have for your body (and your body has for you).

9. Get Professional Help

There's no shame in asking for professional help. "If you or someone you care about is facing emotional, mental, or physical challenges that make it hard to stay safe, please connect with a health care professional for specialized support," Vechakul tells Bustle. This is particularly important if you're struggling with body image issues without anybody else around you as a support network; Kaplan recommends finding a therapist that specializes in disordered eating and body image issues who can help. Health at Every Size has an excellent directory of psychotherapists, psychologists and other mental health professionals across the United States who can provide you with the help you need.

Body image struggles during the holidays are real, but they don't have to be the focus of your festive season. Put these healthy practices in place and you'll have a strong framework to navigate the holidays happily.

Experts:

Lisa Du Breuil, LICSW, social worker

Sherry Lyn Kaplan, M.Ed. L.P.C, psychotherapist

Dr. Jessica Vechakul, MPH, Ph.D, psychotherapist