No matter how—or why—anyone’s body looks the way it does, we deserve to be respected and treated with care. Unfortunately, during the holiday season when we’re supposed to be envisioning peace on Earth and sugar plums dancing in our heads, fat-shaming is also rampant—and I’m no stranger to experiencing it. Many festive gatherings are centered around food, and it’s a time of year when folks often visit with relatives they don’t regularly see. For reasons unknown to me, people seem empowered to make insensitive, cruel, and bigoted comments about size and whatever you’re putting on your plate.
But one thing’s for sure: you don’t deserve to deal with that nonsense, and you don’t have to. Here are some ways I’ve learned to handle fat-shaming during December and beyond. Consider these tips the next time you have to respond to someone’s fatphobia.
1Try to put a positive spin on a negative remark.
Let’s face it. It’s not always possible to tell off a fat-shaming co-worker at an office party. However, you can twist the person’s negativity into something positive.
Once, a co-worker made a rude remark about how my dress didn’t flatter my figure because it showed too much of my fat. While the words stung momentarily, I tried to think on my feet and simply replied that I liked my outfit and felt good wearing it. I also may have added, “Is there a reason why you’re so concerned about what I’m wearing?” I said it with sincerity that I genuinely felt; I certainly wondered why they suddenly felt like the fashion police. Being positive and confident about your choices is important—but it also completely okay to bring attention to the ridiculousness of having to defend what you’re wearing or what your body looks like.
2Repeat an offensive question back to them.
If someone asks you something truly atrocious (“Have you gained weight?” “Do you need all that food?”), try repeating it back to them at an exaggeratedly slow pace. Trust me. Although it can seem a little on the persnickety side, keep in mind that you’re not the one who said the offensive thing in the first place. You’re just repeating it back so that the person has the opportunity to hear their own words and think a more carefully about what they just said. If the person isn’t a monster and is capable of getting a clue, then it should sink in that they just said something stupid and need to apologize. If you repeat the offensive question and they’re still just eager for an answer, then I recommend offering up a simple, “Did you really mean to ask me that?” If they say yes, then just be outright with a little, “Oh, that makes me uncomfortable.”
If you decide that you want to keep talking to the person for reasons known only to you, then don’t sweat it. Just change the topic and continue on like nothing happened. But if you ask me, that’s a perfectly good time to walk away. Try a little twirl and hair toss for good measure.
3Find a safe space to vent
Being around likeminded people is a kind of magic that you only understand when you feel it. Make sure that you have a safe space where you can go to vent if you encounter fat-shaming during a holiday celebration. If your Facebook and social media accounts are accessible only to people who can offer support, then you may opt to vent there. But if you don’t know other fat people who can understand your situation, try joining online groups with people who will get it. The internet is vast, and there are hundreds of groups where you can find support as you navigate body image and self-esteem. Also, 12-step meetings for those who have issues around eating and food are widespread, and you might find many people there who are able to relate to size-shaming during the holidays. That’s not the point of those groups, but if you benefit from their other offerings, then they are places where you can find support on multiple levels.
4Turn down invitations to events where you’re not celebrated.
Whether it’s a party at a friend’s house or an annual family holiday gathering, people don’t deserve your presence if they are not going to treat you in the caring way that you deserve. Although it’s easier said than done, try turning down those invitations. If you are repeatedly subjected to fat-shaming when gathering with your relatives, then it’s okay to put your mental health first and skip their party this year. If you trust the host, then explain why you don’t want to come. You may find that the host becomes dedicated to making it a safe space for you, but if the host isn’t willing to do that, then spend your time elsewhere. I understand that it may be difficult at first, but setting boundaries and refusing to accept mistreatment is ultimately better for your well-being.
5Honor your feelings.
No matter how much you do to protect yourself from fat-shaming during the holidays, fatphobia can interrupt your day when you least expect it. While I’m all for finding the positives in a situation and working your coping mechanisms to the max, it’s important that you don’t deny the pain that is likely to result from someone’s rude commentary. Whether it’s a loved one’s insensitive remark or an insult hurled from a coward driving by in a car, cruel words can wound. Let your feelings out.
I find that going to therapy is the best way to do that because it’s a safe environment where a caring professional can help you work through the pain and integrate healing skills into your life. That way, it doesn’t cause further problems. Please be sure that you don’t ignore or deny your true feelings, or they can come back to haunt you.
6Lavish love on yourself.
Loving myself is a strong antidote when I’m on the receiving end of hateful words. I’ve been both shamed and blamed for my size, and it’s easy for that to send me to a very dark place. In fact, before I started therapy and learned to love myself, I battled suicidal thoughts for many years. I once almost spiraled completely out of control after a stranger told me how disgusting he thought I was. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that nobody has the power to make me feel worthless when I feel a great love for myself.
I must mention therapy again because that’s how I learned to love myself. I couldn’t feel it naturally and needed guidance. Not everyone has the luxury of affording therapy, but there are many low-cost options available in many cities. Going to support groups, surrounding yourself with supportive friends, journaling, and reading self-help books are also empowering ways to start cultivating self-love.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t fully love myself all the time. Sometimes it only appears in trickles, but a lot of the time, I wholeheartedly embrace myself. I walk down the street feeling beautiful and proud of who I am, knowing that my self-esteem and value are not tied to my physical appearance.
Whether it’s the holiday season or any other time of year, the most important approval you can receive is your own. And whatever you need to do to get yourself to that point, you’re worth all that work. Don’t give up on yourself. You’ll discover your magnificence along the way if you don’t already know it now.
If you or someone you care about is struggling and experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 to speak with someone who can help. You can also chat with a counselor online here. All services are free and available 24/7.