In a society where multi-billion-dollar companies profit from our insecurities, we must actively work towards creating body-positive spaces to combat negative body image. On a good day, it’s important to practice habits that promote positive body image amongst your family, but during the holidays, it is critical. It is a time when marketers strategically plan to target people who are already struggling with their body image. This is why we must have resiliency tools in place to keep our loved ones safe, even if Aunt Edna does mean well by talking about how she lost five pounds on the latest fad diet. Here are some strategies that will help your family resist body image pressures during the holidays:
Be Anti-Diet Culture
Diet culture is any service or product accompanied by the message that our bodies are not good enough and that we would be better off if we changed them. For example, during the holidays, diet culture will tell you that you need to earn your food or that you need to purchase their product to avoid gaining holiday weight. To understand why this is problematic, we need our families to understand fatphobia and why it’s a problem. Fatphobia is the fear of fatness, hatred of being fat, and the discrimination of fat people. This is a way of thinking that has been internalized throughout our society, dating far back into our history. If we can teach our loved ones that being fat is not bad and that our weight does not determine our value as people, they will be more resilient against messaging that tells them they need to lose weight. This is because they will not equate their worth with their size!
Chances are you will be spending time with extended family or friends this holiday season, which means you may have other people commenting on your appearance. It’s always a good idea to teach your family members that it’s never okay to do this, even if it’s coming from a place of good intention. Instead of saying, “you look great; have you lost weight?” try saying something like, “you look so happy!” While you may be making this kind of effort, it’s also possible that others aren’t going to do the same. So be prepared to deal with people making (positive and negative) comments about your body! Here are a few ways to shut down this behavior: Ignore it, educate them on why it’s not appropriate, tell them you don’t want to discuss your body with them and change the subject, or let them know that your family is focusing on the fact that what matters most about people is who they are and not how they look. If family members aren’t willing to respect your boundaries, you can let them know that if they don’t change their behavior around you, contact with them might be limited. This might seem harsh, but negative body image can lead to more severe physical and mental health issues, which is why it is important to protect your family from this kind of messaging.
Intuitive Eating Works!
We are all born natural intuitive eaters, but this changes when exposed to thin ideals, most of which come from social internalization and the media. To eat intuitively is to have NO rules around food. This means that there are no foods off-limits and that no food should be labeled as “bad” or “good.” It only creates shame around eating when we mark foods with moral value, and doing such can also lead to restriction, bingeing, and overeating. Intuitive eating is not only about balanced eating and sustenance; it’s also about pleasure and fun! People who eat intuitively eat until they are full, but also sometimes choose to eat past fullness (because sometimes that slice of chocolate cake after your turkey dinner is just so worth it!). Again, there are no rules! By intuitively eating as a family, you are teaching everyone that all foods are safe and that eating all sorts of things is taking care of their bodies and minds.
Self-Care is Essential
When we are not taking proper care of ourselves, our body image can suffer greatly. The holidays are an excellent opportunity to slow down and practice some self-care! Self-care can be defined as anything you can do to make you feel good, and that improves your overall well-being. This looks different for everyone! For some, it’s about slowing down and reading books, while for others, it’s about doing an exercise class. It doesn’t have to be all bubble baths and massages at the spa! Whatever it looks like to you, make sure you take some time this holiday season to feel good! Your mind and body will thank you.
Remember that there is no wrong way to have a body because ALL BODIES ARE GOOD BODIES!
Emily Lauren Dick is a body image expert, who is committed to making girls feel comfortable in their own skin. Emily holds an Honors Bachelor of Arts Degree in Women’s Studies and Sociology from Wilfried Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and specializes in women’s portraiture where she inspires her clients to feel beautiful inside and out. She is the author of Body Positive now available on familius.com and everywhere books are sold!