What it’s like to encounter weight stigma when you’re home for the holidays

Last Updated on December 28, 2023 by admin

What it's like to encounter weight stigma when you're home for the holidays
Navigating the holidays in a plus-size body. (Getty Images)

Ivy Felicia cherishes nostalgic memories of festive family gatherings during her upbringing—a time when a bountiful table brought loved ones together. However, as she matured into adulthood and navigated life in a plus-size body, her perception of these gatherings shifted.

For Felicia, her body has significantly influenced her self-perception, stemming from childhood experiences of weight-related bullying. Initially, her family and home served as a refuge during those challenging times. But with diagnoses of chronic conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome, coupled with endocrine and thyroid issues, her body’s appearance became a focal point during these intimate holiday reunions.

At these family gatherings, questions like “Should you eat that?” and “Is it OK for you to eat that?” have become recurrent, stemming from familial concern regarding her health. Despite her family’s good intentions, there’s an assumption that her size directly correlates to her health conditions, a misconception Felicia aims to clarify. She explains that while her family links her size to potential health problems, it isn’t necessarily the case, a fact they might not be aware of.

These well-meaning yet misplaced comments have left Felicia feeling detached despite being among her closest kin. Unfortunately, her sentiments resonate with many others facing similar experiences during family gatherings.

Weight stigma during the holidays

The holiday season, synonymous with joy and familial bonding, can be a distressing period for some due to various triggers, with weight stigma being a significant concern. A December 2022 study shed light on family members as prevalent sources of weight stigma experienced by individuals with higher body weight, significantly impacting their relationship with their bodies.

Katelyn Baker, a clinical psychologist specializing in body image and fat positivity, highlights the infiltration of diet culture into holiday gatherings, often accompanied by judgmental remarks triggered by the abundance of festive food. Common phrases like “breaking out the ‘fat pants,'” or planning to start diets in the new year, contribute to this atmosphere. Baker, associated with Big Fig’s advisory panel, Big Fig Collective, aims to address the marginalization faced by individuals in larger bodies.

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These comments, though seemingly indirect, can take a more direct, even critical turn, especially when directed at children. Baker recalls an incident where a child was met with skepticism when seeking seconds at a family meal. She intervened to normalize the act, emphasizing the child’s hunger.

Danny Franzese, an actor renowned for his role as Damian in Mean Girls and a member of Big Fig Collective, reflects on how such remarks impacted his childhood, leaving him self-conscious about his body. He notes the confusing nature of these experiences for a child, where older family members seemed to dictate their choices around food and behavior.

Franzese identifies family dynamics as one among several influences, including media representations, clothing sizes, and societal messaging, all conveying the message that his body was somehow incorrect. He emphasizes the already pervasive holiday marketing reinforcing unrealistic body standards, making individuals vulnerable during this introspective period.

He further remarks on the media’s effectiveness in shaping perceptions and promoting certain body ideals, especially during this season of heightened vulnerability. The introspective nature of the year’s end, combined with media portrayals, creates an environment where individuals feel especially sensitive and exposed to societal expectations.

In essence, while the holidays symbolize warmth and connection, they often intertwine with societal pressures and weight-related stigmatization, particularly within familial settings. The season’s cultural narrative and family dynamics contribute significantly to shaping individuals’ perceptions of their bodies and impact their overall well-being.

Navigating the holidays in a plus-size body

Preparing for annual holiday gatherings involves setting boundaries, a vital aspect highlighted by Felicia, who aids clients in embracing and accepting their bodies. The festive season, especially amid social interactions and family visits, often triggers body insecurities, impacting individuals deeply.

Felicia emphasizes the significance of feeling safe among family and friends, who typically constitute one’s support system. Consequently, remarks about appearances and size from these close circles can be particularly damaging. Anticipating such triggers, Felicia advises mental preparation and having pre-planned responses, creating emotional boundaries to navigate through these challenging moments.

In tandem with mental readiness, finding a designated “safe space” at the gathering proves helpful. This retreat allows for moments to recalibrate when feeling overwhelmed or when confronting hurtful comments.

Moreover, Felicia encourages individuals to reassess the nature of their interactions with family, suggesting that spending time doesn’t necessarily need to revolve around meals. Redirecting focus to post-meal activities like games or music can offer a reprieve from potentially triggering situations. She advocates energy management, urging people to consider their mental and emotional capacity for their well-being.

Family gatherings, Felicia asserts, serve as a test in drowning out societal pressures related to diet culture and weight stigma—an additional challenge in a society already inundated with these influences.

To counter these external pressures, Felicia stresses the importance of gradually tuning out negative external messages. Grounding oneself in self-love practices and disconnecting from the negativity aligns with this journey toward body peace. It involves acknowledging that external criticisms don’t reflect personal truths and don’t have to conform to one’s belief system.

Ultimately, Felicia underscores the value of fortifying emotional boundaries, mentally preparing for potential triggers, finding safe havens, and redefining the dynamics of interaction during family gatherings. Embracing these strategies aids in navigating through the emotional minefield that holiday gatherings might represent for individuals striving to foster a positive relationship with their bodies.

This article was originally published on Yahoo News

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