Body shaming and food shaming are always unacceptable, and in this post, I’m going to give you my best tips on how to deal with them at the holiday table and beyond. First though, I’m going to tell you a story.
Some time ago, my entire family sat down to a big dinner. It was a festive occasion, and my elderly grandmother, as well as a family friend, had also joined us. My mom had cooked her usual spectacular feast and had dished it out, and we were all ready to dig into the meal.
That’s when I looked to my right and saw my grandmother, eyeing the family friend up and down. Up, and down through narrowed eyes.
Knowing my grandmother, who was a very unhappy, nasty person with no filter whatsoever, I knew that something bad was about to happen.
“YOU’RE FAT!” my grandmother proclaimed suddenly to the family friend, loudly spitting the words like sharp little nails across the table.
Forks dropped and voices hushed. My dad yelled at his mother for her comment – I’m sure we all did – but all I could ever remember was the look on the family friend’s face as my grandmother’s insult (the word ‘fat’ isn’t an insult, but my grandmother meant it as such) sunk in. She didn’t answer my grandmother; her face flushed a deep red, but she just sat there and said nothing. Personally, I would have gotten up and left (after saying something profane), but I think the friend was frozen in her shame.
I’m sure it was horrible for her, and it was horrible to watch. Several decades later, I’m sure she has never forgotten the incident, and none of us who were at the table have, either.
People like my grandmother exist, and chances are you’re going to come into contact with one over the holidays or during your life in general. These people come in several types:
My grandmother-type, who just say whatever they want and don’t give a shit.
The ‘worried’ type, who shame you under the guise of ‘being concerned’ about your life. This is called ‘concern trolling,’ and it’s designed to gaslight you into thinking that the problem is all you. The reality of the situation is that the actual problem is the troll-er, who is unloading their shit by projecting it onto everyone else.
The ‘know-it-all’ type, who believe that their diet or workout regimen is so much better than yours, and who covertly shame you to get validation and make themselves feel better. Omg are those mashed potatoes you’re eating? Those toxic carbs aren’t allowed on THEIR diet! OMG so not ‘clean!’
Many times, a person doesn’t make their comments maliciously (my grandmother, however, was not one of those people..and no, she wasn’t senile, she was perfectly lucid), and sometimes they don’t even know they’re being rude. Isn’t that nuts? True story: some people have zero self-awareness.
That’s unfortunate, because even offhand questionable comments about a person’s body or what they’re eating can sting like hell and lodge themselves in their brain for decades to come. In fact, I don’t recommend ever commenting on what a person is eating. It’s just not necessary and it has a ton of potential repercussions. (Read more about that here)
For some of you, just the thought of having to deal with any one of those people is enough to make you want to cancel the entire holiday season. I totally get that! People suck sometimes, but I’m going to arm you with some ways to deal with their food and body shaming when it happens. Enough is enough!
Establish boundaries right away.
You don’t get to choose what a person says, but you choose how to react. I never want you to think that you have to just sit there and take it, because that’s harmful to you (and it’s letting the person get a free pass for their bad behaviour, which I can never get behind).
When they start talking about how you’ve gained weight or how you shouldn’t be eating dessert, bluntly tell them that it’s creepy to watch and comment on what other people are eating, or that your body is none of their business. ‘Are you watching my body that closely, maybe focus on your own body instead’ is a good one, if you can muster it.
‘Eyes on your own plate’ is a good one for people who like to comment on what you’re eating. Or, ‘wait, did I ask your opinion on my meal?’ Don’t be afraid to call out bullies, because that’s what these people are.
Obviously, depending on your relationship with the person you’ll have to gauge your response to them, but a good less-confrontational way to rebut anyone’s comments is to change the subject or tell them that you’re not interested in discussing your diet or body with them. If they persist, simply turn away from them. Jerks don’t deserve a soapbox for their bluster.
If you know beforehand that there’s going to be some trouble, plan ahead. If you can, speak to a relative or friend who will be at the event and who’s willing jump in and defend you. If that’s not an option, get on the phone or even text someone who is in your corner and who ‘gets you’. Prepare that person so they know that you might be getting in touch with them, and why. Venting to someone about a bad situation while it’s happening can help to defuse your anger and give you some needed support.
Remove yourself from the situation.
I think there comes a time when you’ve been offended one too many times, and when this occurs, it’s best to take your toys and go home. You’re not playing this game anymore, and you shouldn’t have to – you’re responsible for your life choices, remember? Even if your presence is expected at certain events and people won’t be happy about you bailing, sometimes it’s best for your mental health to physically avoid people who make you feel like shit. That is more than okay, it’s actually good.
If you want, give the offender one last chance by sitting down with them and having a conversation during which you tell them how much their comments hurt. Outline your expectations: that you don’t want to hear them making reference to your food or body ever again, and let them know the consequences: if they continue to be rude to you, you’ll have to limit your relationship with them moving forward, and that includes going to family events where they’re at.
Do not be a sponge for other peoples’ opinions.
Just because someone says something to you about yourself, doesn’t mean that it’s true. In fact, your worth should never be dictated by the cruelty of others.
So, please don’t internalize and believe what you hear. It’s hard, I know – if someone says something rude to you, it’s easy to convince yourself that their opinion is how the world really sees you. It’s always important to remember that food shaming and body shaming comments are not about you, they’re about the person making them.
Someone who shames you about what you’re eating or how you look has their own issues with self-criticism and is projecting that onto the most convenient target, which happens to be you. You be you, and don’t let the other person’s anger about their own life turn you on yourself.
Try not to stuff feelings down with food.
When you’re angry and hurt, and you’re around lots of food, it’s easy to stuff those feelings down and use food as a salve. It might feel good to do that initially, but not actually dealing with those shitty feelings – as hard as it may be – can cause them to fester and breed major resentment.
Instead of eating to forget that the food shaming or body shaming occurred, acknowledge your feelings by thinking about them and owning them. You might have to retreat to somewhere quiet, you might have to wait until you’re away from the scene of the crime, and you might find it helpful to speak to a professional about it. But to ignore what’s hurting you isn’t healthy.
And hey: it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling – the person who did this to you was a bully and out of line, 1000%.