24 Dec Five Self Care Tips for Surviving the Festive Season as a Fat Person
Existing in a world where fatphobia is an everyday norm is always challenging; and while fatphobia is in no way limited to the festive season, it certainly does seem to be amplified during the holidays. We know that fatphobia disfranchises people with various degrees of privilege but it’s important to remember that marginalised people are likely affected by it worst of all – this includes womxn, LGBTQI+ folk, people with disabilities and people of colour.
As a womxn facing the specific triad of fatphobia, beauty discrimination and misogyny, I am very aware of society’s expectations of me to conform to its thin-centric ideals. Every day I am bombarded by toxic messages promoting unrealistic (and impossible) beauty standards in the media. But hating fat bodies isn’t so much about appearances as it is control. It’s a product of the patriarchy, much like capitalism, the gender binary and white supremacy.
Although I do not celebrate a religious holiday during the so-called ‘festive season,’ each and every year I bear witness to the heightened fatphobia that accompanies holidays such as Christmas and New Years. So I’ve decided to share some of the coping mechanisms and self care methods I use to maintain my sense of well-being during this time.
I hope that these suggestions will assist you in celebrating body positivity (or body neutrality) into 2018 and beyond.
Self care tips for surviving the festive season as a fat person
1. Ditch the diet culture
Diet culture is pervasive. It really is everywhere – from the pages of magazines to televisions ads and the lips of our friends and family, to just about any social media network. Where I come from, Christmas and New Years happens in the summer. That means you can count on people making comments about how much they ate on Christmas day and how much ‘harder’ they’re going to work to achieve their ‘summer’ bodies afterwards. Being exposed to weight-loss goals, particularly from people who are half your size, is frustrating when you’re still work hard to make peace with your own fat body. For many people who suffer from body dysmorphia, eating disorders or low self-esteem, diet culture can be extremely triggering.
Give yourself permission to practice intolerance towards diet culture this holiday season (and, er, forever). Whether that means avoiding certain people, platforms or environments; unfollowing fatphobic pages or personalities online; or simply refusing to spend time with relatives who ostracise you for being fat. Make a habit of putting your safety first; you deserve it.
2. Practice relentless self care
Of course, it’s not always possible to avoid diet culture or fatphobia due to its unfortunate prevalence in our society. If you do find yourself overcome with toxic diet culture this festive season, I hope you are able to practice all the self care you need to put it out of your mind or far enough at bay that you are able to function. Here are some self care activities that have brought me some much-needed relief which might work for you too.
- Use healing affirmations
- Check in on your favourite body positive mentors (some of my favourites, to name a few, include plus size model Tess Holliday, fat positive yogi Jessamyn Stanley and body positive activist Megan Jayne Crabbe)
- Put on your favourite outfit, makeup or fragrance
- Take a super fine selfie
- Dance/listen to your favourite song/playlist
- Watch a series or movie that brings you peace
- Prepare a meal that you enjoy
- Go for a walk or stroll in a beautiful place
- Practice some TLC (this could be anything from rinsing your face to having a bath or washing your hair)
- Tidy up your living space (if you have the energy, a quick cleanup can help you to feel more relaxed and in charge)
- Spend time with/turn to your support network (friends, family, allies, spouses etc.)
- Write in your journal/write a letter to yourself
- Express your creativity by doodling or doing something artsy and fun
- Cuddle a furry friend
- Meditate/perform a meditative task like colouring in, listening to ASMR or something else entirely.
Of course, you can feel free to practice self care any way that feels right for you.
3. Live unashamedly
So much of fatphobia relies on making fat people feel ashamed and apologetic about their bodies, and ensuring that we endure our oppression in silence. Living unashamedly may mean different things to different people but at its core it’s about not saying sorry for one’s fatness or giving in to the need to shrink oneself in order to take up less space for other people’s comfort – something that is routinely asked of womxn. Living unashamedly is about prioritising your own well-being and happiness, whether that means wearing a swimsuit or outfit you love which defies the beauty standard, actively calling out fatphobia or simply rejecting invitations to spend time with people who have a habit of demonising your body or lifestyle choices.
Remember: you do not owe anyone emotional or physical labour now, or ever; and you are not obligated to entertain fatphobia whenever you encounter it. Be bold in your resistance, but also allow yourself to put your safety first. After all, marginalised (fat) people cannot always be held responsible for educating society on fatphobia and thin privilege. We also deserve a break. That brings us to my next tip.
4. Go easy on yourself
Fat people are constantly being asked to perform tasks to benefit those around us. For example, we’re expected to work harder to fit in and conform to the beauty standard lest we risk being seen as ‘not looking after’ ourselves. We’re expected to dress and behave in a way that is deemed socially acceptable and we are punished when we don’t oblige. In fact, we’re punished even when we do oblige. Worst of all, we’re asked to assume responsibility for the suffering inflicted on us by fatphobia, because fat people are not seen as victims but more often as failures.
Sometimes it’s both refreshing and nourishing to make a habit of forgiving oneself for not abiding by all the rules that fatphobic society sets out for us. Too often fat people internalise the criticism and hatred that we are subjected to and get caught in the trap of believing we’re the problem rather than the systemic oppression we face. So, instead of reflecting on any so-called imperfections or shortcomings we may think we have this holiday, it may be worth trying to reflect on all the things we are most proud of about ourselves or the accomplishments we’ve achieved this year. But if this is asking too much of yourself, simply give yourself space to relax. You are as entitled to relaxation and celebration as is any thin person.
5. Practice neutrality
Practicing body positivity isn’t easy, no matter what you look like. It requires conviction and forces you to challenge so many supposed norms that have been ingrained into our minds. Too frequently, conversations around body acceptance overemphasise positivity as a means of healing; it’s worth noting the dangers of holding fat people to unfair expectations concerning the relationships we have with our bodies as these are deeply personal and usually rooted in intense physical, psychological and emotional pain.
It is possible to be fat and love your body; to suffer from mental illness and love your body; to have a physical disability and love your body; to be LGBT+ and love your body; to be black and love your body, and so forth. But we need to break the stigma that only people who love themselves are able to give or receive love because self love isn’t something that is accessible to everybody all of the time. We have to remember that people are no less worthy or valid if they fail to heal the relationship with their bodies and expecting to people to do so can be erasing and invalidating of people’s pain (not to mention, ableist).
Body neutrality, as opposed to body positivity, is about shifting one’s focus beyond the body and not expecting people to have, as author Autumn Whitefield-Madrano puts it, ‘bulletproof self-esteems.’ ‘Body love keeps the focus on the body,’ she explains. “The times I’m happiest are when I’m not thinking about my body at all.” Another reason why body neutrality may be a more empowering and worthwhile concept than body positivity is that it’s less exclusionary.
“For those with gender identity conflicts who experience body dysphoria, those with eating disorders who experience body dysmorphia or those with physical limitations, self-love is not always attainable — and the shame we’re told we shouldn’t feel about the way our bodies look becomes shame for not being able to consistently feel self-love . . . Body neutrality does not mean we should dissociate from our body, but rather be indifferent toward it. It does not mean we should neglect our body but rather take care of it so that it may continue to exist. It does not mean denying ourselves love of our body but rather not putting ourselves down when we have difficulty feeling it. Body neutrality can be a viable option for those who are working to make the seemingly insurmountable leap from self-hate to self-love, or anywhere in-between.”
So while body positivity can be wildly transformative for many fat people, body neutrality is an equally valid route to forming better relationships with our bodies and reducing feelings of self-hate. And don’t forget, our feelings about our bodies are subject to change. Some days I hate my stretch marks. Other days I adore them. You don’t have to feel positive about your body in order to treat it with care and respect. You don’t have to love your body in order to refuse to be dehumanised based on other people’s opinions of it.
Your body is your business.
Now and forever.
Wherever you are and whatever you do this festive season, do what is best for you. Wear what you like, eat what you like and don’t be afraid to give fatphobes the finger. Sometimes they deserve it.