How To Deal With Rampant Body Talk Around The Holidays

Family members often feel licensed to make comments about your body or diet that other people outside your inner circle would never dare to say. But it's hard to brush off your grandparent's passive-aggressive comments about food, or your sibling's sneers about your body, because criticism from the people who you care about (and who care about you) often hurts the most.

During the marathon of cookie swaps and dinner parties throughout the holidays, there's a good chance someone will make a frustrating comment about food or body image that tests you, so it's important to have a plan. While you can't necessarily change what people say or do, you can control how you react to them, which is one way to challenge their somewhat problematic beliefs.

Given that, we asked Sheila Addison, PhD, LMFT, a therapist who specializes in size acceptance, to provide some helpful suggestions for how to pivot a conversation, based on a few body-centric scenarios that you may encounter this holiday season.

The situation: You're scanning the dessert table and your aunts start making self-deprecating comments about calories and food.

The advice: Think of some other positive compliments and praise for people's efforts at setting the table or decorating the house, Dr. Addison says. "People will often join in when you start complimenting others," she says. Or, just have something else ready to talk about (for example, "So what do you think will happen with the Winter Olympics since Russia can't attend?"), and then re-direct and find an exit (for example, "Hey, it looks like Bubbe could use some help with the napkin rings; I'm gonna go help out."), she suggests.
I'm trying to cut down on the amount of negative self-talk in my life.

What to say: "Hey, I'm trying to cut down on the amount of negative self-talk in my life, so could we change the subject to something else?"

You always make such a beautiful table.

What to say: "Well, I sure appreciate all the love Grandma and Uncle Martin and Cousin Priya put into making such a beautiful spread. Thanks, you guys! You always make such a beautiful table."

The rest of us will just have to enjoy the cookies without you.

What to say: "Well, the rest of us will just have to enjoy the cookies without you, I guess!"

It's just a brownie.

What to say: "It's just a brownie; it's not a moral test."

The situation: You're coming home from a semester at college, and your older cousin makes a joke about the "freshman 15."

The advice: If someone is determined to have a conversation with you that you want nothing to do with, Dr. Addison suggests using advice from the Captain Awkward Blog. Basically, the best thing you can do is make it as boring as possible for the person by giving them nothing to engage with, she says. "Don't debate them, don't get drawn in," she says. "Just acknowledge they've spoken with as little interest or content as you can offer, and change the subject."
I don't really think about it.

What to say: "I don't really think about it."

Let's pretend you didn't go there.

What to say: "Let's pretend you didn't go there."

I didn't notice.

What to say: "Oh, I didn't notice."

hard pass.

What to say: "My body isn't up for discussion. Hard pass."

The situation: Your uncle blatantly makes a body-shaming comment about you.

The advice: In this case, you might have to say something frank and blunt to diffuse the situation, Dr. Addison says. Feel free to walk away from the conversation, and call a warm line (a line you can call when you're not in crisis, but you need to talk) or text a friend who you know will be able to support you in the moment.
I don't like that.

What to say: "I don't like that."

Knock it off.

What to say: "Knock it off."

I need a break from this conversation.

What to say: "Okay, I need a break from this conversation."

wow.

What to say: "... wow."

The situation: Your mom tries to gossip with you about your sibling's weight.

The advice: Even if you're not the direct prey of this body-shaming, it's worth it to stop the conversation, Dr. Addison says. "Being an ally to someone else who's being targeted is a good way to practice standing up for yourself, and it's the right thing to do," she says.
I'm not interested in discussing this.

What to say: "I don't know what you want me to say here. I'm not interested in discussing this."

New subject.

What to say: "We need a new subject."

I'll think about that.

What to say: "I'll think about that. Have you seen the Christmas card collection over here?"

one way to look at it.

What to say: "Well, that's one way to look at it, I guess."

The situation: Your Bubbe says something really out of line about your body.

The advice: You don't need to school your older relatives on the intricacies of the body-positivity movement in order to get across that it's a good idea to work on having a positive relationship with yourself, Dr. Addison says. "Older generations of folks may remember when the media wasn't so airbrushed and Photoshopped, and when women weren't expected to be wrinkle-free, thanks to Botox and facelifts, right up to the moment they die," Dr. Addison says. So, they may be able to relate to some ideas that you present them with.
I take better care of myself when I'm feeling good.

What to say: "I notice I take better care of myself when I'm feeling good about myself, rather than when I'm criticizing myself over how I look."

I'm trying to focus more on what I like about myself.

What to say: "I'm trying to focus more on what I like about myself, instead of trying to be someone else's ideal."

I don't like the idea that there's only one way to be beautiful.

What to say: "I don't like the idea that there's only one way to be beautiful or handsome."

Can I show you some examples?

What to say: "Can I show you some examples of more diverse ideals of beauty that you might be able to relate to?"

The situation: Your family member suggests that you sign up for an exercise class, because they're "worried about your health."

The advice: Concern-trolling occurs when someone phrases criticism as "concern," typically in a self-righteous and condescending way. Not only is concern-trolling irritating to have to listen to, but it can also be harmful for your health. In a perfect world you wouldn't have to deal with this kind of thing at all; but in the meantime, providing a short, logical comeback can be effective. And for the record: No, you can't tell how healthy a person is just by looking at them.
You can't tell anything about a person's health just by looking at them.

What to say: "You can't tell anything about a person's health just by looking at them."

I prefer to take health and fitness advice from my doctor and trainer.

What to say: "I prefer to take health and fitness advice from my doctor and trainer."

I find dance cardio classes to be the most fun.

What to say: "Actually, I find dance cardio classes to be the most fun for me, but thanks for the suggestion."

What gave you the impression that I'm not already working out?

What to say: "What gave you the impression that I'm not already working out?"

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