By Leah Harris
CW: fatphobia, body shaming
The holidays can be stressful for all kinds of reasons. Parties and social interactions can be rewarding, but draining. There are all the expectations and financial stress around holiday gift-giving and consumerism. For fat people, these stresses are compounded by anticipating and experiencing fatphobia and body-shaming while attending holiday gatherings. Thankfully, fat liberation activists have developed a variety of practical resources to lessen the pain and humiliation of anti-fatness during the holiday season. Here is some of their collected wisdom.
Prepare your scripts.
Mean Fat Girl, who created a Twitter mega-thread with scripts, tips, and strategies, writes: “It's up to your comfort level how you choose to deal with family members who do fatphobia at you.” Body-liberation educators encourage coming up with pre-planned responses to common fatphobic scenarios you might encounter at a holiday gathering. Amanda Martinez and J. Nicole Morgan, hosts of the Fat & Faithful podcast, have also come up with a series of scripts varying from “nice” to “spice” to “ice.” For example, if someone at the table comments on what you put on your plate, their proposed “nice” response is a joke: “I didn’t drive all this way just to eat salad!” while the “spice” response could be “Oh I’m sorry, did you think my food choices were any of your business? Because they’re not.” And their suggested “ice” response is to simply not answer while continuing to load your plate.
Get clear on your boundaries, and follow through with them.
We can’t control what other people think, say, or do; we can only control our responses to their behavior. You can empower yourself by explaining in advance how you want to be treated, such as “please don’t comment on my body size or weight,” and deciding what you will do if friends and family are unwilling to respect your stated boundaries. This could include purposely checking out by scrolling on your phone, using your scripts, leaving the room, or going home. You can also decide to skip that party or dinner altogether this year. While saying no and setting boundaries is uncomfortable, remember that you’re caring for your mental well-being and practicing radical self-compassion.
As fat activist, blogger, and educator Regan Chastain writes: “If people want to spend time with me they have to treat me a certain way, which includes not body shaming or food policing me. So while they are allowed to think whatever they want about me, my body, and my food choices, they are 100% responsible for keeping those thoughts to themselves if they want to spend time with me (and they are under no obligation to want to spend time with me, of course.)”
Lean on peer support.
If you know that your holidays are likely to be filled with fatphobia, pro-actively reach out to your support system. You can start a holiday survival text thread, or have an agreement with a friend or group of friends or peers that you’ll check on each other during dicey family events. Others may prefer to vent via their personal social media accounts, if that is a safe place to do so. Or you can check out social media groups dedicated to fat liberation.
And if you are a thin person seeking to be an ally, educating others about diet culture and fatphobia is vital but often slow work, as anti-fatness is so deeply ingrained in the public’s imagination. The most compassionate thing you can do in the moment is to directly intervene to help stop the harm. “Your job as a thin person who cares about fat liberation is to put a stop to the fatphobia you see being done TO a fat person by moving the situation along to LITERALLY ANYTHING ELSE. You have the power to do that. WE don't,” writes Mean Fat Girl on Twitter.
Resources for further exploration:
Leah Harris is a non-binary, queer, neurodivergent, disabled Jewish writer, facilitator, and organizer working in the service of truth-telling, justice-doing, and liberation. They’ve had work published in the New York Times, CNN, and Pacific Standard. You can learn more about their work at their website and follow them on Instagram.