It’s the moooooost wonderful tiiiiime of the yeeeeear!
Or at least it can be.
I, for one, love the holidays. This is the time of year I watch the movie, The Holiday, multiple times, fill my house with decorations (I have a light-up unicorn, dinosaur, narwhal, and penguins that hang out in my front yard), play the Peter, Paul, & Mary A Holiday Celebration album on repeat (weird family favorite we used to belt out all the lyrics to in the car when I was growing up), and eat mashed potatoes and gravy to my heart’s content.
But I know I’m lucky. I recognize that for many people for a variety of reasons, the holidays can be a stressful, exhausting, and even depressing time.
And sometimes without intending to, we can make the holidays harder on those we love (and ourselves) by not being thoughtful about what we say this time of year. In an effort to help you not crush anyone’s holiday spirit during the final months of the year, here is a handy guide of things not to say this year.
1. “Should you be eating that?”/”Have some more _______.”
Holiday meals really bring out the food pushers and food shamers, and that’s no more okay around the holiday table than it is for any other meal. When you try to dictate what and how much a person eats, you are suggesting that their own judgment can’t be trusted.
We already live in a world where strangers and the media at large feel comfortable commenting on our meals and judging us for what we eat. It’s really unhelpful when the people we love add to this problem.
Bottom line: keep your eyes on your own plate, and only make food a topic of discussion to the extent you want to talk about the taste, texture, smell, or look of a dish.
2. “She really shouldn’t be wearing that. It’s not flattering.”
Oh, hi! In case you haven’t heard, we will no longer stand for the word “flattering” being used as a stand-in for “covering the body parts I don’t want to see.” Because that shit is rooted in fatphobia and purity culture and reinforces unattainable standards of beauty like woah.
Anyone can wear whatever they want. And guess what? You don’t even have to like it. You just have to not say anything because it’s none of your business. There are a million things you can talk about with your loved ones during the holidays that don’t involve gossiping about another person’s choice of clothing.
I’d also suggest examining why you feel so strongly that another person shouldn’t wear certain items of clothing. Is it possible you’re projecting some feelings of your own onto that person about what bodies “should” look like and how people need to “earn” the right to wear certain clothing? If you feel the urge to make a comment, don’t, and try unpacking the reasons why you wanted to in the first place instead.
3. “I need to burn off that pumpkin pie.”
Diet culture has made holiday meals synonymous with methods for “burning off” those meals. In fact, some people are so fearful of holiday eating that they compulsively overexercise around the holidays. But please, for the love of all that is merry, stop exercising as penance for the food that you ate or plan to eat.
There are so many wonderful reasons to move our bodies that have nothing to do with food. The more you associate exercise with food, the worse your relationship with both will be. You never have to do anything to earn your food. You have permission to eat today and every day.
And I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t ever exercise on holidays. Just make sure your reason for doing so is because you enjoy it and want to, not because you feel obligated.
4. “When are you going to get married/start a family?”
You know what is one of the last conversations I want to have when I am enjoying my zucchini casserole and pumpkin pie? An awkward exchange with my aunt about the status of my womb.
Whether you like it or not, we now live in a time where marriage and having kids are no longer guaranteed for every individual because we finally allow people autonomy over their own lives. As such, it’s high time we stop putting pressure on our loved ones to make certain life choices by asking questions about their timelines for those choices.
Further, you may not know the whole story about what is going on when you ask such personal questions. For all you know the person you’re asking is having relationship issues or fertility problems that they haven’t told you about, and your seemingly innocent question has now ruined their dinner by reminding them. Be respectful, and just don’t go there.
5. “I’m so full. Time to put on my fat pants!”
This statement seems like an innocent one at first, but it’s similar to the oft-repeated exclamation, “I feel fat.” The problem? Fat is not a feeling or temporary experience. People in larger bodies don’t just feel fat, they are fat (and I am using this word as a neutral descriptor, not in a derogatory way). That comes with real-world consequences in our society, such as job discrimination, worse medical treatment, lack of accommodations, health shaming, and a laundry list of other discriminatory experiences that have far-reaching effects on quality of life.
Joking about putting on your fat pants due to some post-meal bloating trivializes the daily reality that fat folx experience. And if anyone at your holiday table is fat, there’s a good chance statements like these really hurt their feelings. If you feel the need to talk about how full you are after the meal, it’s easy enough to do so without invoking body size. Just say something like, “That was so satisfying I don’t think I could eat another bite.”
6. “Wow, you look like you’ve lost/gained weight.”
Other people have covered the topic of commenting on weight loss thoroughly, so I’ll just say this: body talk of all kinds should be off limits, both at holiday gatherings and the rest of the time. Another person’s weight is no one else’s business
While you might think what you have to say is complimentary, you never know how someone else might take it. Besides, there are so many non-physical attributes you could compliment a person for. What do you love about them? Their kindness? Their humor? Their friendship? Talk about those things instead, because they matter so much more than a person’s size.
7. “What the hell, I’ll just start over in January.”
During the season of giving, we give away so much of ourselves to others—work, family, friends, volunteering—that it’s easy to lose ourselves a little. Many of us end up abandoning the things that would make this time of year easier, such as movement, getting enough variety in our diet, sleep, and self-care.
This can easily lead to the “what the hell” effect. “Well, I haven’t exercised in a week and I’ve already eaten and drank more than I should. So what the hell, I’ll just give up on taking care of myself until January rolls around.”
Your Words Matter
These statements might not seem like a big deal to you, but the words you speak can have an outsized effect on those you care about. Be kind and considerate. Don’t make assumptions. Try to empathize with the experiences of others. And if you can manage that, the holidays will be better for everyone.
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