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You Are Allowed to Tell Body Shaming Relatives to Back Off

Ah, Thanksgiving. The holiday based on celebrating European colonialism and fraught with endless familial obligation. Hooray.

One especially insidious issue is that of relatives commenting on your weight or your food intake. They often do it in such a way as to seem like they’re trying to help, because they’re just ~concerned~ about you. They police what goes on your plate, ask you invasive questions about your lifestyle, and critique your body (and others’), all without being asked for their input.

I’m here to tell you you don’t have to take it.

I know it’s tough and there are family dynamics to consider, but you ARE allowed to stand up for yourself. You don’t have to be excessively rude or harsh about it — especially if you know the fallout would be massive — but you can set boundaries, and enforce them.

Ragen Chastain has an excellent list of resources on doing this over at Dances with Fat. I suggest you check them out.

The bottom line is, you are allowed to draw a line in the sand and say you will not listen to talk that shames your body or food intake, or that of anyone else.

One of the things Ragen suggests is that you tell everyone that you will leave if you hear one more weight/food-shaming comment, and then you do. This can be extremely difficult, of course, but it can also be effective.

But what if you can’t leave? Sometimes we travel with other people, and can’t leave without them. For example, last Thanksgiving I drove upstate with my parents and was staying in a house that was pretty far removed from everything. Had this been an issue, I wouldn’t have been able to go home.

You may not be able to leave completely, but you can remove yourself from the immediate situation. Go outside (weather permitting) or to another room. Make sure your absence, and the reason for it, will be noted. If you can’t leave at all, you can try pretending the offender isn’t even there. If they start talking to you, stare blankly through them and just don’t respond. They no longer exist.

If you’re part of a family or culture that treats certain people (elders, for example) as people who should not be questioned, this may become more difficult if they are the ones commenting. You will have to consider how you can stand up for yourself without creating a major rift. Every family is different, and not every tactic will work universally.

For everyone else at holidays, here are some tips: don’t comment on on anyone’s body, even if you think you’re being complementary. That sets up and enforces a hierarchy of thin being better, which is patently false. It also risks triggering either the recipient of the comment or someone who is unlucky enough to overhear you, especially if they have had issues with eating disorders.

Commenting on someone’s weight should just never happen. People who have lost a bunch of it may whine that they’ve put in “sooooo much work” and want to be acknowledged, but they’re going to have to learn to go without external validation. They are allowed to do what they want with their bodies, but it’s not up for discussion. Besides, in five years when 95% of them have gained the weight back, maybe they’ll be happy no one acted like they were so much better as a thinner person than they are when they get fat again.

Really, the only time you need to comment on what someone else is eating, beyond saying “wow, that looks delicious,” is if you need to warn them about an ingredient because you know they have a dietary need. For example, if I was about to eat something made with a meat broth, thinking it was vegetarian, I would like to be warned. Please, give me a heads up. But if you only want to comment on my food to shame me, keep it to yourself.

Let’s try to keep the holidays as shame-free as possible for everyone.

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