We’re getting dangerously close to Christmas and with it comes the Holiday Season Diet Culture™. Yonna Kuipers wrote a Christmas guide to body positivity especially for the Almost Famous Writer advent calendar to navigate this trying time.
Christmas is generally a time filled and focused on happy memories, joyful traditions, and extravagant meals. Yet, it has also become a time focused on limiting caloric intake, exercising, and which ten poses will flatter you the most when bloated from dinner. The discourse on (women’s) bodies and eating around Christmas is imbalanced to say the least. You are simultaneously told to enjoy all this ‘naughty’ food whilst being reminded that this can only last until the holidays are over, because you don’t want to start the new year feeling fat, do you?! There is no way we can win, really, because society won’t let you.
When society says no, there are thankfully a handful of people that ask why not? One of such activist groups is the body positive movement. In recent years, activism in various shapes -think veganism and feminism- have been able to build a larger platform and debunk some of its stereotypes. They have been able to gather a following online, that has transformed into IRL activism. If you haven’t come across the term body positivity this year or if you aren’t that familiar with it I hope this article can shine some light on what it is, how it ‘works’, and provide some tips and resources you can use to navigate the inevitable stress and anxiety of the Holiday Season Diet Culture™.
What exactly is body positivity?
Body positivity was started by and for fat people to negotiate an oppressive world. It is a movement that uplifts and creates -sometimes literal- space for marginalized bodies. Rooted in the fat-acceptance movement -a social movement campaigning to change the anti-fat bias in society- body positivity has morphed to include *all* bodies.. Or so I thought. Body positivity is about embracing and accepting both your own as well as other bodies, discarding the notion of beauty in determining self-worth and confidence.
However, as it often happens with social movements becoming more mainstream, body positivity has lost some of its original meaning and almost moved to at times exclude fat people, or at least those fat people that are deemed ‘unhealthy’. As others like Meg Elison have mentioned, body positivity has become an umbrella term for average looking (usually white) women to embrace themselves and other “average” women, but exclude actual fat people (like myself) because we still are ‘too much’, too unhealthy, too lazy.. If you say you’re all for body positivity as long as ‘you’re healthy’ you are NOT being body positive.
“You don’t have to be fat to be body positive, but I believe that you have to understand the fat experience to understand body positivity as it was originally intended.”
Gatekeeping as done in the example above has no place in a movement that supposedly uplifts all bodies. Body size is NOT an indication of someone’s level of fitness or health. Scientists have repeatedly debunked this myth, the BMI scale, and they have also provided ample evidence of how diets literally do not work. They just don’t, watch Netflix’s Explained episode Why Diets Fail if you want a quick tell-all. Fat positivity at its premise was never built on the concept of health, because the topic of health is both suggestive as well as potentially ableist. So while it is nice that people like model Iskra Lawrence are advocating for body positivity and body diversity in fashion and media, the range of bodies you see is very limited. In a world that would rather see you dead than fat (and comfortable), this is quite an important movement to embrace.
Building a better relationship with food
But how can ‘body positivity’ help me then, you ask. Well, when you hate your body it eats away at every aspect of your life. It eats away at your work, your school, it eats away at your family and your relationships. It eats away at valuable time you could be spending on any of these things fully. I can tell you the answer isn’t easy. It is more complicated than just “loving yourself.” Your problems won’t go away by accepting your body, it’s definitely going to take a lot of work, a lot of reading, and a lot of confrontation. The first step is realizing that hold that your hatred for your body has over you. The Diet industry is a billion dollar industry selling a false prophecy, and it is everywhere even outside of conventional diets. Ascribing terms such as ‘naughty’ to certain foods, in order to make you feel guilty about eating it is one way. Food has no inherent moral value, food is just there to provide energy or vitamins or taste. Food isn’t inherently ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, we’ve assigned that to it. Once you can extract the moral value from both the food as well as eating in general, you can start to build a better relationship with food.
Body positivity and Christmas
One of the easiest or most difficult ways to do this at the Christmas dinner table is removing yourself from the conversation. Ignore it, stop the convo: you deserve to eat whatever you want, not what the Diet Industry allows you to eat. Realize that weight gain does not say anything about your character other than that you eat several times a day, which is completely human and what our bodies need to function. You are not a number, much like you aren’t your height and go around proud telling everyone you are five meters tall, you aren’t your weight. Someone who can definitely help you along with that is Megan, from bodiposipanda. Her social media is saturated with tips on how to navigate the world one body positive thought at a time. If her IG isn’t enough, she’s even written a book.
When Eden approached me about this topic I wasn’t exactly hesitant to write it, but I was hesitant to approach it. It has taken me far too long (I’m sorry Eden) to write it and I have had to rewrite this article many times, because it is a topic that is very close to my heart and I want to make sure it is doing right by body positivity. Something which has become a sort of buzzword, clothing companies have thrown around to attract more sales without adhering to body/fat positive principles or supporting fat people. I realize this isn’t the be-all-end-all, ad that there’s quite some nuances left to explore. There’s only so much you can do in 1000 words. I implore you to check out people like Megan, or the She’s All Fat podcast, or read any of Jes Baker’s books on the fat experience, or read/watch Dietland on Netflix. You don’t have to be fat to be body positive, but I believe that you have to understand the fat experience to understand body positivity as it was originally intended.
By Yonna Kuipers