Handling Weight-Focused Conversations this Holiday Season

October 22, 2019

two pairs of feet in wool socks by the fireplaceEveryone has heard a comment or two, while home for the holidays or back at school after the holidays, of how our appearance has changed so much. Well-intentioned at best, or triggering at worst, a “simple” comment can send some of us running to the other room wondering if we have really changed that much, and if that change is good… or bad. Body talk is when the emphasis is placed on someone’s appearance, usually their body type/weight. Negative body talk can be mean or outright nasty comments, sometimes disguised as “concern for your health.” Positive body talk can seem nice, like “you’ve lost so much weight,” but is really just another way to reduce someone down to their appearance--it can even reinforce unhealthy behavior.

If you take a second to think about it, body talk is pretty black-and-white. It sounds like a question of morality, of worthiness. Which, when you take a second to think about that is strange. Who’s the judge, who’s on trial, and why are we on trial? Bodies are bodies, neither good nor bad. They just are. You’re worthy and wonderful by virtue of being you. After all, you got into Berkeley based on your accomplishments, intelligence, and capabilities! To be confronted with body talk, for better or worse, ignores you and reduces you to your appearance. And you are so much more than that.

So this holiday season, let’s get some defensive tools to shield ourselves against body talk.  After all, why invest time and emotional energy in a conversation that makes all parties feel worse? For starters, it’s important to be comfortable taking care of yourself and acknowledging when a situation isn’t working for you: if you feel uncomfortable you have the right to change or leave the situation. It can be hard with family, especially during the holidays, but you deserve to feel comfortable. You can: leave outright, change the subject, confront it head-on, subtly bring up something else, involve someone else in the conversation, or any combination of those. The holidays can be tough, and sometimes you can’t exactly get up and leave. So let’s talk about some ways to turn the conversation around!

General comment #1: Your body has changed so much since high school!

Reality check: Are you still in high school? No. Your body grows and changes, inside and out, well into your twenties and beyond. Your perception of the world has changed, why can’t your body? You’re not a photograph, you’re a person—change is part of growing up.

Turn it around: College is so different from high school! I’ve learned a lot about (insert passion) activism since I got to Berkeley. It’s been so great!

General comment #2: I need to go on a diet, I gained like ten pounds this weekend.

Reality check: Did you know that dieting has been shown to have negative, long-term consequences? For one, diets are typically rooted in restriction which is unsustainable in the long-term. Repeatedly going on diets can cause your weight to cycle, going up and down, which can have serious cardiovascular and metabolic risks (here’s a recent review!). Additionally, preoccupation with weight and frequent dieting are risk factors for eating disorders (talk to UHS professionals to learn more!)

Turn it around: You said you really enjoyed the weekend—I’ve heard it’s important to focus on the good feelings of the holidays instead of worrying about weight or appearance. I know that I’m super happy you’re here and we get to hang out!

The important thing to remember this holiday season is that you are valuable just the way you are, and you are enough. If you have any questions or concerns about nutrition or self-image, we have an entire team of people at University Health Services here to help and support you.

Happy Holidays!