Body image comments over holidays affect well-being

Unwanted comments about one’s weight or appearance are certainly not limited to the holidays, but inevitably become more common as rarely-seen relatives all meet up for family reunions during winter break. Even if these statements don’t mean to put someone on the spot, they can enormously affect the way one feels about themselves for the rest of their holidays and perhaps far beyond.

AP Psychology teacher Warren Collier believes these comments can spike in both frequency and effect during the holiday season. “During the holidays we see lots of people that we haven’t seen in a long time—people who care about us and people we care about—so their opinions of us matter to us,” he said. “[These] couple of months, people are being very cognizant of how they’re looking and dressing, making it a time of year when people are especially sensitive to those kinds of comments.”

Mental Health and Wellness Coordinator Michelle Ramos also believes that such comments can be damaging. “Regardless of where a person is with their body image, [degrading comments] can bring about guilt or shame, and can definitely tap into insecurities that were already there or that they weren’t aware of,” she said. “[They] can contribute to negative self-perception and negative self talk.”

Despite the negativity commonly associated with it, gaining weight during the holiday season is a perfectly natural phenomenon. Living Skills teacher Jeanette Tucker compares it to evolutionary adaptation. “There are different articles you can read about what we do in the winter as people,” she said. “There’s less daylight and it’s cold, so we tend to want to eat and sleep. And we’re somewhat like a bear, where we’re hibernating to some extent,” Tucker said. “It’s a cyclic, normal thing to do.”

Often, when someone feels bad about themselves, they project that feeling onto others. While some of the comments definitely can’t be justified, it’s helpful to keep in mind that other people are also struggling. “[Recognize] that sometimes those comments have less to do with them, and more about the person saying it,” Ramos said.
Comments about appearance can also come from a place of love and concern, regardless of how insensitive they can come off as. “In American culture, especially in young people, those are comments that are seen as criticisms and that they’re not received into a certain norm,” Collier said. “Whereas from a lot of the older generations, it’s a way to express care because they’re like ‘Oh, I care about you and I care about whether you’re eating enough,’—there’s a big cultural clash that can happen there, with the intention that certain older people have with those comments versus how it’s received.”

Although these comments can be challenging to sit with, there are methods to healthily do so. “Just taking a minute and stopping [to realize] it’s probably not so much a personal attack on me, even though it feels that way, [can help],” Ramos said. “If that doesn’t work, it’s important just to mentally prepare. If you know you’re going to have to be in certain situations, emotionally preparing yourself for what might come and maybe having a script to deflect those comments and have something positive to say back like ‘Oh, I’m doing great.’”

In the past, Collier has had experience with such comments and he finds himself able to cope with them effectively. “I remind myself of where they are coming from,” he said. “They are doing this out of a place of showing love and concern rather than trying put me down.”