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Mental Health

How to Respond to Comments on Your Body or Food Choices During the Holidays

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

The school semester is winding down and many of us are travelling back home for the holiday season. The holidays are a time to get some much-needed rest, catch up with family and friends and even do a little holiday travelling. Especially after many months of the pandemic, this holiday season may be the first time you’ll be seeing distant relatives and old friends after a while.

Though seeing extended family can be exciting and heartwarming, this time of the year can bring a lot of mixed and uncomfortable interactions. With many celebrations centring around group dinners and New Year’s resolutions focusing on weight loss, this time of the year can be difficult for someone struggling with their body image or relationship with food. Unfortunately, everyone is aware of the social stigma of what our bodies should or shouldn’t look like, whether you let it affect you or not. Sometimes family members make unsolicited comments about our bodies and appearances, even if they didn’t intend to be harmful. Commenting on one’s body or food intake usually brings more harm than good, especially during the holidays.

As much as we can say or do to educate others on what is appropriate or inappropriate to say, it’s often difficult to remain body-positive or body-neutral and know how to respond to various comments. In many cultures, some comments may come from a place of care or concern, but you never really know someone’s relationship with their body and food or know the impact that a certain comment may have on someone.

Here are some tips for handling unwelcomed comments about your body and food choices during the holidays.

Prepare a response in advance

Often, at large gatherings with family members and friends, there is always one person who will regularly comment on your body every time you see them. I bet the person came into mind just as you read that now. Whether it’s an aunt, cousin or childhood friend, there are various ways to respond to them. Never feel like you need to justify or explain your appearance – that isn’t anyone’s business except yours. Even if you expect a comment from this person every time you see them, it’s still understandable to feel upset or shocked. Prepare a short response in advance that you can use. Here are a few suggestions:

  • “My definition of health and yours are different.”
  • “You don’t need to worry about me.”
  • “I’m comfortable with the way I look.”
  • “I know what’s best for my body.”
  • “I prefer if you didn’t comment on my body.”

Set boundaries

In any potentially uncomfortable conversation, it is important to set boundaries for yourself. When someone comments on your body or food intake, make it clear that you’re not interested in hearing their opinion. It can be difficult to set boundaries with family members because of mutual respect or a close relationship with them, however, a short and straightforward comment like, “I’m not open to talking about my body with you,” is clear and respectful. If the person continues to push the narrative, be firm and again, ask them to respect your boundaries. Then, you can change the topic or excuse yourself.

Be honest with them

Unfortunately, many family members and friends can be ignorant and justify their comments as words coming from a place of care and concern. Most probably don’t realize the potential harm they cause and share their opinion lightheartedly followed by a pitied look or hug. If they don’t take the hint and continue to discuss your body or choices about food, you can be honest about how you feel. You can say something like, “Commenting on my body hurts my feelings and makes it difficult for me to enjoy spending time with you,” or “I’ve been working on improving my relationship with my body and my physical health and your comments are hurtful.”

Build support

It helps if you can depend on someone else to step in when needed. Build support ahead of time with a trusted family member or friend. Even if you want to fight your own battles and not rely on someone else, sometimes unsolicited comments can take you off guard and you might be thankful for having someone to step in for you. Whether that’s your sister, mom or friend, talk to them ahead of time and ask for their support if they overhear someone commenting on your body or relationship with food.

The bottom line is that someone will always have opinions about your body and food choices, but you are in control of how you handle comments made about them. Before choosing to respond to the person, remember that they may have hidden intentions. It could be the other person projecting their insecurities onto you or coming from a place of cultural and generational norms. If you choose to respond to a comment, do so politely. There’s always an option to address the comments in private, or simply walk away. Everyone is at a different place with their health and wellness, and it’s important to respect others’ decisions. Don’t ruin the holidays for yourself or others!

Melissa Huen

Wilfrid Laurier '22

Melissa is in her 4th year at Wilfrid Laurier University, studying Music Therapy with a minor in Psychology. When she's not busy raving about her hometown, Vancouver, BC, you can find her baking, travelling, or checking out the newest restaurants in town.
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