Holiday body issues, and how to overcome them

posted on: December 13, 2013

Holiday body issues and how to overcome them | from

Happy feel-bad-about-your-appearance-holiday! Whether it’s Christmas, New Years or the summer holidays approaching, they all come bearing gifts of body issues. There are the obvious things, like magazines and “newspapers” and blogs and instagram accounts and commercials and advertising posters, constantly reminding you that the most important thing in this world is to be a beautiful little fool. You will never see any body or face that truly looks like yours in this photoshopped territory, which reminds you that your kind of looks don’t deserve to be seen, to be visible. In some ways, though indisputably a tough enemy to face, this is one of the easier ones, because they are easy to label as just that, an enemy. We are all aware that advertisements of any kind were not created to make us feel happy or satisfied.

Then there are enemies that aren’t really enemies at all. Food, for instance. As the holidays approaches, I always notice how the words used to talk about food become saturated by guilt, as though food is something we shouldn’t really allow ourselves, and we are only doing it because we are too weak to resist. People talk about “guilty pleasures”, “being bad”, “allowing themselves” this and that. No meal exists on its own, because we have to make sure we have the correct amount of “good” to outweigh the “bad”. A bar of chocolate isn’t merely a bar of chocolate, it’s “decadent” (“characterized by or reflecting a state of moral or cultural decline”), “luxurious” (“giving self-indulgent or sensual pleasure”) or “extravagant” (“exceeding what is reasonable or appropriate; excessive or elaborate”).

Holidays also bring more festive occasions, whether they are glittering nights or sun-soaked afternoons. How you look will become of more importance. It will matter more how beautiful you are in party makeup, or no makeup at all; how your body looks in strapless dresses, or oversized, shapeless t-shirts. You might become obsessed with some new “flaw” of yours that you weren’t aware of before, such as your suddenly inexplicably obtrusive upper lip hair, or a crisscross of purple, or red, or silvery stretch marks. You will limit yourself because of these “flaws”, or you will make ever effort to “improve” the situation. That’s our mission in life, isn’t it, to always improve? Fortunately, improvements are easy to keep track of, because we have numbers. Numbers for weight, circumference, good and bad things in food, alcohol units, exercise reps, speed, length, fat, muscles, clothing sizes, age – the list never ends, does it?

Your focus will shift. Instead of simply being happy you are spending time with your best friend, you’ll make comparisons. Who looks better in red/a bikini/winged liner/pajamas/a santa beard? You believe the gazes of strangers give you the answers. This constant stream of comparison feels even worse because part of you thinks it’s completely irrational and immature, which makes you feel shallow and petty, which again makes you snappish and grumpy. Once we are caught in this whirlwind of negativity and confusion, more things “get to us”, too, which creates a downward spiral that can take a long time to recover from. Probably just in time for the next holiday to come around.

So, in generous holiday spirit, I thought I’d share with you some tips on how I “protect” myself during times like these. The general rule is: do I feel worse about myself after reading/watching/listening to this? If the answer is yes, then it has to go.


My guidelines for overcoming holiday body issues:

knowing what my starting point is. It has taken years of thinking and reading and feeling, but I know now that I think one can be healthy at every size, that our value as people does not lie in appearance, that I do appreciate beauty, and I think it comes in a multitude of forms. I know that because I am ill (hello depression, hello probably-CFS, hello anxiety), I need to be extra careful. This especially applies to the topic of exercise, because I am simply not able to exercise in my condition. Workout articles/blogs/pinterest boards/conversations make me feel guilty and sad in a way I don’t think non-ill people can truly understand, both because having CFS is a world of are-you-sure-you-aren’t-just-imagining-things, and because it reminds me of all the things I miss. In short, your own starting point can work as a sort of center, to give all those external influences some context.

– anything that contains numbers about bodies is a no-go. The number might describe weight, percentage of body fat, number of times an exercise is done, body measurements or other similar things – if I encounter these, I immediately stop reading, even if it’s in one of my favourite blogs. I think it’s because numbers are so concrete, and therefore tend to stick in my head for a long time. They become something against which to measure yourself, which, at least for me, only leads to trouble.

– finding positive angles to tricky topics. For instance, when I noticed my thoughts on food started to go awry, I decided to watch more cooking shows (I’m in love with British Nigel Slater), read cooking blogs and books, and teach myself how to make even more food from scratch. Please notice that all these things focus on the simple pleasure of making and eating food, not any kinds of diets. I think that nowadays, many people find food becoming increasingly difficult, and so they turn to diets for guidance. If you adhere to a single type of diet, there will usually be clear rules for what is right and wrong, which, in a way, makes things easier. For me, though, diets and how they often focus on losing weight, is simply out of the question. Instead, I seek out positive influences on food.

– seeking out “alternative” images of bodies and appearance. With “alternative”, I mean people that aren’t photoshopped to death, wearing three layers of shapewear, or styled and groomed for five hours each morning. This can be reading blogs with a similar photoshop policy to mine (no liquify tool, for instance), or just watching normal people in a café or public transportation. I think it’s frighteningly easy to forget that nobody actually looks like the photoshopped images we see everywhere. And nobody looks perfectly styled and stylish without (what is to us, invisible) hours of preparations. I also read blogs like Eat the Damn Cake, Growing Out My Bush (NSFW) and Dances With Fat, just to get many different perspectives on things. Perspective is good, as is remembering what reality looks like.

no body-snarking talk of any kind. I don’t mean those actual conversations about how we feel or how we look, but those “I look so ugly today”-rants or “I need to drop ten kilos as soon as possible”-deals. The Norwegian culture isn’t as full of this as for instance the American seems to be, and fortunately, most of my friends don’t do it much, but sometimes it pops up nonetheless. When it does, I usually do one of two things: I either change the subject completely (and people tend to get the hint; if they don’t, I’ll do it again in a way that makes them get it), or I talk about the issue properly. Not in a hey-I’m-now-going-to-lecture-you-about-body-issues-way, hopefully, but just to let a friend know that I truly care about her/him, and how mean thoughts like that aren’t doing them any good. It’s what I want someone to tell me when the situation is reversed, at least.

focusing on something else. Who has the capacity to worry about thighs that rub together if one is busy doing a silly dance on the living room floor with a sister, reading an amazing book, humming over Benedict Cumberbatch-interviews, cooking a gluten-free AND lactose-free lasagna from scratch, sleeping till noon, re-writing that French grammar rule book you created in high school, trying to keep those bloody house plants alive, watching the fog make everything outside your window disappear, flirting with the bus driver, or surviving a trip to IKEA on a Saturday?

– if all else fails, I imagine myself as Leonardo DiCaprio in a Baz Luhrman movie, covered in sweat and dirt and blood, staring wildly up at the sky, half-crying and half-laughing, screaming “IS THAT ALL YOU’VE GOT?!“, at the top of my lungs. I might be sad, or scared, or angry, but I’m still alive, and still fighting, and my inner Leo can survive anything.

What are your ways to handle the holiday body pressure? Do share, as the more tips and stories we can gather, the less alone we’ll be!

  • Anne

    I love this!
    During this Autumn I decided to avoid articles (online or on paper) that focus on the looks of celebrities. I really have to remind myself of this rule, because browsing sites of gossip magazines is a jungle of look-centered totally irrelevant information and judgement, and it’s become such a habit (at least for me) to just read anything and buy into this whole “looks are everything”-discourse. It’s a small step, but nonetheless helps me remove my focus from looks to other things for a little while each time I do it. My hope is it will also help me remove focus from my own looks in the long run. Now that I am pregnant I especially avoid any articles that say ANYTHING about losing pregnancy weight etc. It’s scary how much focus the pregnant body gets, especially considering what an amazing physical accomplishment a pregnancy is!
    Gosh, I could go on about this for hours. Thanks for bringing this up! I will especially try to keep this in mind when being photographed during the Holidays, which in my opinion often brings out the most anxiety for many.

    • Maria

      Sounds like you’ve worked out an excellent plan, Anne! Congratulations on the baby, I can’t imagine what a change it must be. It’s very true that the media write way too many disturbing things about pregnant bodies, so keeping a healthy focus in the middle of all that must be such a challenge. I’m rooting for you!

  • Isabel

    No har eg ikkje kommentert her på ei god stund, men no må eg berre! Eg er så einig i alt du seier her, og eg skulle ønske fleire kunne tenke på same måten! Eg har så mange venninner som er så sjukt opptekne av kor mange kilo dei har på kroppen, og måtar å gå ned ti, femten, tyve kilo på. Eller den der standarden “draumevekta mi er x kg”. Det er så dumt å fokusere på eit tal som ikkje betyr noko som helst!

    For dei jentene som syns dei veier for mykje, kan eg tilrå tumblren “Hey, fat chick!” Det er så utruleg herlig å scrolle seg igjennom bilete på bilete av utruleg vakre, deilige, feite kvinnfolk som viser deg at du kan vere vakker og bra og stilig i klesveien uansett kor mange kilo du har på kroppen din. M.a.o, vekt har ingenting med venleik å gjere.

    • Maria

      Velkommen “tilbake”, Isabel! Og takk for fin kommentar og fin link, man trenger å se bilder av så mange forskjellige kropper som mulig, spør du meg :)

  • Bonnie

    It is so lovely to see you blogging again :) Welcome back! It is especially nice to see one of your wonderful, honest, and analytical articles that looks at the way we look at ourselves and how we can improve it. To be honest, for me Christmas has always been such a wonderful, magical time that I have never felt any pressure regarding my appearance – for me, it has always been a time to indulge myself, with no guilt what-so-ever. I am proud of the way I look at myself and the people around me, and posts such as this have definitely played a part in defining my opinions. I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season, and that you have a truly magical Christmas!

    • Maria

      Thank you so much for that wonderful comment, darling – it’s so uplifting to hear that there _are_ people out there who manage to ignore all the pressure and simply have a good time. I hope your Christmas was wonderful, and that your 2014 will be awesome :D

  • Tyne

    I have been reading your blog for over a year now and I would like to thank you for your topic choices and insight. Most of your articles are quite relevant to my current life; I sometimes wonder if you can read minds! I look forward to continuing to read your posts in the future. Have a wonderful new year..

  • Amiable

    I really needed this today. Thank you.

  • Maja H

    I find this quite tricky as I genuinely love to work out and will spend several evenings a week doing so if I can. I have stopped posting about it on social media, but it is a substantial part of how I spend a lot of my days, and if someone asks me how my day was I find myself feeling terrible if my reply is “awesome, I just had the best workout ever”. I honestly don’t want to feed anyone’s monsters. Working out makes me feel great, and after overcoming a 12 month period where I genuinely couldn’t work out I am borderline ecstatic to be able to do it again, but I sometimes feel like I shouldn’t talk about it around my friends and just keep it to myself, even though it makes me just as happy as drinking a cup of hot chocolate while watching my favorite movie. I know, #crymoar #healthypersonproblems.

    On a brighter note, I stopped reading gossip blogs and most “women’s magazines” years ago and it made a tremendous difference. I also made some better friends <3

    • Maria

      It’s definitely tricky, as it’s hard to know if/how much of a struggle a person has with these things. We’re not mind readers, right? But I think you’ve got a good thing going on, because you focus on how it makes you happy, which would please any friend to hear. I, at least, think it’s wonderful that you’re finally able to work out again, because I know you love it so much. As long as it doesn’t get very specific concerning numbers and such, it’s not a problem for me – and I hope I don’t sound like too much of an insufferable know-it-all (bonus point if you got the reference!) when I suspect I’m not alone in this :) Basically, friends want friends to be happy, right? And if it does get too much on a bad day or something, it should be possible to just let them know.

      And those “Women’s magazines” should be banned, really. Or even better, swapped for some wonderful friends instead <3

  • Erin

    This is such a wonderful post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, I know there’s a lot of us out here who struggle with body image. I find your suggestions helpful and your words inspiring.

    Stay awesome. :D

    • Maria

      Thank you, Erin, it makes me so happy to receive comments like yours. It’s nice to be appreciated!

  • Miranda

    Thank you – from a gal from Australia – where at the moment the bronzed, bikini bodies are out on show. Your words are great, I do share similar thoughts, but sometimes those thoughts can get lost in the haze of everyday. So thank you for the reminder! Lovely blog btw xx

    • Maria

      Hi Mirianda (such a beautiful name!), thank you for commenting. I suppose we could all use a reminder like this once in a while, especially when surrounded by bikini-clad people everywhere. I’ll try not to think of how much I wish I could doze on a beach right now (under an umbrella and wearing SPF 50, naturally), and instead wish you a happy 2014 ;)

  • kine

    Tusen takk for dette innlegget – igjen. Igjen, du skriver om svært viktige ting som angår veldig mange. Jeg er av typen hvor monsteret vokser ti ganger så mye during christmas, og det er virkelig fælt.

    Jeg må bli flinkere til å sette en grense for meg selv og unngå det, men det er vanskelig ettersom monsteret er fulltidsarbeid, jul eller ei.

    Jeg ver uansett veldig glad du skrev denne posten, det er et viktig tema.

    • Maria

      Jeg føler med deg, kine, det er ikke lett å sette grenser når det gjelder slike ting – og i alle fall ikke å passe på/følge dem opp hele tiden! Håper julen din ble fin likevel, og at du blir modigere og modigere når det gjelder å takle trøblete selvtillitssituasjoner i det nye året. Jeg heier på deg!

  • Camelia

    It’s often forgotten that slim people (erm well me) get abuse about their figure as well the more voluptuous. At school I was tormented about my ‘disgusting bony’ body, random strangers would whisper ‘size zero or what’ behind my back on the street, and kids mums at school would gossip about how ill I must be. In reality I was, and still am, a normal, petite 5 ft 2″ size 8, who ate breakfast, lunch, dinner, desert, snacks, and never even thought about food. Sometimes I wished I had a plumper figure that demanded the right sort of attention but I suppose then I would be called fat. I have come to a sort of peace with myself though. I know that I’m not on some kind of starvation diet, I know that really, I have very small bones and nature intended me to be just as I am. I know that I can dress in cropped, chunky knits to flatter my shape and be cozy at the same time. And I know that the people who dispensed the drip, drip, drip of confidence erosion down on my head hated what they saw in the mirror every morning.

    • Maria

      Hi Camelia! Thank you for sharing your experiences, and I fully agree with you – body shaming/snarking/whatever-we-call-it it awful, no matter the words or the type of body it concerns. It’s wonderful to hear that you’re overcoming that confidence erosion (superbly put, by the way), and that you’re able to appreciate the body you’re in. Well done, you!

  • Gül

    I stopped reading articles like “destroy your thighs in 2 months” They actually use these words to describe our own bodies. I was 50 kilos and back then my boyfriend left me with a text message and didnt explain his reason, it wasnt a depression but i got 10 kilos. I couldnt sleep for 2 months but i got over! Everyone was like “when you gonna fix yourself?” which means when you gonna make diets.. No, im not fixing myself. I was working out so much that’s how I was keeping it. Now i realise i just want to enjoy my life. I have fat tissue and it’s ok. I enjoy eating cake without remembering how an american celebrity has abs like stone now. I dont care people who cares my body’s fat ratio. Actually it’s a great way to meet smarter people.

    Sorry i talked a lot with my bad english( i love u. Jeg elsker.. what was u( oh i forgot. Deg? Im gone;)

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