Right now, we’re approaching Christmas. It’s the opposite time of year to bikini body season; it’s a time to relax about the body, to be happy to cover up, right?
There are lots of things we associate with Christmas. Seeing friends and family, presents, parties – and food.
Well, for me it’s another time for self-judgement and depreciation. Mince pie goes in, regret comes out. Christmas sandwich laden with calories in, anger at ‘losing self control’ out.
I spend the festive season indulging, then worrying about putting on weight. I eat the turkey and the trimmings, I drink the booze, can’t stop dipping my hand in the Quality Street, seeking out my favourite strawberry flavour. All while thinking ‘Argh, why can’t I stop?!’
But here’s the thing: I don’t want to stop. Christmas food is THE. BEST. What I actually wish I could stop is worrying about it. I love food – I eat out lots and I enjoy it. I’m a size 16, generally, and go to the gym about three times a week. A preference for a lie in rather than the spin class on a Sunday morning means I’m not as lean as I could be.
Christmas and body image brings back so many memories for me. There was the year I won a much-coveted role in the local panto. We’re not talking village hall, here, this was the town panto, with TV stars. Yet, offered the costume the same size as all the other chorus girls, I struggled to get mine done up over what I’m now told are enviably large boobs. I spent my lunchtimes eating cucumber on Ryvita for lunch, hoping somehow, miraculously, my body would change overnight. It never occurred to me that the world was what needed to change. Or perhaps the panto wardrobe budget.
What does a ‘normal’ body look like these days? In fact, does it even exist?
When I was little – pre-dieting days – I would always get a new outfit to wear on Christmas day, meaning the big day was, happily, one associated with dressing up. Yet, before I knew it, I was an impressionable teen, looking in the mirror and declaring I was fat. I wrote daily in my diaries about my BIG FAT TUMMY, and I yearned to be thinner. And I feel those teenage inadequacies with every twirl of the model’s dress in a Christmas Ad, with every round up of ‘must have’ dresses or sparkly thigh-skimmers on impossibly slim models as I board the tube.
And while, for many, summer was the dramatic time of year, for me as I got older there was another time when my weight and size became a real problem in my mind. Party season, and Christmas. I worried about how I’d look in the photos of the Christmas party, I was concerned over whether I’d fit into my outfit for New Year’s Eve.
You see, even after all these years of trying to look in the mirror and say ‘hey, not bad, lady!’, Christmas time – which arguably is already in full swing – becomes a bit of a struggle. At my gym, posters shout ‘Thighs before mince pies’. I’m sure the intention is good, but it’s added pressure people don’t need. I mean, we’re already at the gym!
Just yesterday, I said ‘I’m going to be good between now and Christmas’. Written down, it makes me laugh. What bloody nonsense! If a friend said that I’d just say ‘be yourself!’ or ‘really, why is Christmas a weight loss deadline?’ So why is it I put that pressure on myself?
There’s guilt – from the first chocolate to the last mince pie; self loathing – for ‘giving in’, for being gluttonous; self-depreciation – for not being a size smaller when I come to try on party dresses in the shops. Regret, for not being ‘better’ when it was November. Is this all sounding familiar? Have you judged yourself while trying on a party dress because it’s not a size smaller than you thought it might be?
Jennifer Aniston and Dolly Parton talk Dumplin’, body confidence and how to live your best life
Words like ‘naughty’ and ‘treat’ creep in at this time of year – it’s time I stopped saying any food was naughty. But Christmas is a code word for food and overindulgence. And synonymous with berating ourselves for eating and over-indulging.
After 30 years of thinking I’m fat, this Christmas I’m determined to think differently about my body. My festive gift to myself from now on is to focus on just liking what I’ve got. On staying fit, sure, but not on needing to lose a stone in order to be able to enjoy my Christmas lunch. On eating mindfully, and indulging in the things that matter most to me, and not giving myself a hard time for eating one extra pig in blanket. To change my narrative: For example, to not say ‘let’s go for a walk to earn that pudding’ on boxing day, but just ‘let’s go for a walk’.
Perhaps surprisingly, I find solace in the place you might not expect: Social media. There are body positive activists (If you haven’t seen Jameela Jamil’s @i_weigh account, seek it out now – or Body Posi Panda). Following women who normalise feeling ok with what you’ve got, is the glorious opposite of the drip feed of self-loathing I’ve given yourself so far. Perhaps, day by day, a dose of this new influence can help women like me move towards a more positive self-image.
It won’t hurt to be careful with what I eat – now, or at Christmas. Because the food is there doesn’t mean it’s a time for total gluttony. But it’s also a time for giving, and possibly the best gift of all would be to give myself – and my body – a festive break.
We’re fit, healthy and in our 20s so why do we hate our bodies? A man and woman on self-loathing and how they finally saw past their body hang-ups