The days are shortening, the leaves are turning, the grocery store ads in the paper are turning to turkey and cranberries, and that means it must be time for the endless stream of articles in women’s magazines about ‘how to beat the holiday pounds’ and ‘how to avoid gaining weight while eating whatever you want’ and every part of me will squirm to encounter them in banner ads on websites (somehow they always magically manage to defeat Adblock) and in the checkstands at the grocery store.
Here in the United States, the ‘winter holidays’ are heavily focused on food, eating, cooking, being with family. I think these things are pretty excellent and I am generally supportive of them. I’m a big fan of food, I love cooking, and sometimes I even like some of my genetic relatives. But what I don’t like is the simultaneous guilting and shaming over what people eat.
The holiday shaming season is upon us, people. Apparently, you are supposed to eat and spend time with family as much as you like, as long as you don’t gain weight. Preferably, you will lose weight, because you’re already too fat, and wouldn’t it be a superhuman feat to lose weight during the holidays! You will be the envy of your friends. (Set aside the fact that some people experience depression in the winter due to limited daylight and holiday-related stress and other things, and for some people, depression means decreased appetite, and that means weight loss.)
I’m not going to give you ‘permission’ to eat what you want during the holidays, I’m not going to tell you that, it’s ok, you can indulge in ‘a few sweet treats,’ I’m not going to tell you any of those things because you are a grown person and you can make your own decisions. What I will say is this. Eat what you want. Eat what makes you happy. Don’t eat what you don’t want. Don’t eat what doesn’t make you happy.
If you don’t have a lot of choices on the table, if you’re forced to eat somewhere where people make food you can’t eat, well, my glib answer is ‘leave,’ but if you have to stay, don’t let people shame you, ok? If you’re vegetarian or allergic or have religious dietary restrictions or you just, you know, hate cranberries, no one gets to shame you for that. No one gets to tell you you’re a bad person for what you do/don’t eat. No one gets to ‘tease’ you by threatening to include things you can’t eat in the meal. No one gets to hassle you for eating the way you do, whether you eat that way by choice, or because you are forced to.
You don’t have to tell people why you eat what you do and don’t eat. You don’t need to excuse yourself for taking seconds, thirds, fourths, whatever. You don’t need to apologise for liking food, or not liking food. You don’t need to explain yourself at the dinner table. And I know that many of you are going to encounter precisely that in the coming weeks and months; you will be expected to explain, to educate, to sit there with a smile smeared on your face while people say nasty and untrue and ignorant and uninformed things about you.
Maybe you’re fat and everyone wants to glare at you for taking seconds. Maybe you’re thin and everyone praises you. Holiday food torment is pretty much equal opportunity, I’m afraid. And I wish I could have you all over for dinner at my house, but I can’t, unfortunately, so instead, I’d like to be there in spirit, and I’d like you to be there in spirit for each other. When you’re sitting at the table and people are being rude, when you’re making phone arrangements for dinner parties and someone sighs deeply when you say ‘please remember I’m allergic to nuts,’ I’m right there rolling my eyes with you. And I’m right there with you if you decide to say ‘hey, you know, I’m really not ok with having my diet be an object of mockery at the table,’ and I’m right there with you when you say ‘hey, relative, I’m happy to come to dinner, but I want you to make it clear to other relative that my weight is not really up for discussion or debate.’
It’s hard, I know. There is no one easy solution; not all of us have the choice to opt out of obligations, not all of us can speak up at the table, not all of us have a choice about where we eat and when and how and what is in front of us. There may only be small, small things you can do to assert your space and your right to exist, and I’m not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. I’m not going to say ‘just don’t go to holiday dinner if you don’t want to’ because I know it’s not that easy, and I know you’re a grownup, and you can make that choice if you want to. But I am here to tell you that I support you in whatever choice you make, in any choice you can make that will increase your happiness levels at a time of year when things are often grim.
This is the fat cat manifesto: You, gentle reader, you are awesome. You are awesome no matter what your size, no matter what you eat, no matter who you are. And don’t you fucking forget that for a second this winter (or summer, for my Southern Hemispherean friends), not even when everyone around you is trying to convince you that you are not awesome. Because you are awesome, and I don’t want anyone to take that away from you.