We're now T minus four weeks until Christmas, people.
In my teens and earlier twenties, the countdown to Christmas always provoked two key emotions inside me. First of all, there was excitement. I'm an only child with warm memories of incredible Christmases, even though both of my parents absolutely hated the holiday. (Side note: shout out to Mum and Dad for grinning and bearing it, bah humbug ❤️). As I got older, Christmas got less Christmassy, and so as a result, naturally, I grew up totally obsessed with the festive season. That's all nice and sweet, and that still sits with me. But the second emotion is something that I struggled with every time we reached roughly this time of year.
Whilst I lived in a constant battle with myself and my appearance, Christmas and New Year put pressure on me like you wouldn't believe. Every year, I was brimming with determination (which is otherwise a very good trait to have) to focus every last thought on how my dress size correlated with my upcoming social calendar. Without fail, I would reach the end of November, jump on the scales, grimace at the number glaring up at me, and make it my festive mission to nip half a stone or so in the bud. I convinced myself that Quality Street toffee pennies (soooo good) were the work of the devil, and straying from my structured diet plans to just eat one would leave me crying in my room, unable to do up the zip on a party dress. Then, as the holiday period came and went, I suffered with what felt like never-ending food guilt and even more determination to not let my body look the way it did the following Christmas.
Last year was the first year that I didn't really care. I spent it away in New York, and everything was so magical, that it wasn't until I returned home that I realised I hadn't panicked about food, or how I looked, or whether a toffee penny was going to send me down a path of diet destruction. It was liberating. Whilst it wasn't my first year of discovering body positivity, it was the first Christmas that I'd managed to truly just enjoy myself. This year, I'll be hosting Christmas for the first time in my own home, and other people will be trusting me not to give them food poisoning — I promise I can actually cook — and so it's really important for me to maintain that now I'm back in a home setting for the holidays. All of the previous years of holiday body torment got me thinking though: why do we do it to ourselves?
I know I'm definitely not the only one who has suffered at the hands of the Shrink In Time For Christmas diet. It generally goes this way: I miss out on chocolate advent calendars, mince pies, amazing party canapés, festive tipples in exchange for the feeling of hunger and a number on a scale dropping by a tiny amount. For a split second I feel okay, until I end up feeling body conscious anyway, and go headfirst into the holiday with disordered thoughts, self-justified binges and food guilt, only to come face to face with the scale a few days later to see that all my 'hard work' (i.e. restriction) had been for nothing. Instead of seeing the light, I tell myself that it all starts again on New Year's Day and I'll be a changed person. This change lasts for about ten days, when I decide to pack it in, yet continue to wallow in self hatred and self pity. A vicious cycle.
When I sat thinking about the way that we tell ourselves we need to be Christmas ready, or looking our best for the party season, it made me realise how it's just another opportunity for society to try and convince us that we're not good enough. Much like we're told to prepare for 'bikini season', or get in shape to be the perfect bride on our wedding day, Christmas is one more time of year whereby diet, health and fitness bullshit is packaged up in a little box and sold to us. But why? Christmas is a time of overindulgence, we all know that. It's a time for loved ones, it's a time for religious celebration for some, and, I'm sure we can all agree, a shit tonne of food. So what fucked up human being decided that a time where we all enjoy eating that extra bit of turkey/pudding/chocolate or drinking that extra glass of mulled wine/Baileys/[insert your holiday aperitif of choice here] should be met with feelings of guilt and restriction?
The worst part is even once we've managed to dodge the diet crap pre-Christmas, it's only a matter of days — whilst you're sat on the sofa letting a fantastic meal go down — before the TV is inundated with weight loss clubs and gym memberships, encouraging you to lose the pounds and feel crap about the way you look again. We literally hear no end of it. The constant pushing of the poisonous notion that we shouldn't look the way we do without punishing ourselves and just being isn't just a Christmas thing, but it's a tough time of year for many; those who have or have had eating disorders, those who are struggling with their bodies, those who are imprisoned by diet culture. It encourages fatphobia, where people become disgusted by holiday weight gain. It opens a triggering can of worms for people suffering with and/or in recovery from an ED. It makes even the most unbothered, average person question whether they need to drop a jeans size. But why? Why can't we just enjoy the time with our loved ones? Why must we feel like we need to compensate for making memories and having a nice time? Why can't diet culture leave the festive season — and us — alone?
We don't need to apologise or justify enjoying food any day of the year, let alone the 25th December. Food is not something that you earn; we don't need to diet our way through the month to deserve enjoying our Christmas meals, drinks and parties. Nor should we tell ourselves that we need to spend the following days and weeks trying to counteract what we're taught is 'damage'. We shouldn't be made to feel inadequate as we are whilst companies take advantage of the holiday season for marketing ploys. We don't need any of that.
It might be challenging for some of us, but if (or when) diet culture knocks on the door expecting an invite at your Christmas table, slam the door in its face and leave it out in the cold.