Like many people, I’m mid-journey. Not only am I working my way past hazards and potholes in my holiday season, but I’m also in the process of making my way fully to unconditional, unapologetic love for myself. Like a lot of people, I find that the holidays compound the dangers and detours that I feel I need to be watchful of.
Over the last few years, I’ve become an active participant in the positive body image and fat activism movement, and I’m nothing if not a believer. I advocate, I talk, I write; I’ve even had a few “strongly worded debates” about the necessary act of loving yourself and your body. I know the emotional healing, the physical health benefits, and the experiential life improvements that are fostered by feeling joy about yourself and your body. And yet, this time of year is still a struggle for me.
During the years preceding my body confidence and self-love journey, the holidays were a combination of stress, anxiety, depression, and self-loathing. I know that doesn’t sound very festive, but what the holidays translated into for me included obligations, trying to meet unrealistic expectations, and dealing with things both said and left unsaid about my body. From my point of view, I could never do it right, look right, or BE right. The holidays were a public venue of shame and failure shoved into shiny clothes and fake smiles.
That’s not to say that there weren’t good parts… but for me, the pressure I felt between the good parts was exhausting and damaging to the way I saw myself. I couldn’t look in the mirror and see anything other than “unacceptable,” and so I hid. I went into hiding either by avoiding events or by hiding in plain sight in an intoxicated haze that allowed me to stop thinking. I believed the self-proclaimed premise that I was too big, too off-beat, too much. Lizabeth, she doesn’t fit in: spirit, mind and especially not body.
I knew deep down that I was worth less than all the other people around me who seemed to love the events, the hectic rushing and, most of all, themselves. I honestly believed they believed it too, though in retrospect, I doubt I took up that much head space for anyone but me.
I only got “concerned trolled” by a few family members because of my size, but I actively participated in shaming myself on everyone’s behalf. I slunk around the edges of each gathering like a voyeur trying to “fit in” and yet be invisible, constantly critical of my soft parts, or my un-glamorous hair, or my smile-lined face.
And then came the season when I dreaded the thought of another holiday season so much that I knew I had to make a change. It’s not as simple as that – nothing ever is – but I realized I could not live with the dismal way I felt about myself anymore. I had to figure out a way to find value in myself and love for my body (and this is key) without comparing it to any other body or person.
I had to learn to love what I am, in the body that I live in, and that I have value simply because I exist. Beyond that, and maybe hardest to absorb, I had to figure out how to break the social binds that told/tell me it’s not okay to do these things. I had to learn, and believe to my very soul, that my body is my home and that I deserve to love it. I had to struggle with the idea that to hate the way I look or to compare myself to anyone else is profoundly disrespectful to the very nature of my self and others.
I am not okay in comparison to… I am not working on being like… I am a work in progress, but that is a journey to self, not a journey to shape.
So, having learned these things, why do I still struggle when the holidays roll around? Because in my private life, in my home, in my small world, I am not challenged by the idea of other people’s criticism. I can sit at dinner with my spouse, and he won’t sling barbs at me or concern troll me. My dog has zero interest in my size or shape; all she cares about is that I’m on call for treats at her whim. When I’m at an event it’s because I’ve been invited or because I am with others who do this work, I’m in good company. And since I mostly work from home, depending on the weather, I might be in sweats, underwear, or a towel, if I like. When I’m not on display, I don’t have assumptions that anyone is in conflict with the body confidence that I’ve built.
The holidays come with special challenges for many of us . For me, it’s the social obligations. That’s where I find I have the hardest time, and for the most part, it’s not about “them.” It’s about the most dangerous person I have dealt with in the past. It’s about me and the inner thoughts that cut me down – the ones that know exactly what to say to strip me of my confidence and pride, the voices of shame and comparison that come from within me before they come from anyone else – and they are dangerous because they open the door to believing things said and left unsaid.
More Radical Reads: Surviving the Holidays with Sensory Processing Disorder
I’m thankful this year that I know these things about myself and that I can actively work on them as I go through the next several weeks of invitations, obligations, and “festivities.” I will be actively doing mirror work on a daily basis (looking objectively, not comparatively, at my body and generating thanks for each independent part); I will be taking time to find clothes that make me feel pretty, or comfy, or happy; I will spend at least an hour every day reinforcing the body love and body confidence messages I know by surfing to places like The Body is Not An Apology, or VirgieTovar.com, or Dances With Fat, or Fat in the City, or the Militant Baker. I’ll journal, I’ll give myself a pedicure, and I might even buy myself a small gift. I’ve been good this year, and I deserve the person who spends the most time with me to reaffirm that: Me.
More Radical Reads: Holiday Stress: Five Ways to Manage the Chaos that Comes with the Holidays
I hope that your holiday season is filled with more opportunities than obligations, and that your sense of self is strong. I hope your first and last action each day is to hug yourself and be thankful, because your love and your thanks is what mean the most in the long run.
In order to continue producing high quality content and expanding the message of radical, unapologetic self-love, we need to build a sustainable organization. To meet these efforts, we’re thrilled to share the launch of our #NoBodiesInvisible subscription service. This service will provide our community with access to additional content and rewards for your monthly investment in furthering our radical self-love work.
[Headline image: The photograph shows a white woman with long red hair. She is wearing a white sweater, and white scarf and holding a small light in her hands. She is standing outdoors in front of a snow covered tree.]
Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is a weight stigma prevention advocate and a binge eating disorder expert. She works in Washington, DC as a coalition builder and speaker addressing the impact that size discrimination has on communities and industry as well as the profound effect weightism has on those with eating disorders, especially binge eating disorder (BED).
As a speaker, Lizabeth blends science, humor, and cultural wisdom to engage her audience, creating a clear understanding of where health disconnects from body shape and that neither impact personal value or character. Lizabeth also connects the dots between weight discrimination as a civil rights issue and the negative consequences to our economy, education, and workforce by drawing from current events in today’s news.
Lizabeth leads the Weight Stigma Stakeholders Group, a coalition of industry professionals dedicated to addressing weight stigma and discrimination in policy, government, industry, and education.
Lizabeth’s weight stigma prevention advocacy has allowed her to speak in the Senate, on film, and in radio. Her advocacy work has impacted program design from college campuses to the White House in an effort to prevent weight bias and stigma in programs including Let’s Move!.
Lizabeth lives in Washington DC with her loving husband and spectacularly spoiled dog Noodle. Please follow her on blog at LizabethWesely-Casella.com, on Twitter @LizabethCasella and on Facebook at Lizabeth Wesely-Casella (www.facebook.com/LizabeththeAdvocate).