But Will It Make You Thankful?

Remember, everyone: there’s still time to change your plans.

I’m talking about having Thanksgiving with your family.

No, I’m definitely not saying that Thanksgiving with your family is a horrible idea. I don’t know your family. A family Thanksgiving may be just what you need to make you feel fantastic and confident and joyful for the rest of the year… I’m just saying not all families are created equal. And not all families are healthy for us to interact with during the holidays.

If your family feels no meal is complete without a side of body shame or the ritual humiliation of the fatty at the table, don’t go. Don’t do this to yourself. Really don’t do this to yourself if you’re expected to cook the feast, but accept that every mouthful will be accompanied with snide remarks about whether you really need the calories.

Nobody deserves to be treated that way. You don’t deserve to be treated that way.

Now if you have already made the plans, bought the turkey, and polished the silver, well, okay, you may have to go through with the dinner as planned. But that doesn’t mean you need to put up with abuse at your own table. Here are a few tips to help you get through the ordeal, and a couple to break the cycle afterwards.

Stand up for yourself. You are not a doormat. You do not deserve to be walked upon. Your raison d’etre is not so that others may wipe their muddy souls on you. I know it’s much easier said than done, and believe it or not, I do sometimes struggle with this one. But it gets easier the more you do it, so don’t hesitate to practice. Sit down in front of the mirror or in a room by yourself and practice telling people that yes, you have every right to a slice of the pumpkin pie you baked. No, you do not need to discuss the latest fad diet, and no, you do not wish everyone else at the table to discuss which sort of bariatric surgery you ought to have. It’s your body. You get to decide how to care for it, and it’s not up for general discussion.

Set the ground rules beforehand. If people are coming to your home, they need to follow your house rules. Even if you are going to them, you get to set boundaries around your body and your personal decisions. Let your guests know that the house rules include not commenting on what any person at the table has or has not put on their plate. If you are going to them, inform everyone in advance that comments on what you choose to eat or pass by are not welcome. Tell them your weight is not something you wish discussed.

Be prepared to follow through if the rules are broken. If it’s your home and the insults get bad enough, you can tell people to leave it. Yes, even your own mother. If you’re at their house, you still aren’t glued to the chair… and your pie/cake/stuffing/cranberry sauce/whatever you provided isn’t nailed down to the table, either. You can leave… and take your goodies with you. It won’t be fun. It will be talked about. People will take sides. It could get ugly. All the same, you deserve respect simply because you are a person. If others are unprepared to treat you with that respect, they need to understand that you can still respect yourself.

Don’t stoop to a schoolyard level. I’m not advocating simply taking your toys and going home at the first slip of the tongue, mind you. Nor do I in any way condone being rude about this. Don’t get into shouting matches, don’t call people names, and don’t hurl a pie in their faces. There are much better uses for pie. If someone snottily asks if you need that helping of stuffing, I recommend the Miss Manners approach: raise one eyebrow (if you can), stare icily at them and reply with  ’I beg your pardon?’ This immediately identifies the etiquette faux pas as theirs for asking, not yours for choosing to eat.

If you cannot muster up the icy stare and raised eyebrow, you can also just look them in the eye, say ‘yes’ and go back to eating. Either way, you have demonstrated that you will not be shamed into starving yourself at a feast. If the inquisition continues, see the previous rule.

Your health includes your mental and emotional health. A lot of body shamers are quick to tell us that they are only doing it for our health. This is a combination of horse hockey and weasel language that deserves to be laughed at until tears of mirth stream down our faces. Teaching people to be ashamed of their body size/shape is toxic, both mentally and physically. There are studies out there that demonstrate that people who feel good about their bodies are healthier physically and emotionally than those who dislike their bodies, regardless of the actual size of those bodies. Anyone who tells you to hate your body for health is actually part of making you unhealthier. Don’t let them do it to you.

Plan to opt out for next year. Look, you can set rules, you can refuse to accept a side of shame with your dinner, you can stand up for yourself… and Thanksgiving with your family may still be a form of torture that would make Medieval witch hunters blanche at in horror. If they can’t find a way to include you at the table without making you the ritual whipping girl, don’t eat with them again. Eat with friends. Go serve Thanksgiving dinner at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. Make a perfect Thanksgiving for one for yourself and share it with a good book.

Look, I love me some tradition, but only when that tradition offers comfort and joy. If you’re doing something you hate simply because it’s expected, it’s time to throw off the shackles of expectation. Go do something that heals you and gives you joy.

The point of Thanksgiving is appreciation of whatever level of bounty you have available to you. So do what makes you feel comforted and thankful. Being abused is never something that will do that for you.

Find your happy place. Be there.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

11 Responses to “But Will It Make You Thankful?”

  1. Michelle Evans November 20, 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    Great advice! Happy Thanksgiving.

  2. Kimks November 20, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Love this- sharing!

  3. Thea November 20, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

    Thanks Twistie! I’ve found that a lot of people (myself included) sometimes need to be given official permission to stand up for ourselves.

    I was in a Weight Watchers meeting years ago and the prissy leader wanted us to role play turning down a piece of pie. A man went first and said “No Thank You” when pushed he said “F You Dickweed I said NO!” He brought down the house and almost caused the leader to have a stroke.

    I learned a LOT from that guy ;-)

  4. dinazad November 21, 2011 at 5:01 am #

    Actually, I stopped these discussions within my family by telling them I knew what they’d say, they knew what I’d answer, so could we just bypass that part of the conversation? It worked – we haven’t discussed my weight or my style of clothing since. It was probably my lucky day – everybody listened!

  5. Twistie November 21, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    @Thea: okay, giggling now. That’s a hilarious story. And while I wouldn’t recommend actually using that specific wording, the attitude is great.

    @dinazad: See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You set your boundaries clearly, people respected that, and you were saved all kinds of misery. Congratulations!

  6. Orora November 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

    Another winner, Twistie. Thanksgiving should be spent with family, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend it with your family of origin. Friends are the family we choose for ourselves.

  7. Amy November 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    I read an article on xojane this week (yesterday maybe?) that addressed this issue too. One thing mentioned there was that it can be really helpful to have someone on your side – your mother or an aunt or cousin or someone who knows how upsetting it is to you and is willing to stand up to Grandma with you.

    And if there’s nobody there on your side? Go spend Thanksgiving with the people who are. Life’s too short.

  8. Ripley November 23, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    “F You Dickweed I said NO!” is appropriate in so many settings! :-)

  9. bushpiglet November 23, 2011 at 12:06 pm #

    My partner and I were out to dinner with some retired friends of ours. Bushpig and his friend would have been on beer no 5 or so. We’d had a lovely dinner and there was some great cheesecake on the desert trolley so I ordered a slice.
    Older friend eyed the cheesecake and then eyed me and then spoke with a slur and a glassy eye “You dont need that”.
    I eyed him and his dirty great pint glass and responded with a “You dont need THAT”.
    Apparently I’m rude..

  10. Lisa from SoCal November 24, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    I stopped going to see shaming family years ago, for this reason, and for the constant pummeling I would get about politics, my life, or anything else. Now they ask “You never come see us!” and the logic is amusing to me; family, I guess, gets to treat you badly and still feel entitled to your company. It’s bizarre.

    @buspiglet I love the turn of phrase “dirty great pint.”

  11. harri p. November 24, 2011 at 1:06 pm #

    Just laugh it off. That will annoy them. “Do you really need that pie?” “Yes, I’m trying to eat more.” Or “Yes, I’m trying to keep my weight up.” Much more fun than getting into a fight.

    My father’s mantra has always been “Mind your own plate.” It works for so many occasions.