Getting Through Holidays
by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.

For people of any size, the holiday season can bring tidings of comfort and joy-or of discomfort and dread. And Dimensions readers can have their own unique difficulties (or joys) with them.

Many people's major holiday problems stem from two sources: advertising and anniversary reactions. Starting with the first catalogs (which now arrive in midsummer!), we are sold an illusion of perfect happiness and harmony connected with the holidays. When the holidays come, the family will be together in happiness, our fondest wishes will be granted, and we will make merry all the time. All the media promote such images. In reality, very few of us experience anything resembling such bliss. Most of us have to fight our way through bad weather, crowded stores, heavy schedules, high bills, and flu season. And if we manage to do all that, we arrive at... our families, loneliness, or both.

Our families can be the source of great joy and fulfillment. On the other hand, they can also be sources of great expectations, tension, heartache, and criticism. They can continue to challenge us about our or our partners' weight, even denying us holiday treats while permitting them to thinner relatives. They can even fail to accommodate our seating needs, as part of their non-acceptance of our or our partners' size. For the fat person or the in-the-closet FA, they can bring painful reminders that we are not with the partner we want.

Then there are the size-blind, common situations-high tensions, low time/money budgets, family quarrels, household disasters, loneliness, and anniversary reactions. These last phenomena can occur at any time of year, recalling earlier, similar times that were particularly momentous (either good or bad). For example, my godson died on July 3rd, and ever since then, Fourth of July fireworks bring up for me both sad and fond memories. Birthdays and holidays are likely to bring up memories of earlier good or bad birthdays and holidays.

There are many things you can do to get through the holidays and even have good times.

1. Be aware of the heightened expectations brought on by holiday hype. Remind yourself that holiday advertising bears about as much similarity to reality as does diet advertising. The pitch is that everything will be perfect when .... The reality is that things are whatever way they are.

2. Be aware of the sometimes powerful and painful punch that anniversary reactions can deliver. If you feel especially depressed, you may be experiencing advertising hype letdown, anniversary reactions, or both. If you are upset, you can talk to a friend or a counselor/therapist.

3. Set limits! Advertisers may try to persuade us to surpass our credit or budgetary limits, which we may regret afterwards. Be realistic and firm about what your wallet will allow. The best gifts are often homemade and packed with love. Just letting someone know what we love and appreciate about them can be the best gift of all.

Some people are not available to be satisfied. Your mother (or whoever) may always want you thinner, or married, or in some other way different from how you are. If so, recognize that s/he has unrealistic expectations and that your life is about satisfying your expectations, not others'.
Fat-phobic family members can use holiday gatherings as opportunities to needle you about your or your partner's size. If so, you may have to set limits to their behavior. A NAAFA friend of mine told her brother one Thanksgiving that if he made any more nasty remarks about her size he would no longer ever be welcome in her home (he got the message). In a powerful scene from the (highly recommended) film "Fat Chance," Lynn McAfee of NAAFA and the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination, recounts telling her family at holiday time that if any of them made one more fat-phobic comment, she would slam the chair down on the table and leave their house, never to return again. And they shaped up. If you set such a limit, stick with it. This holiday season may be the time when you make your own Declaration of Independence.

4. Make your own fun. If loving, supportive family members are not available to you, then plan one or more gatherings of the people who do love and accept you as you are. You may want to plan this gathering way in advance, so that you can have more time to anticipate being together with loved ones. Plan the gathering to fit your budgetary and space limits. It's okay to ask for support, such as via a pot-luck dinner.

5. Give yourself opportunities to take extra good care of yourself. Perhaps you'll gather up your size-friendly literature for a readathon, or arrange an Internet chat. Perhaps you'll rent your favorite videos, phone your dearest friend or relative long-distance, or take an elaborate, candlelit bubble bath. You can give yourself something you've always wanted. You can arrange for TLC and talking it over with a friend or counselor following a family gathering.

6. Make a contribution. Nothing feels quite as heartwarming as helping someone else. Hospitals, nursing homes, childrens' homes, animal shelters, soup kitchens, et. al., are in need of and grateful for volunteers during holiday times when they may be understaffed. People in institutions may be suffering pangs of loneliness, sadness, and fear which your very warmth can relieve. And who better than a fat person can act as a beloved Santa Claus?

So here's to holidays (and holy days) and the blessings you can bring to them. ß

Well Being