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It’s a Gift!

December 6, 2011

I know some of us are still basking in the afterglow of Thanksgiving festivities. Good food, good company, and an opportunity to stop and take notice of how much we have to be grateful for.  But at the risk of sounding like a Dr. Deah Downer, for some folks, Thanksgiving can be… well… complicated.

For some of us, Thanksgiving is more about the battle between the Brillo® pad and the crusty burnt residue on the roasting pan than the “happy.” We may be forced to spend time with people we just aren’t that crazy about, or we are missing loved ones who are no longer with us.  The last time I saw my mom alive, was on Thanksgiving Day.  I was 13 and, decades later, Thanksgiving still has an undercurrent of sadness for me.

Thanksgiving also forces us into a food-centric situation, where the norm is to eat and eat and eat until we are — to grab the obvious metaphor — feeling in solidarity with the other stuffed bird at the table. And because many of us are used to being told that the reason we are fat is because we eat too much, we find ourselves in this strange world where we have permission to eat heartily, and may even be coaxed to eat more if we show signs of slowing down.

Sure, let’s relax and enjoy eating without self-consciousness. What? You are having trouble relaxing? Could it be that relaxing into this parallel universe is out of the question because next on the menu is the expectation to repent through self-flagellating comments and pledges to NEVER eat again?

For many women, the punishment is already underway. Earlier in the day we have wriggled into a Spanx® garment to look as thin as possible, while eating with rare, sanctioned abandon; now we find the spandex cleaving into our bodies like fine cutlery. You’d never know by looking at us that we are acquiring crevasses on our thighs and waists that may not fade for days.

Happy F#*kin’ Spanxgiving to you too!

My personal opinion?  Thanks, but no Spanx!

Is it any wonder that not everyone LOVES Thanksgiving? Add to the mix several heaping helpings of societal pressure to be happy during the holiday season, and you have a double-edged sword. If a person is feeling anxious, isolated, or depressed, that’s difficult enough, but, on top of that, there is an added layer of feeling badly for feeling badly.

So, why am I writing about this? As a mental health professional, fat woman, and size activist, I feel it is my duty to point out that, for many of us, Thanksgiving is just the pre-season for the month of December, otherwise known as the X Games of Holiday Blues.

Yes, we still face the same challenges as Thanksgiving: the over-emphasis on food, coupled with the demand to please family and friends by looking thin enough to garner compliments. But on top of that, there is the pressure to binge shop.  It is not uncommon for people to run up enormous credit card bills in order to demonstrate their love and to feel that they are living up to the seasonal standard.

The media pushes us to spend more than the next person, but, honestly, how many of us can afford to give someone a new car with a big red bow? Ask anyone who is struggling with debt, and they will tell you it leads to stress and feelings of inadequacy.  But for many, to commit season treason is unthinkable, and so out come the credit cards, the torch gets lit and Let the Games Begin!

It brings to mind the old saying that, in our society at least, you can never be too rich or too thin. So while fat is decried as being abhorrent in every aspect of our lives, it is not despised when describing ones’ wallet.  And this is not the only paradoxical theme woven throughout the holiday season.

During gift giving holiday time “It’s what’s inside that counts,” a Size Acceptance statement emphasizing the importance of who a person IS and not what they LOOK like, takes on a whole new meaning.

“As long as you look good, that’s what matters,” an offensive sentiment in my opinion, happily becomes less potent in December when we consider how wrapping paper is ripped off a gift and tossed aside as an inconvenience in order to get to the prize of the prez.

“It’s a gift.” During non-December times, this may mean that someone has a natural talent, an asset, a propensity for doing something exceptional. In December, it’s… well… just a materialistic representation of… OK, I stretched that one just a bit. But I think I made my point. It’s a lot to navigate, and when you take into consideration that the wind up to December starts as early as the day after Halloween… no wonder people can get irritated and blue during this time.

But there is Ho Ho Hope. There was a time, not long ago, when we would walk into a Walgreens or CVS-type store and there was only a Christmas aisle. Many of us who did not celebrate Christmas felt marginalized and overlooked for not conforming to the “norm.”

As size activists, we know how that feels.  Over the past decade, however, the general public has grown more accepting of the diversity of December celebrations like Kwanzaa, Chanukah, Winter Solstice, etc., and fewer people feel alienated and overlooked. As size activists, this is also familiar territory. We know that inclusion and recognition of diversity brings about improved self-esteem and a decrease in feelings of depression.

If people give each other, and themselves, permission to feel what they are feeling during the holidays and to embrace the fact that there is emotional diversity, in addition to size diversity and religious diversity, then making it through December may not be the same Olympic-sized challenge. Having websites like Fierce Freethinking Fatties that provide a community offering this kind of support… it’s a gift I am grateful for beyond words.

As far as the binge shopping goes, let’s put away the plastic and splurge.  Let’s shower each other and ourselves with the gifts of acceptance, acknowledgment, and support. We won’t run up a debt, and the only interest we will accrue will be interest in each other. I am guessing that those are gifts that will last long past the holiday season and, perhaps, all the way into Spring Training!

Warmest wishes for healthy holidays to all of you!

15 Comments leave one →
  1. Cheryl permalink
    December 6, 2011 2:03 pm

    Dr. Deah, you are always articulate & to the point. Well done.

    Cheryl Mckensie

    • December 6, 2011 4:28 pm

      Cheryl and Ellen your words of appreciation are truly a gift! Thanks for taking the time to read and to respond!

  2. December 6, 2011 4:07 pm

    Beautifully said! Thanks for your wonderful words of wisdom…

  3. December 6, 2011 6:26 pm

    You said it!
    I have to add, dispensing with material gifts was the best present we have ever given each other as a family- it’s been so much less stressful not having to go find that last minute pair of socks anymore, and we’re giving each other the gift of spending time together instead (which includes flying in from all over to celebrate at my grandparents’). You’re definitely right- the warmth of family lasts well through the cold season and into the next year.
    Thank you for spreading the cheer!
    (OT: Feeling really cheerful today as I put up decorations all over my apartment. I like my kitsch this time of the year!)

    • December 6, 2011 7:07 pm

      And Cheers right back “atchka” sounds like you are cozy and comfy! Thank you so much for writing!

  4. December 6, 2011 8:27 pm

    See, I have almost the opposite experience … I haven’t had any money at all for two years, so now I absolutely love to get people things. I love it when I’ve picked a great gift and their whole face lights up. I think when you don’t get to do it often, it’s a pleasure.

    • December 6, 2011 11:14 pm

      It is a wonderful feeling to give someone something that just fits perfectly…and I don’t mean fit as in a size fit but fit in terms of you know the perfect prez that will light up their eyes and spirit. The trick of course is to be able to do this whether you have money or not. Your friends and family, I’m sure, felt loved and “gifted” by you even the years you didn’t have money.
      Have a healthy holiday!

      • December 6, 2011 11:40 pm

        I’m Jewish, so my family celebrates Chanukah at this time of year, but we only give gifts on the first and last night, so as not to tax wallets too hard. And I would like to think family doesn’t need gifts to feel loved; I just sort of treat it as icing on the cake. We still “slim” our holidays down by only giving a couple of Chanukah gifts, but we still get to make people’s day. I love it. 🙂

        • December 7, 2011 12:23 am

          Exactly! giving material gifts is wonderful all year long. As long as no one feels pressured to give gifts to prove anything…is the main thing. Thanks CC for giving me the gift of sharing your thoughts on this post!

  5. December 7, 2011 11:47 am

    My two favorite lines:

    1. Happy F#*kin’ Spanxgiving to you too!

    2. My personal opinion? Thanks, but no Spanx!

    Thanks for making me smile as well as doing what you do, Deah.


  6. December 7, 2011 12:38 pm

    What a great reminder of what really matters during the Holidays. Remembering that individuals are just that, individual, is the best way to ensure that others feel respected and appreciated during this difficult season. Thank you for helping us center ourselves during this hectic time of year. What a great way to roll into the Season!


    • December 7, 2011 12:55 pm

      Happy to be rolling into the season with such a great community of writers! Thanks for making this happen for all of us.

  7. Amy permalink
    December 7, 2011 3:58 pm

    I would say that you are a gift to us, Dr. Deah, shining the light of the season on what is truly important, sharing, caring and being our most authentic selves. I call it the Youiest you, tis the season and not to limit it to a holiday season, any season works, to be the youiest you and be embraced for all that means. Your writing somehow gives us permission that we look for to be just that, thank you. It would be wonderful if we did not need that permission, maybe that is coming but for now at least there is your voice to remind us to just be

  8. December 7, 2011 4:35 pm

    I totally agree, I have been thinking for the past few years now that my sons are all grown & in college. That there is much more to Christmas than presents, that part of my life is over. I will play it for my Grandkids but only for them. My church does a grand Christmas Party for the Community, When I video tape this and share in on the Internet, Plus with others it’s so much more rewarding. I have no money anyways for gifts. but if I was giving any I would make them rather than buy them? I give CARDs & Handmade Key chains & CANDY CANES.It works for me & everyone loves them.

  9. December 7, 2011 5:05 pm

    Amy, I love that youiest you comment! And you must be the youiest you as well! One of the Expressive Arts Therapy activities that was included in Leftovers To Go last newsletter was one called Permission Slips. Each person creates a permission slip for themselves for something that allows them to feel better about themselves or make a change that they feel they need permission to make. It is a powerful activity. Permission to be ourselves seems so simple and yet it is often so difficult. I am happy that my voice can be a reminder!

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