Self-compassion and self-care are not seasonal.
By Meghan Kacmarcik, Body Image Expert
The holiday season is officially upon us- twinkling lights are popping up around the neighborhood, party invitations are rolling in, store fronts are full of glitter and red bows. You can hardly drive down the street without seeing a Christmas tree tied to the top of someone’s SUV. There’s a quiet buzz in the air that doesn’t come any other time of year, that reminds us all that we are all sharing the same magical experience. The most wonderful time of the year is here once again.
Unfortunately for many women (and men), it’s this time of year where holiday magic is clouted by something else: body anxiety. Worries of when we’re going to exercise and how many calories are in that stuffed mushroom cloud our ability to enjoy the moment we’re in. With holiday treats stacking up at the office and celebrations every night, it can be hard to keep a sense of body positivity in the midst of holiday madness.
It’s around this time of year that magazines and Internet headlines start telling you how to “keep off the holiday weight”, how to exercise your willpower and stop yourself from taking that second cookie, how to stay committed to your exercise plan. They do not share tips that will help you truly take care of yourself. They may be interested in taking care of your body but never your soul, your mind, your heart. They never mention how to truly enjoy your holiday season, how to stay grounded and engaged with the world around you. Instead of focusing on how to control our bodies, what would happen if we let ourselves take a step back and enjoy the magic around us?
My past seven holiday seasons have been spent with my eating disorder (anxiety and depression also made appearances as well). I cannot remember the last time I went into the holiday season with a sense of untarnished gratitude and wonder. In fact, it’s probably been since before my teenage years, before I read magazines that told me how to prevent weight loss throughout the holidays and then how to “detox” afterward. It was not until magazines began telling me that my job during the holidays, and every other time of year, was to keep my body looking perfect that I really started to believe it.
Holidays in the recent years involve me planning out my runs before the family came over on Christmas and nearly starving myself in the days leading up to parties. They involved me absently joining in conversation while really thinking about how fat I looked in that dress and did my stomach really look so bloated to everyone? And then every December 26, I would commit myself to being “good”- no more truffles, no more indulgent appetizers, no more cheese plates or hot chocolate.
As soon as the Christmas season was over, I deprived myself of any joy, magic and wonder I was able to find during the holidays. That spark of holiday bliss went out like a flame and out with it went any ounce of self-compassion I was able to give myself when I found myself indulging in one too many Christmas cookies or having that extra helping of my grandmother’s stuffing.
I’ve since learned that self-compassion and self-care are not seasonal. They are not meant for the summer or the fall. They are there to be called on whenever they are needed to provide you an extra dose of grace, a boost of self-confidence, a semblance of comfort. They help you take a step back, look at the bigger picture and find that pure, unadulterated wonder that you felt so long ago.
There are a lot of times during the holiday season where it is easy to focus on the gifts you need to buy or the food you need to make. I urge you to put yourself on your list: think about what thoughtful gift you would want and give it to yourself. Maybe it’s fifteen extra minutes in the morning to make yourself a good cup of coffee. Maybe it’s thirty minutes of uninterrupted quiet time in the evening to read a book. Maybe it’s bundling up and taking a walk around the neighborhood to look at all the lights with your kids or your dog.
Turn off the news and watch movies that were childhood favorites instead. Stop scrolling through social media and bake your grandmother’s cookie recipe. Make a cup of peppermint tea in the evening while you enjoy some quiet moments with a book or journal. Turn away from the outside world for a while and do the little things that broaden your capacity for joy and pleasure. In a world so veiled by unrealistic expectations for women and their bodies, these things can be easy to forget.
Remember those things that bring you joy. Let yourself engage in the oftentimes revolutionary act of self-care. Cut yourself a little slack this season. Don’t force yourself to get up for that workout if your body is calling out for more sleep. Have another slice of that pie your grandmother only makes once a year. Think about your five-year-old self and do what would make her happy.
This doesn’t have to be the season for detoxes and resolutions and weight loss. Let us relish what really matters this holiday season, whether that be savoring moments with your grandmother in her sparkly Christmas sweater or staying up late to help your mom bake her pie. Smile at people on the streets and share in the merriness of those around you. Engage in authentic conversation. And don’t dwell, even for another second, on the way your body looks in that dress- unless, of course, it is to see it with pure adoration.