The summer holidays usually come with some expectations. We meet the extended family for a holiday meal. We wear fewer clothes in the summer heat. We make new year’s resolutions pushed by the diet industry. We smile and nod at the inevitable comments about our appearance from well-meaning family members. And we’re expected to find all of this a joyous time of year. But it’s events like these that make the summer holiday period difficult for some people, particularly anyone experiencing negative body image or eating disorders.
“How do people look compared to how they looked last year,” says Tania Nichols from Butterfly’s National HelpLine. “Are they bigger or smaller? There’s a lot of anxiety around potential judgement from others and the inevitable comments that go with them.”
“Most of us, in general, start to feel the stress around getting together with people we haven't seen for ages,” Tania tells us. “And of course, that's magnified for people who are experiencing disordered eating and eating disorders because all of these festivities, of course, happen around food.”
Jennifer White suffered from an eating disorder for years and says it was the holiday get-together over food that would always stress her out. “In the Australian culture, people feel comfortable, rightly or wrongly, commenting on how people look, what people wear, and what people eat,” she says. “At functions that I have gone to in the past, whether it be family, friends, work, whatever, it's just something that people say without really having a second thought.”
Clinical psychologist Chris Cheers tells us negative body image can have a huge impact on how people cope with difficult situations. “People connect the way their body looks with their ability to be liked,” he says, “Or to form relationships with people or to get that boyfriend or girlfriend or get that partner, especially if you're single. There seems to be this pressure of you needing to look a particular way to make friends.”
But he says by being aware of a few things, we can make a world of difference for our family and guests. “I think a really helpful question to ask someone is what would support look like for you right now. And we sometimes feel pressure to know how to support people too. And sometimes that can stop us from reaching out or saying anything.”
He says, on a personal level, you can “give yourself permission to notice those expectations,” he says, “But choose instead to go inward, and be guided by what's important to you, be guided by your body and what you need.”
For more tips and advice, go to Butterfly’s Summer of Kindness page. https://butterfly.org.au/get-involved/campaigns/summerofkindness/
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