How I Deal With My Family's Fatphobic Comments During the Holidays

After years of being bullied by loved ones, I finally set boundaries.
Tatjana Almuli. Christmas dinner.
Photo: courtesy of the author; AdobeStock: Svetlana Kolpakova

; edits: Dymphie Huijssen. 

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

I’ve been big my entire life. For a lot of people, that seems like an invitation to comment on my body or tell me to lose weight. In their eyes, being slim is the key to a happy and successful life. 

Most of my family agrees. During family gatherings, mostly in December, I used to get a lot of fatphobic comments. “Did you put on weight again?”; “What are you doing wrong?”; “Guess it’s back to dieting for you next month”; “That dress isn’t very flattering, you should pick another fabric”; “I’d skip the carbs tonight”; “I’ve made you something low fat, you don’t want to get any bigger, do you?” Every time I put food on my plate, my family members stared me down. Every move my fat body made was being watched and commented on.


The fat-shaming distanced me from my family. I’d make up excuses not to come for Christmas dinner, and would start dreading the holidays from September. I would try to crash diet and fail – sometimes, I’d even gain more weight and feel even more anxious and self-loathing. Even though I actually love Christmas, my holiday spirit was overshadowed by stomach aches and panic attacks.

Finally, a few years ago, something changed. I started reading about the toxic diet culture deeply ingrained in our society, and how big people are stigmatised in the media and pop culture. I also wrote a book about it (in Dutch) and it was liberating. I’ve managed to take up more space, stand up for myself and no longer tolerate fatphobia.

One thing that’s got me through the holidays these last few years is being upfront with my family – telling them I don’t want to hear their opinions about my body, my weight or my eating habits. 

Since then, the fat-shaming has decreased, but it hasn’t stopped. Even though I set clear boundaries, the jokes and comments keep coming. How I react to them depends on my mood. Sometimes, I simply go to another room, or chill with family members on the other side of the room. I never laugh. I put on a straight face and ask if they think it’s funny. Sometimes, I throw the question back at them. “Why is it so important to you for me to be skinny?” If they reply they just want me to be happy, I tell them their awful comments certainly don’t make me happy.

I think a lot of my family members are fixated on their own weight, so their comments probably stem from their own insecurities and obsessions. It doesn’t make it OK, but it helps me to not take it too personally. 

My parents’ and grandparents’ generations are convinced that being fat is life’s worst possible scenario. And since they don’t use social media as much, they’re not exposed to body-positive messages. They don’t seem to know that constantly commenting on a loved one’s weight doesn’t motivate them to get fit, and can negatively impact their mental and physical health. I understand their ignorance now, and I can let those comments go and even try to educate them when I have the energy. But sometimes, I don’t feel like defending myself, so I’ll just say I don’t want to talk about it and ask them to accept that. I’m allowing myself to take a step back.

Last Christmas, I celebrated Sinterklaas [a Dutch holiday celebrated on the 5th of December] with my family. I hadn’t seen much of them in over a year, and I was pretty nervous. I changed my clothes four times and caught myself thinking about what I could wear to minimise the fat-shaming. Clearly, my fears run pretty deep, but that’s OK, I’ve accepted them. 

Before going, I told my family I was looking forward to it, which helped. It was a great night. Nobody talked about weight, everyone ate what they wanted and it was more comforting and intimate than ever. 

I hope future holidays will be the same. I felt more connected to my family after being open and honest and demanding respect. That doesn’t mean talking about weight is off the table – and I’m still struggling with it myself. But now, I can take charge of the conversation. I’ve made it clear that my looks and what I eat at Christmas are nobody’s business.