Navigating Body Positivity During the Chinese New Year Holidays

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Gong Xi Fa Cai! From all of us here at MissMafia, we would like to wish you and your families a Happy Lunar New Year, and a blessed Year of the Dog. Like everyone else celebrating CNY this year, you’re probably on your second day of visiting the relatives, collecting or giving angpaus (red money packets), and being force-fed various cookies and snacks from those red-lidded plastic jars that line the walls and kitchens during the festive season. Which brings us to the topic at hand: body positivity and how to maintain it during CNY.

For those of us who have grown up celebrating Chinese New Year, it’s common knowledge that the festive season can often double as a free-for-all for relatives to make (let’s be honest) hurtful remarks about your appearance or life choices. While we aren’t about to stop celebrating Chinese New Year with our families just because of their remarks, it can make enjoying the festivities rather difficult – especially if you are dealing with body image issues. Besides making it hard to stay body positive, these remarks can also lead to squabbles, fights and a generally moody family.

Here are some tried and tested ways to ninja-dodge your way through negative remarks, maintain your body positivity, and enjoy your Chinese New Year!

Enjoy your food.

It might seem hard especially when your body and eating habits are under scrutiny, but try to focus on enjoying the experience of indulging in your favourite foods. Make sure you appreciate the food and the person who prepared it, as well as the people you’re enjoying the food with. What I usually do whenever I’m helping myself to some food and a comment like “Wow, you really enjoy your food, huh?” comes around, I just smile and say, “Yes! I really do, because this food is the best.” Rather than fixate on the hidden meaning of the comment and take it personally, I prefer to shift the focus onto the food and how lucky I am to be indulging in a beautiful spread of my favourite CNY foods.

Stay off social media.

I know, I know – how are you going to while away the hours spent at relatives’ houses without being able to get your phone out and scroll like everyone else? Here’s how: you’re going to talk to people. Seize the opportunity to have a conversation with your aunts and uncles – you might even learn a juicy tidbit or two about your family history that you didn’t know before. Spend some time with your cousins, maybe play a round of cards or two. Another reason to stay off social media is the unhealthy body image stereotypes that the platform can perpetuate; a study found that women experience greater body dissatisfaction after viewing images of women with idealised body types, so put that phone down and love yourself just as you are!

Kill them with kindness.

There’s no denying that some of the comments that relatives make can be mean. I won’t tell you not to be hurt by them, because that’s impossible. After all, you’re only human. But rather than react violently or angrily, you can react in a different way that will have a more positive effect. Whenever a hurtful comment comes your way, respond to that person with a compliment. Say something nice about how they look today, or what they’re wearing. Not only will it catch them off-guard, it will show them (in a kind way) that their comments are neither heard nor appreciated. Following which, you can turn the conversation onto a more positive note, and avoid any unnecessary family feuds.

Remember, it’s not just you.

For most of my teenage years, I was overweight. I had a very unhealthy relationship with food during that time, and you can bet my relatives made sure to comment on my weight or my food intake every CNY. When I finished school, I spent the better part of a year working hard to lose weight. Eventually, I lost twenty kilograms and was excited to prove to my family that there was nothing for them to comment on –  finally, my relatives would have nothing to say about my weight!

Fast forward to CNY the next year, and boy, was I wrong. They became fixated on the fact that I’d lost weight, and somehow became even more judgmental of what I was eating. That’s when I realised – no matter what, people will always have something to say. Whether you’ve lost weight or gained weight, or are exactly the same – there will always be that one person who feels compelled to make a comment. Just keep in mind that their opinions of you can change like the weather, but what you think of yourself is here to stay.

Spend some time alone.

It might seem impossible over the CNY season, but try to find a couple of minutes for yourself. Spending a lot more time with your family than usual over the holiday season can get a little overwhelming. Try to find a quiet spot for yourself and spend some time doing things that make you feel good. A quick yoga routine or ten minutes with a good book are some activities that don’t take up too much time. Whatever you decide, some time to clear your mind and do something to make yourself happy will allow you to face your relatives with a positive and loving mindset.

It goes without saying that all the advice listed above is applicable for any time of the year. Self-care and loving your body is important at all times, not just CNY. Make time for yourself, and develop a self-care regimen that works for you and that you’re happy with. As always, spread love and have a Happy Lunar New Year. 🌺🏮

About Sunita Soh

Hello! I’m Sunita, a proud “dan lain-lain” Malaysian with a passion for feminism and really good char kuey teow. When I’m not rescuing cats or making endless playlists on Spotify, you can find me with my nose buried in a book or glued to my laptop watching cooking tutorials.

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