Four Ways to Support Student Self-Esteem During Break

Each year, many students go home for break with the worry that someone in their family might say something about their weight.

And even though this is something we know this is an issue for many, very rarely do we provide students with the tools needed to help them navigate these conversations. While many students simply don’t respond to the comments, now more than ever are students needing help with how to engage their family around topics of fat shaming and body positivity.  

A study done at Auburn University noted that student who did gain weight throughout the duration of their time in college said they did so because of the stress of both college and family pressures. Other studies show that not enough students know how to effectively navigate conversation around body positivity.  

So how do we help students navigate conversations about their bodies effectively and confidently when fat shaming begins to happen at the dinner table? Below are some tips on how you can help your student navigate the difficult topic during the holidays and ways you can support them once the return from the holiday break.

Think Institutionally

Most campuses offer resources through the health center or a fitness center regarding body positivity. While many students may have already started leaving your campus, it is never too late to forward these resources on to your students via email. If you are not able to send email blast to your students, having these resources in your email signature is a great way to spread the information without feeling like you’re spamming the entire campus’ email inbox. If you want keep it old school, it is always okay to have the information in your office or to point students in the direction of where to get the information.

Passive and Active Programming

Sometime a quick program to talk about said topic can just be enough to help students navigate the difficult conversation. Again, if your school is done with finals already, passive programming like a newsletter is a perfect way to provide your students with the support they need. Also recognize that your winter break down time in the office might be the perfect time for you to plan a program for students to debrief the holidays upon their return. Often, students need the space and this can be a great way to help build the social capital they need to be well for the upcoming quarter or semester.

Strategize Around Teachable Moments

Many students report that they are they are often the first to go to college and sometimes families don’t understand the struggles that come with matriculation. Remind your students that it is okay for their families not to understand the stress of college and the effects that it has on one’s body. Helping them understand what a “teachable moment” is can be pivotal to their self-care and can help them change the discourse of fat shaming if they do choose to engage in the conversation.

Create Boundaries

Remind students that do not have to apologize for not wanting to engage in conversations around their body image. Giving them tools on how to effectively change the dinner table conversation can be extremely useful, but helping them learn how to disengage can be even better.

Let students know that they may have an option to return back to campus early if your institution permits it or that they may want to have a backup place to stay in case they leave their family’s home early. Help your students know that it is a gift for them visit and that they do not have to stay anywhere where they are being made to feel uncomfortable.

We must recognize that one of our main responsibilities as a student affairs professional is to make sure our students are going home feeling empowered. By providing them with tools and resources they need to see themselves in a positive light, we are thoroughly helping them through their journey of self-actualization while helping them to maintain their mental health during the holiday season.

Lets give snaps to all the bodies


Jonathan Higgins

About the author: Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins is a speaker, writer, and activist with over 10 years of student affairs experience. Their work focuses on race & identity and ways to better support marginalized students while eradicating oppression. Follow them on Twitter: @DoctorJonPaul. Learn how we can help get your students involved.

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