First published by The Independent, 31st December 2015
Christmas is over. There are pine needles littering our living room carpet and the cats have hidden semi-chewed baubles all over the flat. I never want to see another roast potato and I’ve received the required number of unwanted gifts, my personal favourite this year being an M&S sludge-green thermal vest.
I’m relieved to see the back of Christmas, but if there’s anything I dislike more than the bloated December holiday, it’s New Years and the resolutions that inevitably follow. New Year’s resolutions are just an excuse to self-flagellate. In the Middle Ages, whipping oneself with various implements was totally in vogue for Catholic radicals. Now, we punish our bodies with weight loss goals and diets and gym memberships and “real” people on Instagram that make us want to cry with envy.
I wonder how many people this year will vow to lose weight and exercise more? Few, if any of these resolutions have anything to do with good health. They’re more about the number on the scales and being able to say to people “I run so many aching, awful kilometres every morning at the crack of dawn and it makes me feel so calm and centred”. Advertisers are rubbing their hands with glee, thinking up new ways to shame us into feeling as bad as possible about our dubious overconsumption during the festive period. It’s alright to binge on mulled wine and pig wrapped in more pig in December, mainly because it gives the billion-pound diet industry a cash injection in the new year.
I probably should resolve to exercise more this year, but I know I won’t. I have a deeply ingrained fear of vigorous movement (conditioned by school PE lessons) and I really, really like smoking. Why set myself up to fail?
The majority of resolutions will lapse and be forgotten before the end of January, because there’s no right or wrong time to start behaving differently or change the way you live. Expensive gym memberships and diet plans will be abandoned, and many of us will be bullied into feeling so rubbish about ourselves by that many-headed beast “the media” that we’ll spend the rest of the winter knocking back all the left-over Christmas alcohol in vile novelty pyjamas.
Other common resolutions will have something to do with work and money, or finding a partner and embracing coupledom. Get thin, get rich, and get married. Heteronormativity and capitalism win at New Year’s. I might sound cynical, but really I’m a raging idealist. I’d feel more inspired by New Year’s resolutions if they typically had more to do with changing the world, or doing something meaningful for other people. (Yuck, what a hippy.)
Why not try to enjoy January instead of making it a kind of post-Christmas hair shirt that we all have to wear? The weather might be miserable, but 2016 can be full of possibility, unbridled by the straightjacket of clichéd resolutions. We can all do incredible things this year (or at least do sort-of-good things), so let’s just get on with it. No guilt, no comparing yourself to other people, and no giving money to “get thin quick” charlatans. See you next year, and no I won’t be giving up smoking.