By Erin Waks
Christmas is over, we’re heading towards the New Year: cue an endless stream of gym adverts, a whole load of diet crap on Instagram and an inordinate number of memes about ‘losing the holiday weight.’ It’s no secret that this time of year preys on almost everyone – and, even against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, it doesn’t look like this year will be any different. We have become so accustomed to this genre of rhetoric that no one seems to question it. Of course, we think, there is nothing worse than gaining weight at the holidays, we must now dedicate our time to punishing ourselves for the ‘sin’ that is enjoying festive food, family time, and perhaps a little more mulled wine than we perhaps intended. It is paramount, we believe, that we use the start of the next year to reinvent ourselves, become what society deems a ‘better’ (read: ‘thinner’) human. It’s just the way things are.
I would like, perhaps, to offer an alternative. Open your mind to the possibility that, perhaps, just maybe, society is wrong? I would argue that, however well-meaning, this kind of language does far more harm than good. Masked by a veneer of being health-focused, self-improvement driven and morally superior, this rhetoric is merely glorified capitalist, fatphobic diet culture. Gyms, for example have caught on to the fact that fatphobic fearmongering after a should-be joyful period is a great way to scare people into paying huge amounts of money for an annual gym membership they probably won’t use beyond a month. Remember that – the gym isn’t telling you to join them out of philanthropic kindness. Not at all. They just want your money, and they’re happy to scare you into handing it over. And, as always, although perhaps even more so right now, with mental health issues on a rapid incline, this sort of narrative can be far more damaging than we realise.
What if, this year, we took a different approach? Rather than berating ourselves for the delicious foods we consumed over the last few weeks, we could focus on the wonderful memories we made, and with whom we made them. Instead of entirely changing our fitness routine with a gruelling and punishing month at the gym, we could consider moving a little more in a way that feels, rather than looks, good. And while we’re at it, let’s replace this notion that we need to focus the next few weeks on weight loss, with a consideration of how we could better use this time. Could you start a new book, series, or podcast? Spend more time doing volunteer work? Give more dedication to self-compassion and kindness? It seems absurd to me that we’ve been conditioned to spend all of our mental energy on becoming a ‘new me,’ through the gym, that we ignore the million other things we might prefer.
In the last year, I struggled through recovery from an eating disorder that gradually took over most aspects of my life. Whilst it was one of the most difficult periods of my life, it was this experience that truly showed me the damaging impact of society’s obsession with health and fitness. It opened my eyes to the way in which we equate ‘thinner’ with ‘better,’ implying that anyone who does not fit societal ideals is either a) not good enough, or b) needs to dedicate their entire lives to the (impossible) attempt to do so. And whilst eating disorders are extremely complex and can be rooted in multiple personal traumas and individual histories, I have no doubt that the sort of social media content we see at this time of year, and to be honest, all year around, must bear some of the responsibility for the sky-rocketing rates of mental health issues in the world right now.
For me, and I am sure for many others, many issues stem from this rigid belief that we are somehow not good enough as ourselves – we must be smarter, prettier, thinner, taller, better, in order to be worth something, to be lovable. A preoccupation with the need to change has become so ingrained that we don’t even stop to consider where this idea comes from. There are so many ways society, and businesses, have warped our perception of what is ‘normal’ – a normal work ethic, body, intelligence, you name it. And they have scared us into buying their products for financial gain, without adequately considering the psychological consequences.
So this year, instead of buying in to all the rubbish about changing yourself, just consider, for a moment, an alternative. If you take nothing else from this, know that you, as you are, are good enough. You were put on this earth to do more than go to the gym and decrease your calorie intake. This year has been hard enough, you don’t need to add your own self-punishing voice into the mix. Let’s enter 2021: new year, same old fabulous me.
Image: Danil Aksenov via Unsplash.