By Esme Bell
Content warning: this article mentions themes of body weight and image which some readers may find upsetting.
January, supposedly, is a month of beginnings. Of rebirth and renewal and the chance to start again… again. There are new calendars and diaries and the fresh, unspoiled pages of the newly begun year to look at. That’s what we’re told.
But – it is, still, just January. We are still mired in winter, the nights are still endlessly dark, the wind endlessly windy. Christmas has been and gone, and there is nothing, LITERALLY NOTHING to look forward to until the (very) distant promise of spring.
And if you’re about to mention Valentine’s Day, you can stop: happy, romantic couples are not welcome here.
But, in a more serious sense, January actually is depressing. Even if you’re not a stress-worn third year drowning in summatives – even if you ignore the very real phenomenon of Blue Monday – there is something so chilling (in all senses) and impenetrable about this month.
The rest of the natural world is still very much in hibernation mode; all around us, the earth is honouring this fallow time of year, unashamedly embracing the state of doing simply nothing. Yet, somehow, we have created a month that defies this. It claims rejuvenation, transformation: in fact, it threatens you with its relentless resolutions to be ‘New! Better! Different!’.
But is this actually achievable? Is this what we should spend our January doing?
The dieting industry is a perfect and obvious example of this. Every year, after our Christmas extravagance, we are press-ganged into resolutions to be fit and healthy. Bright lycra and the fake plastic smiles of the ‘healthy’ floodlight our screens, with their perennial message of ‘Get Thin Quick’ carefully buried under general wellness camouflage.
But food is happiness; our bodies are supposed to fluctuate naturally with the seasons and temperatures; and anyway, as I have mentioned before – it is still January. This is surely not the time for bikinis and 6am runs.
(It must be mentioned, even whilst I sneer, that I have ordered a pair of running trainers from Vinted. But keep reading.)
Even beyond the bodily, January sees the birth of thousands of internal resolutions for personal growth and development. We must learn a new language, read more, become a nicer person, end world hunger; as if, between the strokes of midnight on December 31st, we have collectively undergone a brain and personality transplant.
It seems fake and false – too unlikely; a few hours surely can’t transform us immediately into the new and dazzling versions of ourselves we aspire to be. How are we supposed to live up to the pressure? How can we contend with the manic grinning weight of January – and all that we’ve promised to do within it?
And, perhaps my negativity stems from the bitter place of a perennial hobby-beginner who never seems to finish or succeed in any of my plans for self-betterment. And, even further than this, perhaps it comes from the fact that I have recently turned twenty-one. Like many of us now firmly (sadly) entrenched in our third decade, I can feel the overwhelming weight of the rest of my life pressing upon me, like dumbbells of needing to do and be and begin. So, of course I do, actually, want to develop, to be better – I think we all do.
But resolutions and the well-meaning hysterics of January feel more like shackles. They seem a sure way to ensure that these good, new things won’t happen. There is such pressure to prevail, against all the seasonal odds. And if your January fails, what does that leave for the rest of the year?
And so, I think that maybe a good way to think about starting a year is NOT to set resolutions: NOT to resolve, but just to suggest – to try, and to make honest attempts.
My trainers are still on their way, and I will certainly have a go at a 5km. But if they end up just being good for walks along the river whilst I ring my mum, that’s ok, too. We can open ourselves up to new things, try our very best, but not chain ourselves to a fixed, all-or-nothing goalpost that (inevitably, probably) won’t be reached – and certainly not only in the dark and wind of Durham’s winter.
We all want to be better, but January is really hard. Just to try – and to have the act of trying as the end in itself – feels much more forgiving, more gentle. And, maybe, more likely to garner real results than abrupt neck-breaking promises to just be new people.
Illustration: Carly Tait