In my world, January is usually time to suit up. It’s when diet culture comes at us fast and furious: my inbox is brimming with diet industry press releases, my DMs with people feeling overwhelmed by the New Year, New You rhetoric all around them. And anyone who works on anti-diet activism is spending a lot of time this month sharing all the memes about why the world doesn’t need a smaller version of you to make this year better.
I’ve been sharing the memes, too, but it’s felt a bit flat. Maybe because we’re dying by the thousands every day and yet people are still very, very sure that losing a few jeans sizes will save their life? And because white supremacists stormed the Capitol yesterday in an attempt to keep their racist, misogynistic overlord in power? Well sure, when I type it out, it’s almost certainly that. I’ve also been thinking a lot about a smaller, but still terrible act of racism that happened in my community last week; a virtual children’s event at our local library was disrupted with hate speech and vitriol. But yes, let’s all quit sugar this year! That should be the priority right now.
More than ever, I come back to the immortal words of (the brilliant but flawed) Naomi Wolf: Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history. It’s bad for our health, yes, but it also keeps us small in too many other ways.
I say all of this not to make anyone feel bad for struggling with the impulse to diet. I quit dieting more than five years ago, but I still find the same old narrative running through my own head in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I didn’t stay up till midnight this year, but I still love the countdown, the romance and the promise of a new year and a fresh start — and those are concepts that don’t untangle easily from body aesthetics.
We also still do need self-care (for lack of a less annoying term) because 2020 was a shit show and 2021 is not, immediately, looking a hell of a lot different. (Except, maybe, a little? Yay Georgia!) But what if self-care meant making our worlds bigger instead of making our bodies smaller? I’m speaking metaphorically about the world, of course, since most of us aren’t even leaving the house right now.
With this world-expanding in mind, I’m resolving to continue to work on my daily yoga practice, something I’ve written about before, but both pandemic and a new puppy derailed for a few months last year. And I’m setting my annual reading challenge (shooting for 80 books this year!) because books are the best way I know to grow the world when we can’t actually go anywhere. Other resolutions I can get behind right now: Wearing our masks, avoiding indoor gatherings, calling out racism whenever we see it, and reckoning with and working through our own internalized biases.
I wrote the above yesterday morning, pre-Capitol coup. Things feel so scary and unsettled now, I’m honestly not sure how much of this still applies. But I’m also seeing a lot people now tweeting about giving up on their New Year diet (or Dry January). And this is being framed as an act of failure, as in: f*ck it, the world is burning, I might as well eat carbs.
But maybe it’s not failure. Maybe, for a lot of us, it’s the first step.