The holiday season, with its host of family gatherings, feasts and various traditions – some pretty good (who doesn’t like getting presents?), some more questionable (the whole thing about kissing and mistletoe is completely lost on me) – also brings the more dreaded New Year’s resolutions challenge. We all know most resolutions get thrown off the roof the second day of January. But the real challenge is not as much in keeping them as it is finding them.
The whole process of thinking about and coming up with a list of resolutions is in itself incredibly depressing and hard on yourself. Identifying what you think “is wrong with you” and needs “fixing” seems to me like a horrible way to start a new year. And isn’t unlike the stupid idea of a “summer body” and the pressure that comes with it. Often the resolutions we take reflect the unattainable standards of what society expects, rather than anything really personal. And why should we take resolutions anyway? Sure, it’s great to have a fresh start from time to time, but if you want to quit smoking why should you wait until the next January? And if you don’t feel like you need to change anything, why should you still be asked what your new year’s resolutions are?
So, instead of listing and trying (often in vain) to keep resolutions supposed to help us achieve some external ideal, the one resolution we should all take this year (and pretty much every single day every year) is to accept ourselves as we are – and even bolder: start loving ourselves.
If it helps, we’ve written down six stereotypical New Year’s resolutions, and turned them upside down: start 2018 with a bit of self-love.
Let’s start with the most obvious one: losing weight. This one is particularly depressing because it comes directly after the series of excesses of the festive season. Waking up on 1 January with a heavy hungover and a feeling you’ve eaten enough for the next six weeks does not make it easy to think about the 5 kg you “have to” lose in the next three months.
The most important thing here is to ask yourself why you want to lose weight, before you decide how much and how. Ideals of beauty have evolved through time and place, yet it is undeniable that a very slim, tanned and firm silhouette remains what society upholds as perfect feminine beauty today in many places. And admitting that this is not only unrealistic, but also an insult to the beauty that lies in diversity, isn’t always easy – especially if you were raised with Barbie dolls and Action Man figures that engrain these standards in childhood. Losing weight can be very positive, but only if it is for the right reasons. And these should not include achieving the arbitrary ideal body (one version of this resolution, for a lot of people, is actually: start losing weight consistently, and before the end of spring, so I am always “summer ready”… whatever that means).
Now I recognise that we are all very unequal when it comes to different metabolisms, diets, cravings etc. But that should be yet another reason not to try and achieve standards that starved models illustrate. Resolutions such as changing your diet or working out are great, and if the start of a new year makes it easier to change daily habits, then why not? But we should exercise because it makes us feel strong and in better shape. And we should change our diets to feel healthier or respect our convictions. Setting unrealistic goals to fit some arbitrary standards will only bring you down. And who wants to start a new year that way?
In the same vein as the previous resolution, body and facial hair is considered a curse for a sizeable portion of the world’s population. How many of us have had as resolutions: this year I will be more consistent, wax my legs regularly; this year I will save up for laser hair removal; this year I will regularly thread my eyebrows or upper lip or chin etc. – while also acknowledging that these are stupid social norms we feel bound to follow.
Start recognising that body and facial hair is not something to feel ashamed about – and especially not because of what some men have to say about it.
In this Guardian article, Mona Chalabi emphasizes the series of contradictions faced by women with facial hair, and how various ‘studies’ and ‘scales’ of hairiness (made by men) only represent yet another tool of patriarchal rule. I am not about to write that we should stop waxing, shaving etc. because that would be incredibly hypocritical of me: I do not see myself going to the beach without shaved legs or stopping to examine any disturbing facial hair in the mirror every day. However, if we start recognising that body and facial hair is not something we should feel ashamed about – and especially not because of what some men have to say about it – maybe that would be a good start of the year.
Above all, only remove hair that you want removed, do not listen to what anyone has to say on the matter. Just like when choosing your clothes, getting a tattoo or piercing your nose, you should only listen to your desires and tastes when removing your hair. This isn’t as bold as what some are doing to counter prejudices against body and facial hair, publicly or privately, but at least we can stop being ashamed and start choosing what we want on display, or not, for the only reason that it is what makes us feel good and comfortable with ourselves.
Read more/ be more informed
Of course I am not about to say that you should read less, and try not to stay informed; this would make absolutely no sense. However, the amount of media and accessible information we come across everyday can get a bit overwhelming and trying to stay on top of everything can become incredibly stressful. Whereas being informed should be something we value and cherish.
A lot of us face strong pressure everyday to know about what’s going on in every single part of the world, while being able to quote Kant off the top of your head and having read all the recent prize-winning novels in five different countries. Take a deep breath. Relax. All of this is great, only if it is something that you are interested in. And believe me, reading Kant is not for everyone! (Not sure if it is for anyone to be honest.)
The amount of literature being produced everyday on a wide variety of topics should not seem as daunting as a pile of unfinished work that never stops growing. Instead, we should celebrate the amount of knowledge, information and creation that already exist, and that are generated constantly. And from then, pick what is of interest to you. What you want to read, whatever your reasons. But do not feel like it is a race you need to win.
Having specific interests makes you unique, so don’t try to know everything. 1. It’s impossible. 2. You won’t enjoy most of it. 3. It will keep you from focussing on areas of real interest to you, and dig deeper. So if you should read more, then read more of what’s good for you – not what you feel dictated to be interested in.
Find the love of your life
The festive season can get pretty lonely. With holiday classic films like Love Actually, The Holiday or worse yet New Years Eve making you feel exquisitely mediocre, alone and miserable – shoots “how to turn into Cameron Diaz and find your Jude Law” to the the top of your google searches. Europe begins to churn out films, setting impossible, unattainable and not necessarily even desirable goals of heteronormative, romantic relationships.
And in the real world, for those that get together with your families this time of year, for Christmas, Hanukkah or whichever reason, you will undoubtedly be put under serious interrogation about your love life. Have you got a partner? How are they? What do they do? When do you think you’ll get married? When will you give me some grandkids?
This idealised romanticism set by the entertainment industry, and rather tight timeframe set by relatives and society at large has for years led to huge, overwhelming pressures on one’s performance in the new year.
Why must I place these huge expectations, resting all my hopes of happiness, stability and success on my partner(s)’ ability to deliver grandiose romantic gestures, heteronormative notions of commitment, and children? And above all – all within the next year to come!?
For too many years I set my new year’s resolutions to sort out my love life in the following year, to make myself happier by saying I’ll search for this ideal. Not this year.
I won’t get into deconstructing the whole entertainment’s industry commercialisation of ‘love’ – but rather, will tell you go right ahead and throw it in the trash.
I won’t get into deconstructing the whole entertainment’s industry commercialisation of ‘love’ – but rather, will tell you go right ahead and throw it in the trash. Don’t externalise your source of happiness, love, kindness and warmth – look around you and within yourself. Learn to love yourself for all your wonderful features and qualities. Love the people around you that are near you and support you – regardless if they don’t look like Jude Law. Distance yourself from the toxic relationships in your life and bring you down. Focus on filling your 2018 with self love and love for the people in your life that deserve it – and throw away prescriptive notions of heteronormative fantastical love.
Find your dream job/ career
Likewise, if relatives are harassing you with questions on your significant other, or lack thereof, surely they will also interrogate you on your career choices. This depends on the family, whether it is your drunk aunt asking you what you plan to do with your life if you’re jumping from internship to internship, or your stern uncle asking you how much you earn and how you plan to make a living on such a small wage.
2017 was a difficult year for young Europeans – let us not forget this. The competition in the job market is becoming increasingly fierce. Whether young Italians battling ever high rates of youth unemployment, low wages and precarious contracts, young people in the UK terrified of what Brexit will bring for their job security or hunt, Polish youths increasingly insecure on what the future will bring with increasing authoritarian measures imposed by the government – we are all far from stable.
Yet, when you log into Facebook all you seem to see are people’s fantastic new jobs? We’ve all been there, my friend. Don’t get me wrong – some career planning and working hard towards your career goals is a good and fruitful activity. What I mean to say is don’t overload yourself with expectations. This fierce competition brings us to raise the bar for ourselves – and far too high.
Focus on developing yourself, your interests and trying to figure out where you want to go and what you want to do. It’s never too late to turn back, try different things, give it your all, but always wary that your career isn’t your life. Maintain a healthy balance between your work and your mental health and peace. Value rest and leisure activities alongside your working life. Take it all as a learning curve, take what you want from each experience that comes your way – and don’t take on more than you can. 2018 may not be your groundbreaking year where you will win the Nobel Peace Prize for kicking Trump off the face of the earth – but it will be a year where whichever experiences come your way will continue to shape you.
Most importantly, don’t forget to look back and reflect on all the fantastic and wonderful things you achieved – no matter how big or small.
Be a better version of yourself
You may be shocked by this last one – but numerous times have I penciled this ridiculous statement into my ambitious list of resolutions. For me it was always somewhat of a combination of all of the above. “Next year, I’ll work out, eat healthy, do my nails, eyebrows and wax more often – I’ll have the perfect boyfriend and job”. GENUINE quotes of my previous self.
What kind of ridiculous pressure is this to place upon oneself just because it’s becoming the new year? You know that feeling when the clock hits 12:00am and suddenly it’s the new year. How different do you feel? For me: nothing, with a tinge of nostalgia. I’d say time is more linear rather than cyclical.
Don’t let societal pressures to improve yourself in every shape and form they dictate get to you. But better yourself according to your standards and learn to love and grow.
Take the new year as an opportunity to reflect on the positive aspects of this year, and the negative aspects to shed – not the do all end all. Merely take this as an opportunity to reflect on your wellbeing, and how to better look after yourself, be kinder, more generous (resources allowing) and more mindful. Don’t let societal pressures to improve yourself in every shape and form they dictate get to you. But better yourself according to your standards and learn to love and grow.
And remember, Chinese New year, Thai new year, Hijri New year, Ethiopian new year and more come at completely different times of year. Not only to take a little pressure off the New Years label – but also to remind you that if you’ve had a particularly bad start to the New Year, there’s always others.
Teaser photo: Photo: NordWood Themes on Unsplash