It is that time of year again. The gyms flood with folks anxious to make major lifestyle changes, Nicorette and e-cigarettes fly off the shelves, and people sit down at their kitchen tables to draft financial budgets for the coming year. I really like ringing in the new year and the pervasive sense of optimism in the air as we embrace a fresh start. Everything is possible. THIS will be the year…
I especially like that so much of what we desire is good health. Be it physical or financial, we aspire to health. That said, I do find some of this “new year, new me” business a bit disturbing – especially when aspiring to health is coupled with capitalistic digital marketing tactics used to “encourage” others to do the same… but more on that in a minute.
When you enroll as a member at the gym that I frequent, they provide you with two free personal training sessions to get you going. During the first session, they do a general health assessment, and they ask you about your goals. Then, they ask you why you chose those goals. As someone who is an admittedly terrible runner, I told the trainer when I enrolled that I wanted to run a 10k in the next year. When she asked me why, I told her that I thought that the ability to run well seemed like the quintessential mark of “fitness.” She asked if I liked running. I said no. She told me to pick a new goal. (NB: Two years later, still no 10k.)
We all have our ideas about what it means to be healthy. We have visions for the “new me” that we aspire to cultivate in the next 365 calendar days. The thing is, that is not exactly how it works. We only get one “me” – and if she hated running last year, chances are, she is going to hate it just as much this year. It would serve each of us well to sit down with our goals for the year and, like my two-session trainer, to ask why those goals. We are living in a world that has a knack for brainwashing us into states of thoughtless desire while drowning out any whisper of our own individual wants and abilities. We need to think critically about both what we want and why we want it.
2014 was the year of “strong is the new skinny.” I am not sure who coined the phrase, but I know that Jennifer Cohen wrote a book titled as such. At first, as someone who enjoys weightlifting, I applauded the movement. I remember thinking, “Finally, some recognition that being a healthy woman does not have to mean spending two hours on the elliptical obsessing over how many calories you have burned!” Then, the American obsessive sickness took hold, and suddenly, it felt less about developing strength as a means to healthiness and more about developing a specific, muscular, and (you guessed it) skinny physique: “I know we have been pushing you to starve yourself skinny, and now for the bonus round, we are going to need you to hit the floor for some pushups. Michelle Obama arms are IN.” Truthfully, strong is not the new skinny – being strong and skinny is the new skinny. (Look no further than the photos on the “Strong is the New Skinny” Facebook page for evidence of this.)
For the past few months, my Facebook page has been littered with folks promoting “Shakeology” as part of “Team Beachbody” and uploading videos of their morning burpee routines, reminding (in some funky font) those of us crawling out of bed at 9 am on Saturday that we should stop making excuses and begin our own transformation RIGHT NOW. Sure, they may really believe that their new routine can change my life, too, but frankly, I do not get online so that some grown adult can try to sell me on his/her diet and exercise routine. I understand folks seeking recognition of the progress they have made, but I cannot get behind the aspect that involves trying to sell a diet or exercise product to others.
Unsurprisingly, I feel the same way about this as I do about any proselytizing that takes place in a public forum: Please shhhhhhhhh. I feel this especially in the case of Shakeology because it is such an overt marketing tactic to draw more people to their pretty pricey product. Keep your capitalism away from my health, please. I really am glad that you have decided to embrace your physical health in 2015, but maybe we could have aimed for something a little more sustainable and less cultish.
I realize that I am being pretty judgmental (and potentially unfairly so), but this whole thing has been bothering me quite a bit. In this digital world, we are inundated with messages about what it is we should aspire to be. Folks are setting their own personal goals based on notions of “wellness” that others are literally selling to them. I am not a runner, and frankly, I am tired of people telling me that I am “built like a runner” like suddenly that should imbue me with the passion and ability to get up at 6 am and take off down the street. But you know what? It took me a long time to own that, to acknowledge that I am not a runner, that that is fine, and that there are a lot of other ways to be active and healthy.
I am not going to embrace “The Paleo Diet,” nor am I going to shake up a chocolate chip cookie dough Shakeology for breakfast. I am not going to join your CrossFit gym and take my chances with Rhabdomyolysis, nor do I have plans to imbibe your lemon juice and cayenne pepper concoction. And, as anyone who has ever shared a meal with me knows, I am certainly not going to quit carbohydrates.
Can we please just agree to stop?
Those things may work for you – and I think that is great – but please stop trying to sell them to others. We have been given this incredible access to one another, and we are using it to sell one another on the next big, capitalistic, weight loss craze. Maybe we can start sharing healthy recipes consisting of real plants, you know, fruits and veggies. Maybe we can incorporate a walk into our daily routine. Maybe we can skip the bus stop outside our door and head for the one a few blocks down. Maybe we can set our own fitness goals around activities that we enjoy. Creating a healthier you does not have to involve some ungodly financial investment or serious departure from your daily routine. If it does, chances are, it is not going to last.
So try to hush all of the noise that other folks are making in attempting to persuade you that they know what is best for you and your health, and ask yourself: What do I want out of 2015?
And, most importantly, why?