New Year. Be You.
At the end of each year at and the start of the new year, our social media accounts, the magazines we read, the shows we watch, and the ads we see on TV are flooded with ideas for self-improvement. And often conversations with friends and family are dominated by talk about New Year’s Resolutions.
Here are some of the New Year’s Resolutions I’ve heard in the past week from friends, co-workers, family, and Brad – a guy I sat next to while working at Starbuck’s one afternoon.
This year I’m going to…
- Lose weight.
- Stick to my budget.
- Eat healthy.
- Lose 10 pounds.
- Cut out prepackaged, processed foods. (This was Brad’s. When I asked him why, he said, “Because I want to lose weight.”)
- Exercise every day.
- Get more sleep.
- Drink 64 ounces of water each day.
- Get fit.
- Join a gym.
While self-improvement is not a bad thing – in fact it can be a great thing – too often our resolutions are based on what we think we should do, not necessarily what we really want to do. Scan back through this list. Of the 11, I count a total of 7 that relate to altering our bodies. As a culture, we’re obsessed with our appearance, and in particular, losing weight. And at no time during the year is that more apparent than around New Year’s.
It’s easy to get sucked into this wave of “self-improvement” that is sweeping the country this time of year, but especially the weight loss craze. We’re inundated with media messages on a daily basis that are out to convince us that we’re not good enough the way we are. For women, we’re told that we should be thin, toned, and to have perky breasts and clear, tan, and wrinkle-free skin. Men are told that they should be tall, muscular, strong, athletic, and even that they should smell a certain way. This, they tell us, is what perfection looks like. And the start of every new year is another chance to be perfect.
Perfect. That’s ultimately what we’re striving for. But that word is often followed closely by disappointment. Because perfection comes along with lots of absolutes. One “misstep” – a day you skip the gym or a day you put down the tiny non-fat yogurt container and eat a couple spoonful’s of chocolate ice cream before bed instead – and we feel like we blew it. We often label these instances as “slips” or as “bad” behavior. This is black and white thinking, a hallmark of eating disorders. And it can be dangerous. It tends to lead to feelings of shame. And shame is a powerful emotion. Shame tends to quickly become global. It’s not just that “I did something bad,” it’s that “I am bad.”
But what if we chose not to go down this road? What if this New Year’s, we try a different form of self-improvement and resolve to give ourselves a break – to try to be nicer to our bodies and to appreciate them just the way they are. Try challenging what the media is selling you. Look at what you perceive to be imperfections as little things that make you you. There’s no other you. You are unique. And that is beautiful. It’s all a matter of changing the way you see yourself and the way you define beauty. Beauty is not a size or a skin color or a hair-do. Beauty is so much more than what we see in the mirror. Instead of trying to lose weight, consider making this your New Year’s Resolution: This year, at least once per day when I’m looking in the mirror, I’m going to say to myself, “I am enough. Just the way I am.”
Jessica Lee Betts, MS, RD, LD