By Jeevan Farthing (he/him)
photogragh kieren mehta he/him
CW: discussions of fatphobia
I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, supposedly. My last attempt was in 2020, where I concocted an unnecessarily large bullet point list of demands on my notes app and, in typically embarrassing fashion, called it the jeevolution. A novel coronavirus was then, of course, successful in thwarting any revolutionary change, and instead forced upon me the fixity of being an utter slob for months at a time. Since then, I’ve told myself not to bother.
It’s irresistible though. The burning desire to suddenly become the world’s most flawless human being after the clock strikes midnight is practically a social norm now. While my notes app thankfully remains uncorrupted this year, on New Year’s Day I was still adamant that I did something, so I created a semi-professional journo portfolio even though I do not have enough published work to justify having one.
This felt less ridiculous, though, because I wasn’t expecting to suddenly morph into a new person. Indeed, it’s frustrating that we internalise the mantra ‘new year, new me’, and not ‘new year, same me, just doing more/different things’, because the latter is a far healthier outlook to have. However that is simply incompatible with consumption, and it is increasingly consumption that drives New Year’s Resolutions. This makes sense: you don’t consume to stay the same. You don’t traipse to the Apple Store for the same iPhone, because novelty is everything. New implies change and to exact change you invest.
While it is only recently that New Year’s Resolutions have become so product-heavy, New Year’s advertising has been overburdened with consumption for some time. Indeed there has been something of a backlash against January bikini adverts in recent years, because they’ve been so ubiquitous for so long. The formula is tried and tested: foster one’s propensity to engage in post-Christmas body dysmorphia by showcasing what your body should look like for your beach holiday this summer, before suggesting a miraculous diet to get there.
Although now there is, thankfully, a fairly well-established recognition that these adverts do more harm than good, their contribution to the consumption-laden New Year period should not be overlooked because they are just so manipulative. On the surface, by going on a diet you think you consume less in terms of calories, but by absorbing the advert you consume more of this toxic notion of the ‘ideal’ body shape, and consume further still by purchasing a weight loss tracker to supposedly help you consume less food.
This network of intersecting avenues of consumption has also extended to the self-care industrial complex. It’s trendy to love yourself now, and a plethora of products are ready and waiting for you to consume, because there is clearly no better way to connect deeply with your mind and body than using an entirely artificial medium to do so. Mood-tracking apps are exploding in popularity, and apps by their very nature are designed to be addictive. Similarly, features pieces on bath bombs are popping up all the bloody time, and my inner cynic has to question whether buying products for short-term gratification can ever truly mould you into a ‘new’ person, or whether you’re serving the interests of an entirely different group of people. Yes, that’s right, you can be class conscious about New Year’s Resolutions too.
The exploding popularity of the self-care industry doesn’t just benefit the bosses of companies selling products in the industry itself, but to bosses in general. Let’s take the example of headspace, the prominent meditation app. It uses a freemium subscription model, which means that the ability to better yourself mentally hinges on your ability to better its chief executive financially. But by contributing to their salary, you also ensure the chief executive you work for better benefits from paying you a salary, since you are mentally healthier and subsequently more ‘productive’ in your labour. Where meditation is a product, your consumption of it ensures bosses can further see you through the lens of your own productivity. It’s depressing because meditation can objectively help people in ways that don’t emanate from such capitalistic notions of self-worth. But ultimately downloading that app is still devouring someone else’s creation. It’s a new year, and you’re a new you(nit) of consumption.
Maybe it’s too nihilistic to consider your efforts to take care of your mental health as only serving a fundamentally unfair economy. New Year’s resolutions could just be a good opportunity for people to do good things, and perhaps we shouldn’t be inhibiting that. I just question who really benefits from the self-care industrial complex, and whether those at the top are truly concerned about the wellbeing of one individual out of billions of oxygen consumers on this planet.
In economics, marginal returns theory stipulates that one derives less utility for every further unit that one consumes. If indulging in the ‘new year new me’ is ultimately about the immediate gratification of consuming a product, rather than the actualisation of its potentially beneficial effects, this explains why most people’s resolutions fail.
It’s like the fast fashion of the self. You, the functionally depressed worker, experience yet another year of guilt and disappointment as you’ve wasted money on a product you’ll barely use, but they, the high-flying chief executive, have already got their kerching.
But it’ll be different this time, your inner demons persist. No, really this time!