by Lisa Ingarfield, 303 Contributor
January. The start of a new year. The promise of a new you. Many of us are filled to the brim with optimism about the year to come and the goals we hope to achieve during our triathlon racing season. The days are getting longer and as we inch toward spring, each minute extra of daylight fuels our engines with excitement at what’s to come.
Embedded in the exuberance of a new year and new opportunities is the Resolution Industry. I say industry because that is what it has become. It is an industry predicated upon “change” providers’ (gyms, diet programs etc.,) desire to cash in on the fervor for change. What better time to enact change in your life, so the commercials go, than when the Gregorian calendar ticks over to 1/1. One. First. New. However, the adage that change is as good as a rest may not always ring true.
The Resolution Industry’s push for change is troubling and sometimes even damaging. Its inherent message that there is always something in our lives that needs changing can undermine our sense of self. Whether the suggested changes are about our bodies, our clothes, our jobs, our friends, or our attitudes, what we can take away from the bonanza of offers in January is that something must be wrong. And to fix that obvious wrong, there are three hundred (discounted) ways to do so. Don’t delay, buy, subscribe, and join!
I have certainly forayed into the land of resolutions with varying success. Most notably, and I think this is likely true for many women in particular, my resolutions have centered on resolving to change my body, directly or indirectly. What I hear from our culture and from advertising is that my body is never good enough, and that my fitness level is determined by my body size and shape. This is especially true after the holidays. Enjoying good food is an indulgence and something that must be purged in the New Year.
Companies are knocking at my door in January with the next best thing for shedding those extra pounds I must have gained in December. The assumption is always that those extra pounds were gained and that they are bad for me. I rarely hear the refrain that I am good just the way I am. Indulgence (which connotes taking in more than you need) is encouraged in December, but shamed in January. The Resolution Industry tells me to do it better this year. If I want to be a better athlete, or just better overall, I will resolve to indulge less and live a healthier life. But, healthy is defined in only one way (primarily for women): thin.
As with many resolutions, proclamations of change may well be short lived. As time meanders on, our pace slows, and by March, we may find our resolutions have faded from sight. Inevitably, failing to maintain the “new you” in light of all those messages about the need to change, can be painful. For many women athletes, despite our amazing achievements and training commitment, we still struggle with what it means to have the perfect body. Sometimes the expectations we have of ourselves and our body fall behind the larger cultural messages we receive. This can spur us to train harder and longer. Ultimately though, this behavior can be damaging to our bodies, our relationships, and our sense of self.
The Resolution Industry simultaneously encourages us to make important life changes and targets our doubts about our value and worth. If we look beneath its shiny exterior of persuasive messaging and buy one, get one offers, its underbelly reveals an industry interested in exploiting our insecurities regardless of our fitness level. We are too this, or too that. Being just right doesn’t make money. Corporations profit from our insecurities. Does this reality mean we should eschew the deals at our local gym or refuse to sign up for a training group to help us get out the door? No, I don’t think it does.
Shifting our training patterns or taking on something new at the start of a new year is not universally negative. Rather, I think we need to be cautious about what we agree to in January and in particular, why we agree to it. What are the expectations we set for ourselves, as athletes, as women, as consumers in a relentlessly critical culture? The resolutions we make, whether we keep them or throw them away, should not define our worth. Who really benefits from a failed resolution? Not me, that’s for sure.