TW: Discussion of diet culture and weight loss
New Year’s Eve has been my favorite holiday for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I would wait all day for my parents to turn on the TV so I could watch Ryan Seacrest bouncing around on stage in front of a huge crowd of people clad in Planet Fitness merchandise, screaming, kissing, and laughing. I would fight sleep to stay up and watch the ball drop. My eyes would be glued to the screen as the adults around me talked and drank. I would call out how many minutes or seconds there were until midnight. I was elated when I was finally old enough for my parents to let me take a few sips of champagne and even happier when they let me pop the cork for the first time. I would pour over my New Year’s resolutions and have them picked out weeks in advance. I observed as many superstitions as I could.
I was obsessive over the idea of following my resolutions — not just for the year, but for the rest of my life. When I was 15, my resolution was to be nicer to people. I was a sophomore in high school and deep into my its-cool-to-be-a-dick-to-everyone phase, and I swore that for the rest of my life, I would complement at least one person every single day. Since then, I feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety if my day has ended without me being intentionally kind to someone.
Lose 30 pounds.
My resolutions have always been things I believe are realistically achievable — aside from my first, when I was 5 years old, which was to be a famous YouTuber. Last year, I quit smoking, the year before that I started crocheting, and this year I am manifesting the discovery of yet another unknown chess talent. I didn’t want to force myself into something I couldn’t keep up with because I knew how disappointed I would be when I inevitably gave up on it. But that wasn’t true for most of the adults in my life — especially my parents.
Stop eating sugar.
Gen X overwhelmingly centers their resolutions around their health. 41% of people ages 42-57 have a resolution related to losing weight, 35% have a resolution related to their diet and 32% have resolutions related to working out more. These categories far outweigh those related to learning a new skill, making time for loved ones, traveling more or quitting unhealthy habits.
Cut out carbs.
According to a study conducted in 2015 by Common Sense Media, 1 in 4 children aged 7 years old have attempted to follow a diet of some kind. This isn’t a weird coincidence: Gen X was born into modern diet culture. “Juice cleanses” — also known as a liquid diet — became popular in the 1940s and 50s. Elvis Presley popularized the “Sleeping Beauty Diet” where those participating would take strong sedatives and simply sleep through their hunger. There is “The Grapefruit Diet,” “The Peanut Butter Diet,” “The Ice Cream Diet,” and “The Olive Oil Diet,” all of which became a sort of religion for women in the 60s and 70s: around the time that Gen X was being born. Our mothers were born into a new world — one where magazines were filled with promises of losing 20 pounds in two weeks, dropping two pants sizes in a month, and finding the love of your life (as long as you lose a couple of pounds first).
‘Snap back’ from my pregnancy.
Their mothers were the first victims of diet culture, and research has shown that mothers who restrict their eating, obsess over weight loss, or follow strict and unrealistic fad diets are not only more likely to project those insecurities onto their children, but to actually restrict their eating as well. “For most of us,” says Charlotte Markey, a psychology professor at Rutgers University, “our mothers are our first contact not just about what we should eat or how we should look, but what it means to be a girl or a woman.”
Save up for liposuction.
So what have we been taught by our mothers who spend the weeks following New Years alternating between two hour stints on the Peleton to buying low-carb bread and kale chips? That self-improvement is inextricably linked to weight loss? That, at any opportunity to manifest goodness in a new era we should focus our efforts on becoming skinny? Pretty? Desirable? To who? For what?
Quincey Fireside is a first-year politics major who reminds us to think about the things that really matter to us. They can be reached at [email protected].
Art by Julia Young.