Saturday, January 7, 2012

January makeovers... with a pinch of Aristotle

Cake - one of the nicest presents I received last year - but not in January.

There's an often quoted fact in my industry that December is the best selling month for food magazines and January the worst. You'll not be surprised that the trend is reversed for slimming titles. Television has its equivalent: celebrity chefs make way for the Greatest Loser and adverts for Christmas delights are replaced by weight-watchers and nicotine patches. We've come to expect this - because of course January is a time for resolutions and makeovers.

I'm no different - each year I jot down a few positive goals and do my best to achieve them. Last year I wanted to complete my book, finish my writing degree and not waste energy on crap TV, negative people or conversations I've heard a hundred times before. I did okay, but there's still work to do. I have a similar list this year.

And typically that involves getting a little fitter. I say typically because when I asked around the office, everyone said they wanted to lose weight and/or do more exercise. This week at the gym there was the usual influx of newcomers carrying programme cards or accompanied by a personal trainer. Again, I'm no different - I've spent more time on the rowing machine since Christmas than I did the entire autumn.

It's hardly an insight to say that we have an obsession with our looks - and weight in particular. The idea of the 'perfect body' as a prerequisite of happiness is ever more ingrained in our subconscious, at times insidiously so. Peddling away at the gym I watched a ghoulish documentary about a 72 stone woman - but more disturbing by far was another concerning a child of six who's been diagnosed with anorexia.

In my discussion with friends and colleagues I've heard three themes to our resolutions - weight and fitness (including less drinking and smoking), debt (less of) and travel (more of). On the basis of my straw poll, it seems our idea of the good life is being stick thin, mortgage free, and able to holiday at will.

Put like that it doesn't sound too bad - and let's not get pompous, most of us envy those in that position - but it's interesting that not a single person I spoke too said they want to read more, even those given Kindles for Christmas! Nor did anyone say they wanted to go to the theatre, get less angry, have more courage, help others, or make a difference. Aristotle who believed the good life lay in demonstrating virtue would be turning in his grave. David Cameron's Big Society didn't get a look in.

The funniest resolution I heard was someone who said they wanted to stop picking their nose in public. And the saddest (to return to my theme of an obsession with makeovers) was when one of my fittest friends claimed they needed to train harder and lose half a stone - for what? for whom? I need to be careful though - for my own list was equally self centred in its way.

But perhaps this is just the stuff of New Year resolutions, and by the time Spring arrives we'll all see things in better perspective. This week I began the planning for my company's Community Programme - and looking back over last year I was reminded of the hundreds of colleagues who did something special - for others as well as themselves. In some cases that was genuinely life changing (one couple found love on a bike ride!) in others it was less dramatic, but a highlight of their year nonetheless. When the narcissism of January fades I've no doubt there'll be new people coming forward - and hopefully (me included) we'll remind ourselves that there's more to a good life than the magazines and TV would have us believe.


  1. Welcome back to the blogosphere, Mark. I hope you enjoyed your well-earned break.

    A well-observed post, summing up nicely our probably natural reaction to the over-indulgence of the festive season. One of the nice things about getting older is that I've stopped worrying about carrying some extra weight unless it proves bad for my health. My very small resolution this year is to try not to snap at people when I'm tired. Not much in the great scheme of things, but it may make life more comfortable for those closest to me. :-)

  2. Such a pleasure to switch to Blogger and find a post from you on top of the heap!

    As a society we do seem to swing from one end of the spectrum to the other....excusing (why should we think we have to) excess by promising penitence straight away afterwards.
    It strikes me that we are not, generally, at ease with ourselves as we are and I suspect that the reason for this is the pressure of advertising - be this, have that - and of the stifling PC ism which parastatal bodies push at us.

  3. Happy New Year!

    I gave up NYR in 2008 and have 4 New Life's Resolutions instead: Find my passion, Make a personal difference, Increase my potential lifespan and Reduce my carbon footprint.

    It's great that you're helping me achieve the second one :)

    I find its much easier (and less stressful) to live by these than more specific ones such as give up chocolate, lose xx pounds or whatever.

  4. Getting "fit" at a gym does not interest me. Eating and living healthy does.

  5. "Television has it's equivalent: celebrity chefs make way for the Greatest Loser and adverts for Christmas delights are replaced by weight-watchers and nicotine patches."

    One of the advantages of not having a TV. Thanks for reminding me, it's still as predictable as ever.

    I think Spring is the best time for new plans and changes, not in mid-winter.

    PS Happy new year and Love that cake!

  6. The Welsh for cake doesn't sound too promising does it?

  7. Around here in the winter, the people seem to like gardening, landscaping and renovation television programs. I know I do. I am now so limited in what I can do, that I have to be satisfied, more or less, with what I have done. I got to live with it now. So I watch what I would like to be doing on television.

  8. I do love coming here...your posts are always thought provoking!

    Last year my goals were to work as hard as I could to pass my Masters and to do it in such a way that the people I worked with benefited from my research. I am very proud to say that I achieved that. This year I want to continue to make a difference for those that I work with (I am currently working for nothing so that I can see it through to the end) but I also want to be nicer to me. I pushed myself so hard last year that I ended it absolutely exausted! This year I want to get a bit fitter...exercise a bit more and eat a bit less(Chris and I are doing a Nordic walking course this weekend), I want to make sure that I make time for my art (hence the drawing a day blog) and I want to spend more time with my husband (I have been away from him for three nights a week for the last two and a half years). Don't know if they can be classed as good goals but they are mine :-)

    C x

  9. Guess who is on a diet, wants to get fit and wants more money....any ideas?

  10. Dear you...

    Missed your writing.

    Sincerely, me....gardener in training, trying to live a balanced life and reading as much as I can! Keep writing and update on the book please when you can.

  11. My resolution this year, after a year full of toil and duty and pleasure too, is to have more fun. I do however admit that I am also trying to lose half a stone but I haven't resolved to do it. I just snuk it under the wire! no more negative "don't do x" resolutions was a resolution I made some time ago. I am much better at doing something than at not doing it!

  12. Welcome back Mark....An interesting post.
    For my part no real resolutions other than to live my life as I did last year - I am happy the way things are.
    I have goals but don't feel that I need change anything in order to achieve them.


  13. Happy New Year Mark. This was a very thoughtful ...and thought-provoking post. I agree, Christmas is all about (some people)stuffing themselves with food and then wanting to lose weight in January. I don't get it myself.
    And yes we are all selfish when it comes to resolutions, symptoms of today's society I guess.

  14. Interesting post - and I think that we shouldn't be making resolutions, they seem to be short lived but maybe creating new habits.

  15. I did something about increasing my reading by becoming a judge for the Dagger in the Library. OK they are all crime novels, but I have read a lot of books I would otherwise not have picked up, and we love bringing good authors to greater attention. Though I have the lose weight and get fitter resolutions too, with a goal of walking Hadrian's wall in the autumn

  16. My resolutions??? To find more ways to make a difference and to use my library card more than my credit card. Great post and a wonderful 2012 to you.

  17. This is the best reflection on NY resolutions that I have ever read. I love the way you have woven all the threads together in this tightly structured, engaging and thought provoking piece. Classic Mark, at your candid, down-to-earth, humanitarian and philosophical best. This year my resolve is to have aspirations rather than resolutions. Best wishes for 2012 to you, Mark.

  18. Mark off topic but of interest:

    New magazine about to come out, right up your valley