The end of the year brings its own accusations. There will be a Spotify Wrapped list, which will tell me I really need to lay off the 90s music. There will be piles of Christmas cards shaming me from my kitchen counter. They will remind me that I’d better get off my ass and send some before the New Year, and I’ll pretend I’m going to do it.
Eventually, I’ll give up. That surrender will bring both guilt and relief. Don’t you want to be a person who sends out Christmas cards? I’ll think. Then I’ll remember that I’d have to design them, buy the damn things, sign them, address them, and mail them, each step fraught with its own difficulties: picking the right photos, texting everyone for their address, purchasing cutesy stamps. As much as I want to be the person who sends Christmas cards, I value time spent not doing it.
The worst of those end-of-the year accusations, however, is an ambient drone from family and friends and advertisers alike. What’s your New Year’s resolution? people ask me. Ads blare from every direction: This year, make a resolution to (insert aesthetic goal here, usually weight loss)!
There’s a problem with New Year’s resolutions: They assume an existing need for improvement. Those ads urging me to join a gym or buy a weight-loss drug reinforce societal expectations for a certain body type; they presume that my current shape (fine with me) isn’t good enough. My friends’ idle questions about resolutions assume that I want to improve something. At the close of the New Year, we’re expected to examine our consciences, express sorrow for our sins, and resolve to sin no more. Here I thought I’d left Catholic school behind me.
I don’t make that association lightly. New Year’s resolutions have a moral force behind them. You’re supposed to embark on a program of self-improvement, and it’s good for you. You don’t have to like it. In fact, you probably won’t. That makes it even better, because you do it anyway. Look how much I hate it, you say. I do it anyway. This makes me even better.
They’re a kind of spiritual-but-secular housekeeping. Weight loss won’t just make you thinner. The keeping of a resolution —showing resolve — implies a will, a stick-to-it-iveness. By achieving thinness (if that’s your goal), you’ll become a stronger person. Sorry, but our generation suffered enough from heroin chic and low-rise jeans. Those chipper Gen Zers in gym ads are trying to do what Kate Moss accomplished with a single Calvin Klein ad.
We make two mistakes with those resolutions. Not only do we see a need to fix ourselves, we equate the actual fixing to spiritual improvement. Behind each resolution is a threat: You’ll do this if you want to be a better person.
Implicit: You are not good enough. Also implicit: You want to be better. Not this year, thank you. I refuse your New Year’s inferiority complex.
So instead of embarking on a journey of moral self-improvement, I’m accepting myself. I am thin enough, tidy enough, kind enough. I don’t need to change. If anything, I need to release the idea that I have to change. I am stepping from the ratrace of relentless self-improvement. I resolve nothing. Our generation doesn’t need to keep running to fit someone else’s idea of better. We need to see that we’re already enough.
We always were. Remember those participation trophies everyone laughs at? They meant something. You did it, they said, and the doing was enough. That joy in doing? Adequate reward. We didn’t have to be the best, the fastest, the strongest. We were enough as we were. We still are. Don’t believe the New Year’s resolution hype. Do better if you’d like, but don’t tie it to an overarching moral arc.
Accept yourself. You’re enough. You always were.
A six-year staff writer for Scary Mommy with pieces published in The Washington Post and Insider, Elizabeth Broadbent has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, NPR’s All Things Considered, and BBC World News. Her short stories have appeared, among other places, in Tales to Terrify, Penumbric, Tree & Stone, and The Cafe Irreal; her novella, Naked & Famous, publishes with EJL Editions in summer 2023, and her poetry chapbook, Wrapped in a Burning Flag, comes out in winter of 2024.