Monday, January 6, 2014

The Self-Hatred of the New Year's Resolution

Today a friend sent me a link to a HuffPo article about states that could benefit from New Year's Resolutions to lose weight.

It was sent as a discussion point, not something she agreed with. But most people looking at it will probably nod their heads at the points that are made. These maps bother me. A lot. I believe they reinforce geographic stereotypes. Who lives in the South? Black people and poor people. And we all know black people and poor people are fat. And don't forget that fat people are lazy.

Another thing that bothers me is the presumption that "these states could benefit" from efforts to lose weight. Well, California, I'm sorry but you're not off the hook. The colors make it appear to go from "oh what perfect people" to "OMG they are all dying". But, really, it's 20% vs. 30%. Don't pretend Alabama needs something that those pale orange states don't.

The final thing that bothers me is that this is just plain not true. (News report and article.) The South doesn't hold all the fat people after all. More importantly, we are continuing to report using maps that are 1) not true and 2) reinforcing prejudiced views about obesity.

But the real point of all this, now that I've gotten off my chest the data flaws of our US Obesity reporting, is the point that "losing weight" is the number one New Year's Resolution. Of course it is. It's drilled into our heads from every direction--public health, medicine, the media, our own social networks--that we should be thinner.

As a rule, I do not make New Year's Resolutions. I won't go into why, lest you think I'm some crunchy granola hippie, which I'm definitely not. But New Year's Resolutions are usually about doing something that's hard, something that you believe will make you a better person. A singular focus on weight loss is not about being a better person, it's about self-hatred of the person you are. You can't change the external you, no matter how much you hate it. You can change the internal things you feel and the choices you make. Perhaps external changes will follow, but if they don't have you truly failed? 

So, when you make those resolutions, think about what you are asking of yourself. Are you really trying to improve yourself, do something different or new, or take a step forward? Or are you trying to change something you dislike about yourself that you really can't control? Don't resolve to change an outcome, resolve to change a behavior or belief. Because resolving to change an outcome is going to fail, and we'll be right back here again in 2015.

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