This time of year is depressing for a variety of reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, the weather makes me very sad. I want it to be sunny and hot, and it is never the latter and rarely the former in January. I’m a man of simple pleasures. A bit of sunshine and I’ll be as happy as a dog with two dicks.
Another depressing aspect of this the month or two following Christmas is that an alarming number of people seem to be on a health trip or detox of some sort. People go to the gym for a couple of weeks. Abstain from fatty food and boozing for a short time. Look in the mirror and hate themselves for a while. Make promises that they have no intention of keeping and then probably re-start hating themselves when they fail to keep them.
Now I am a man of iron will when it comes to exercise and self-restraint. A puritan. A righteous member of the clean-living club. So I swim, cycle, run and visit the gym all year round, and I don’t particularly let up in the period running up to the festive season. I don’t see the point of completely letting myself go for a few weeks and then spending several months trying to shift it. I also hate the mental and physical lethargy I feel when I’m not in decent shape. It grates.
But as I pointed out the other day, I don’t expect everyone else to be the same. People often look at me with a sense of awe, wish they were more like me and praise me and my lifestyle effusively. To which I reply, do not worry dear fellow, or dear lady. The furrow I plough is for me alone and is no guide to action for anyone else.
It doesn’t make me a better person. Far from it. It is actually a demonstration of my selfishness and complete, uncompromising self-absorption.
In fact, part of the fun is being a member of a fairly exclusive club. And there is something just a little bit depressing looking around and seeing so many of my work colleagues, friends and acquaintances drowning in a sea of self-hatred right now. Many of my workmates are already signed up for Weightwatchers and are busy counting their points every day (Even the ones who aren’t fat, such is their desperation to be super-thin, even though everyone knows that the Edie Sedgwick look is not remotely desirable. Normal is attractive. Not catwalk model.)
Their insecurities are being deliberately manipulated. After all, behind this lies something quite predictable and capitalist; there’s loads of money to be made in making feel like they need to get fit this time of year, just as there’s loads of money to be made selling people the means to put the weight on just weeks before.
And those involved have a vested interest in us failing to stick with it. The gym industry only has a sustainable economic model because so many of their members are ‘silent’, i.e. huge numbers of people sign up this time of year, go once or twice but then stop as their heart really isn’t in it but feel guilty about not handing over their money. If everyone went regularly the places would be too full to function. The whole thing is a great big fraud really.
Notwithstanding all of this however, no one is putting a gun to anyone’s head and making them sign up and use that cross trainer three times, and it is frustrating that so many people go through this cycle of insane over-consumption and then self-loathing every single year and never question their folly.
And although I appreciate it isn’t easy to be immune to the pervasive propaganda and guilt-tripping that swamps us as soon as Christmas is finished; after all, the media are totally complicit in reinforcing all of this and without wishing to sound like Antonio Gramsci we are all products of that ideological superstructure, a piece of advice to my readership: ignore it. If you know in your own heart that you won’t stick with the gym and don’t really want to go, don’t. The solution is simple: don’t spend every December living like there is no tomorrow. You don’t have to do it and if you think about it for a moment, it’s actually really boring.