The shocks of a January detox
January, the snivelling old prankster, snuck in the back door when we weren’t looking. There we were, giddy with slothfulness, lolling around with warm wine and chocolate oranges, slumped and rippling like moist dough on our squeaky new couches, watching satisfyingly bleak Swedish detective programmes and scratching our sagging backsides. And there was January, blue and frosty and yellow-fanged, sliding open the patio door and slipping into the house.
January. Time to fret and fail, time to chuck out the empties, time to throw open the windows to the gales and the rain and the soul-destroying music of other people’s house alarms. Time to unpack the New Year’s resolutions, the fresh and the familiar and the downright cruel, and embrace the crawling shock of detox.
It’s time, my friends, to check in for the long black nights of self-loathing and pound-shedding and nicotine-withdrawing; time to wade out of the lake of damn fine half-price French wines and stand, shivering, naked, fat and bruised, on the shores of our excess.
They say we fail, or rather our resolve fails, because we aim too high. We want to fly too close to the sun, we want too much too fast. We want to be perfect versions of what we are. Along with the creamy liqueurs and spongy Maltesers and cold roast potatoes, we’ve also ingested an unhealthy diet of airbrushed celebrity. The most common New Year resolution is not to improve our souls or cultivate our wit (though many of us would like to read more and watch less television); no, if the screaming from the magazine racks is to be believed, what most of us want is to lose weight and get fit.
Routinely, we women in particular (although by no means exclusively) say we hate ourselves, or at least bits of ourselves. We stand in front of mirrors in cafes and shops and other people’s bathrooms and wail, “Oh God, I look like an elephant”. We bump into each other in car parks and dark bars, and terrorise each other.
A friend says: “You look fantastic! Have you lost weight?” And immediately the thought, like a tiny whip, occurs to you: “Christ, I must have looked like a shagging house the last time she saw me.”
Some poor fool offers us a chocolate biscuit in January and we accuse them of insanity. Are you mad? Are you out of your mind? Offering me empty calories, when I spent the last two hours trying to make the measuring tape I got out of the Christmas cracker actually circumnavigate my waist? Don’t you recognise obesity when you see it? Don’t you register the straining seams of my less-than-attractive leggings? Are you trying to sabotage my determination? Ruin my life?
We recite mantras to each other; we say that we hate our knees or our hips or our stomachs or our thighs. We say we hate the way we look on the beach or in the bath or in the neon chamber of a mirrored dressing room. We say we want Kate Middleton’s upper arms and Cheryl Cole’s hair extensions and Beyoncé’s derrière and Daniel Craig’s pectoral muscles.
We say we are going to work at it, get there, climb that mountain, smooth out those ripples, tighten those godforsaken abs. God almighty, I just want to get through a week of this brand new year without someone encouraging me to hang out of ceiling bungees and bounce my bootie up and down in the name of fitness.
What did we do before fitness? Eh? My granny certainly never ran a half-marathon and a lunge in any direction would have been out of the question. Why can’t we wear slips and nylons and big tweedy skirts again, and sit down and do the crossword and watch the birds break the ice with their beaks?
Why do we have to run around in Lycra and row to China and run to Offaly and cycle the Americas. Why do we attack ourselves like hungry piranhas at the first sign of a muffin-top?
The British minister for women and equalities, Jo Swinson, has written an open letter to magazine editors, asking them to consider the negative health implications of promoting “miracle diets” in the post-Christmas rush to purgation. She also said in an interview that women could do more to help each other ignore the media pressure to get thin. I think she’s right. We should resolve to ignore the call to skinny arms, abs and asses.
I think we should be radical, fundamental. I think we should march steadfastly against the grain and give ourselves a break. Now where’s the corkscrew?