For the last five-some years, I’ve given up making New Year’s Resolutions. Instead I have what I call the New Year’s Project. Each year I pick a large topic, and spend my time on and off throughout the year teaching myself about it. One year it was futurism (an obvious topic, consider how many New Year’s predictions articles always get run). I read up on who were the leading futurists, joined a futurist group and went to their meetings, and worked on making predictions myself. I learned useful concepts like cone of uncertainty, and how to take the long view, and how to do scenario planning. But most importantly I learned we cannot know the future, and as we try to plan we must be always ready to shift. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying to plan; it just means maintaining a yogi-level flexibility.
This last year I decided beauty would be my project. Not art and architecture, which I have always appreciated, but traditional feminine beauty. I have always had an uneasy relationship with the ideals of feminine beauty– having been raised a feminist I suspected makeup and infrastructure garments were a tool of patriarchy to hobble us by taking away two hours of our life every morning. But hey, why not question my assumptions?
I went to a spa and had my eyebrows waxed (yes, it’s as painful as it sounds.) I took a lesson on how to apply makeup, and became a Sephora regular (way more fun than that sounds). I had a concierge at Banana Republic walk me through how to dress my body type. I got lasik, which I did for so many reasons so it’s a little bit of stretch to put it in the beauty bucket. I certainly felt sexier without my coke-bottle glasses. I bought a wide variety of bras giving me a wide variety of cup sizes (I always wonder what men think about that: “look, she has magical expando-boobies!”). I joined a gym and watched my arms gain “definition”.
I’ve learned a lot, and much of it will be with me for the rest of my life just as the lessons of futurism will be. If I have a tough meeting to attend, I put on a bit of lipstick, like a knight donning her armor. A well-tailored shirt makes me stand a little straighter. I know if I work out regularly, I feel not just beautiful but powerful and playful. I run and jump like a kid, instead of dragging my feet down the street like a sack of potatoes. I love surprising salesmen as I easily lift that 23 inch monitor box as if it held only Styrofoam. I love racing Amelie down the street, lifting her high above my head as she giggles. I love not walking with a cane.
In November, in Thailand, having just stripped off my bathing suit, I stood in front of the mirror for a very long time. Our society holds up an ideal of beauty that very few of us can meet. We spend so much time chastising our body parts as if, like a dog, they would just behave if we scold them firmly enough. How many minutes of every day I had I spent, hating some part of myself? Despite my professed ignoring of beauty, I had fallen into the trap as much as anyone… maybe worse, because I was busy pretending the trap didn’t exist.
I blinked, and then I looked again at that imperfect body and I just saw a woman. Just a woman. Not a monster, not a supermodel, not a babe, not a cow. Then I went out and bought my first bikini in years. My much hated tummy deserved a little sun.
New Years Resolutions are so often based on self-loathing. Quit smoking, diet, work out are really “I hate myself, I hate myself, I hate myself.” No wonder cigarette sales are up and gym visits are down in February. Hating yourself is tiresome. Instead, give yourself the gift of a New Year’s Project. Learn to cook from scratch. Learn to swim. Figure out what the big deal about poetry is. Don’t lose ten pounds, gain ten ideas.
I resolve to spend this year playing games. I’ll report back in a year.