New year, same anxiety

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“There's glitter on the floor after the party
Girls carrying their shoes down in the lobby
Candle wax and Polaroids on the hardwood floor
You and me from the night before…
I want your midnights
But I'll be cleaning up bottles with you on New Year's Day”
- Taylor Swift, “New Year’s Day”

“Nothing changes on New Year’s Day”
- U2, “New Year’s Day”

This time of year, after all the hubbub of the holidays is over and all we’re left with is the utter darkness and cold of January (at least here in Pittsburgh), it's easier to reflect on what has just happened to us — to our society — in the past few months and what it all means.

It’s no secret that the holidays — particularly mainstream ones like Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s — have been heavily consumerized and tailored to the vicious nuances of capitalism. Every one of our human desires and flaws has been identified and preyed upon to manipulate how we act, how we feel, and what we buy. The shorter and darker the days become, the more we are sold the concept of holiday cheer and warmth that involves — of course — the purchase of food, gifts, and decorations.

Possibly the pinnacle of our psychological manipulation happens on the very last day of every year, as we look over the precipice of our lives and change the very numbers we associate with the time we are living in. More than birthdays, the new year is an undeniable reminder of the transience and change inherent to our human lives. Once that clock strikes midnight, there’s nothing you can do to turn it back, and we have been conditioned to think that what we do on that night and the month after can soften the blow of that permanence.

New Year’s Eve is a lot of things, at least from my perspective. New Year’s Eve is alcohol and parties and glitter and crowds. It is to be spent around as many other people as possible, in a cute outfit, with a glass of champagne. You are meant to do whatever possible to avoid thinking about what it all means: what you have or have not done in the last year, how we are just that much closer to irreversible climate damage, how much you are falling short of where society tells you you should be (more on that later). Maybe if you’re lucky, or living in “When Harry Met Sally,” you’ll have someone to kiss at midnight so that you can start the new year off right with a romantic partner, just like society says you should.

But does a nice lady like myself need a partner to accompany me and my sparkly minidress into the new year? Maybe not, if I’ve taken the time to address all the reformations I need to make to feel like my life is fulfilling within the next month. That’s right. I’m talking about New Year’s resolutions: new year, new me.

In my experience, capitalism's psychological game makes a particular attack on women during these holidays. In the weeks leading up to the New Year, deprived of the numbing tools we use on New Year’s Eve, many of us find ourselves tallying up the failures of the past year, measuring ourselves against the pretty, skinny, athletic, motherly, career-driven, smart, and at-peace feminine goddess we are supposed to be, every second of every day. We start with one goal for the next year: lose weight (see “Bridget Jones’ Diary”).

As we dissect what this means for us, things begin to spiral. Losing weight means eating differently and working out. Maybe we need to start shopping at a “higher-quality,” more expensive grocery store — maybe Whole Foods? We should invest in a gym membership. It’s for us, after all — self-care! All this spending means we are gonna need to spend extra time at work or work harder at school — rightfully so, since we have been meaning to focus more on our career, show the world the smart, independent “girlbosses” we are. Then when will we have time for the working out and the cooking? Maybe we’ll start waking up at five in the morning. What’s the loss of a little sleep? Soon there is a daily to-do list, which involves a face mask, solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, and meditation or some alternate spiritual activity associated with a religion we know nothing about and have never researched.

We are told that all of this is for us, but what is it that motivates us to do it? A genuine desire for self-improvement or the ceaseless need to catch up to the newest, shiniest model of a successful woman that men are selling us to convince us that we are free and independent in society, even if we are not?

Of course, no matter how much you want all of these things, or even want to believe in them, it's rarely possible to do all of it, especially if you are not genuinely motivated. Maybe on New Year’s Day, we force ourselves into a mantra of thinking that our success on this day will be reflected in the 364 days to come, but most feel that they are setting themselves up for a very disappointing and self-flagellating month of January.

Then that’s that. We repeat the whole process the next year like nothing ever happened like it worked the last time we tried it like we’re Sisyphus himself. Each year we are reminded that we will never live up to the expectations set for us, we will never buy enough or work enough or be enough for a pitiless and voracious system. We do what we can to get by; we drink champagne and we sing songs and maybe we watch a ball slide down a pole and we watch another year pass with a dim hope that maybe the next one won’t end.