Rachel Head is a perennial New Year’s resolution-maker. She likes to start each year with a goal, and one in particular. “Usually, I want to lose weight so I can wear a certain outfit or something,” Head, who is 25 and lives in Los Angeles, said. “To do that, I have to go to the gym everyday.” But Head will be the first to admit: by around Jan. 3, she has “already failed.”
In Twitter jokes and our collected, exhausted cultural consciousness, scenes of last New Year’s Eve are rife with dramatic irony. The Times Square ball was dropped, glittering dresses were worn, champagne flutes toasted to an unfurling decade. In this country, the possibilities felt palpable. This was the year we’d have it all—until around March 15.
Later this month, Americans will tiptoe into another Jan. 1. Many of us will do so hesitantly, burned-out and a little scarred, not unlike hostages leaving a bunker. Who has time to adhere to the typical New Year’s resolution industrial complex?
Work out regularly! Read for two hours every day! Journal, or better yet, start making journals and sell them on Etsy—find a side hustle!
Those pillars of millennial self-improvement now seem hollow, almost offensive to hear. Maybe in the industrious early days of the pandemic, when we thought this was a two-months-tops interruption, we were into learning how to sew. Now, it’s enough just to get through a day, a week…
Head says she got into a workout groove when things slowed down in lockdown. “No one else was seeing me except for me,” she said. “That’s really let me focus on stuff that is internal, rather than external. The way self-improvement is represented in media has always been, ‘Fix yourself so that others like what they see more.’ Brands can fuck off with that part.”
This year, Head will not make a New Year’s resolution. “It’s scary, but also kind of freeing,” she said. “It’s always been my routine, but it’s important for me to not do that this year. I also have not seen that type of New Year’s marketing this year—brands saying go on this juice cleanse or get this piece of equipment to improve your life. I think there’s this acknowledgement that’s not happening right now.”
Head has started running, for fitness but also for the rare chance to see the sun after working from home all day. Head has not spent much money on equipment; all she uses for her runs are sneakers she owned before the pandemic.
There was one thing she wanted to buy—a kettlebell—but that was difficult to find. She recently embarked on a daily online search for one.
“It was really challenging to find that,” Head said. “I looked on three or four different sites. It was sold out everywhere. The only ones in stock were 50-pound kettlebells, and that’s why those are in stock—no one can use those. Other things like free weights and resistance bands have been sold out forever.”
Liz Vaccariello is the editor-in-chief of Real Simple. When coming up with cover lines for the January issue, one phrase was specifically banned: “New year, new you.”
“I’m someone who’s worked in health and wellness for two decades,” Vaccariello said. “Not only did I not want to do a health or diet cover line, but the culture of the pandemic did not want me to do it either. I’ve been flattening bellies for 20 years; we’re not doing it anymore.”
Instead, the editorial team went with: “A lighter life.” Not as it pertains to one’s physical features. Think Marie Kondo.
“We mean a lighter life when it comes to decluttering and organizing closets, but also about lightening that mental load,” Vaccariello explained. “We don’t have a diet story inside [the magazine], but we do have a story about healthy eating. I don’t think a diet cover line would land well, in the same way that ‘pandemic pound’ jokes don’t land well either. It’s not funny, because you want to be well and happy and grateful for the body you have.”
According to Vaccariello, “the people who wanted to invest in fitness have already done so.” They made the rush to buy Peletons in March and April, and are responsible for the shortages of yoga blocks and home sets.
“In mid-November, retailers were telling us, ‘order now, because Dick’s is running out of stuff,’” Vaccariello added. “So I don’t think we’ll see a lot of extreme fitness resolutions. What I think you’ll see is softer self-care resolutions.” The January issue of Real Simple, for example, includes “31 self-care rituals to set you up for a great year.”
Amy Conway, the editor-in-chief of Health, added that 2021 will “be all about people being kinder to themselves.” When she spoke with readers, Conway found that common resolutions included, “deepening connections with friends,” “accepting where you are now and not comparing yourself to others,” and “prioritizing happiness.”
All very different from the standard, “look good naked” or “stop smoking.”
“I think resolutions next year will be far less concrete than just, ‘go to the gym twice a week,’” Conway said. “It’s things like, ‘move more.’ People will be loose and more gentle with themselves, though I do think there will be concrete resolution about budgeting and spending less money.”
Health’s January issue celebrates the theme of “change.” Most of 2020’s changes have been thrust upon us, suddenly and violently. There are few positives. But Conway aims to help readers “stay conscious about how you want to live, take care of yourself, and the people in your life.”
Conway’s own 2021 resolution: “Basically, to keep doing less.” The editor has not gotten a manicure since March (though she did get Botox this summer). “I realized how great it is to let go of the ‘shoulds’ in life and the things that are business for the sake of business,” Conway said. “For me, even when life supposedly gets back to ‘normal,’ I want to continue to just do less.”
Unlike past years, the intention for change will center around “enriching lives, not depriving them,” Conway added. “People are thinking about learning something new—a new language, how to knit, or grow their own vegetables.”
Martha Beck is a life coach and author of the upcoming book The Way of Integrity. She gets the sense that people feel “more hesitant and less ambitious,” when it comes to setting goals. With half of the country working from home, the pressure is off to adhere to any gaze or aesthetic that does not come in elastic waistband form.
“That means people have become less self-conscious,” Beck said. “That gives people more time to be introspective, and start looking at their psyches. People who wouldn’t ordinarily be into therapy are thinking that way. There is a lot of turning inward, reevaluation of what people have been doing with their lives.”
Maybe, but for Alan Shaw, co-founder of the Charleston, South Carolina gym, Rhapsody Fitness, people still want rock hard abs and a tight ass. He told The Daily Beast that membership has grown 25 percent since the pandemic.
“What’s so interesting is that we’ve had an influx of people from the northeast down here,” Shaw, who used to be a Broadway actor, said. “In the last couple months, we have added about 15 new members just from Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.”
Shaw plans to offer “slight discounts” as New Year’s promotions. “Primarily our push is that we’re all in this together,” he said. “When COVID happened, we definitely shifted focus from, ‘how many squats can you do?’ and instead asked, ‘Hey, how is it being stuck in the house with your four kids?’ or ‘How is it with your 12 year-old being in a Zoom class for four hours of the day?’ ‘Are you OK?’ That’s why I got into fitness—for the holistic view of it.”
The chain Planet Fitness plans to ring in the New Year with “Good Riddance Day” on Dec. 28, bidding a not-so-bittersweet adieu to 2020. The brand is selling “party packs” (price: $20.21) which include a piñata that spells out this year and resembles a middle finger shoved in the air. It’s not quite “New year, new you.” More like, “let’s try this all over again.”
Becky Zirlen, senior public relations manager for Planet Fitness, told The Daily Beast that the gym chain recently found its own national study that 84% of Americans “plan to make at least one New Year’s resolution.” Among them, 72% said that “increasing physical activities in 2021 is at the top of their list.” Zirlen would not share how many people Planet Fitness expects to sign up in January or how many clients had canceled their memberships because of the pandemic.