Hello and welcome to The Worst Month To Be A Woman! In case you aren’t aware, (i.e. you are a man or Wendi Deng, who is too busy soaking up the sun with a 21-year-old to notice institutional sexism), January is an annual 31-day public service announcement in which the subject is Women’s Failure, and topics range from being too fat, too old, too dull, too predictable, too angry, too boozy or too lazy.
The announcement is well-timed. We’ve relaxed, indulged, ignored the usual restraints we believe are healthy and/or socially acceptable. And most dangerously, we’ve let our guard down. For around four to five days out of 365, we’ve recklessly, senselessly and selfishly allowed ourselves to eat and drink whatever we like. So now we’re cowering like Catholic school girls on our way to confession; now we have to atone a woman’s ultimate sin: putting prosecco before thigh gaps.
We encourage each other to confess, to atone, to restrain and to starve. We take this toxic message, breath it in and breathe it out as we look in the mirror and and grab onto our love handles
So here were are: stepping into the New Year and as we’re met with the scent of promise and hope and possibility and clean slates, we can’t actually find its source because we’re too distracted with guilt round our necks, heavy like an albatross smelling of roast potatoes and tight like shackles round our chubby ankles that count how many steps we haven't taken since December 24.
And as we stagger into the 2017, heavy with carbs and money worries and the inability to remember how to get dressed in the morning when it’s this cold, we trudge to the sound of our guilt. And that sound is everywhere.
Leading the charge is the tabloids. A double page spread in the Daily Mail this week profiled women who are a size four and declared that to be anything but on January 1st was nearly as disgusting as Jabba the Hutt in a Donald Trump wig. This message – which is one of your inadequacy – is topped up by the Mail, and plenty of other media outlets, with a helping of 21-year-old slebs prancing on a beach in the Bahamas. And this, women of Britain, this is the Queen’s Speech of the annual public broadcast: “None of these women dared eat this christmas, so why on earth did you?”, they bellow. “None of these women crammed Galaxy chocolate into their mouths before 11am over the festive period, so what were you thinking?” they mock. “And that’s why they are slim and they are somewhere fabulous being fabulous because being slim is the answer to everything. Remember only this: a dress size maketh a woman".
And so with our albatrosses and shackles, we head to the gym and pay for classes we can’t really afford. We raid our wardrobes and throw away clothes that make us look fat (all of them). We decide this year we won’t eat sugar or carbs or fibre or gluten or maybe anything at all because eating got us into this mess in the first place. We’ll run and downward dog till our toes bleed with heads bowed in shame, lapping up our punishment. And when we come home from the gym, we’ll turn on the TV and instead of watching The Secret Life of Zoos, we’ll watch women becoming better women by losing weight.
And then maybe our friends will invite us to brunch but they’re not eating so “it’s just going to be a green juice, if that’s OK, hun?” But it’s not OK because you’re tired from the downward dogs and you’re starving and you are so loathing of your own body and how you look and who you are. And so as you go to bed, you look on Instagram and all those skinny white women are posting pictures of themselves glowing more than a Californian sunrise and their tummies are flatter than Dutch tulip fields and their legs are skinnier that a four-year-old in an oversized football kit.
And we haven’t even got to the really gruelling bit yet, which is the fact the announcement doesn’t just come from media outlets, it comes from each other, from other women: “Oh, I can’t fit into anything,” moaned one colleague. “Oh, god, I’ve got to eat less,” said a friend. We’ve internalised it; we repeat the mantras to ourselves and to each other and we believe it. We encourage each other to confess, to atone, to restrain and to starve. We take this toxic message, breath it in and breathe it out as we look in the mirror and and grab onto our love handles. We become implicit in this eco-system of harmful, misogynistic shit.
But hey, hold tight, friends. There’s only 26 days to go. It will be a slog: the media will tell you you're fat and lazy for the next three weeks and the gloom and the cold and being broke won’t do much to drown out the noise. The guilt will be heavy (almost as heavy as you!) but this is our month of repenting and starving. Because right now we need to collectively apologise to the world for not being Wendi Deng; skinner than a 16-year-old, dating a boy not much older and have money pouring out of our tiny tiny arse. It’s not going to easy.