The Real Fuel for Sticking to New Year’s Resolutions? Wealth.

A group of women doing yoga.
This could be you, unless you can’t afford the yoga class!

Now that the glitter released at midnight across the country on New Year’s Eve has settled into every nook and cranny, it’s time to get started on those resolutions. According to a poll conducted by NPR in partnership with PBS NewsHour and Marist Polls, a cool 44 percent of adults have resolved to improve themselves in some way in 2019, and the most common resolutions are largely in line with America’s cultural obsession with weight wellness. Over a third of those surveyed singled out exercise, losing weight, or eating healthier as their goals for the new year. (Further down the list was being a better person, but of course that’s hard to measure on a scale and even harder to buy.) According to experts, only about 8 percent of people who make resolutions will actually keep them, and there exists a whole world of service pieces on how to make and keep lasting resolutions. But I’m here to tell you that the real secret, at least for the most common resolutions of exercising consistently and eating healthier in the pursuit of losing weight, is pretty simple: just be rich.

I was reminded of this fact by a recent article for the Atlantic on the “moral halo” around good skin and its ties to class. In it, Amanda Mull writes that “the general folk wisdom of skin care has two simple steps. Step 1: Do healthy things … [and] Step 2: Apply the right goop to your face, in the form of creams and serums.”

This advice is repeated time and again in women’s media, with an almost religious authority. In this advice is a little sleight of hand. The guidance usually comes from the wealthy, who have all the access in the world to the best skin products and treatments, and it tends to overemphasize the importance of lifestyle while sweeping under the rug the actual cost of tinkering with your facial chemistry. … You can drink as much water and wear as much sunscreen as you want, but the most effective skin-care trick is being rich.

That sleight of hand undergirds most conventional advice around what could be loosely termed wellness, a $4.2 trillion industry that encompasses everything from nutrition to skincare to spiritual health, all of which can now be bought for a fee. With that fee comes supposedly candid testimony from women like Oprah in her commercials for WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) and Gwyneth Paltrow in her self-branded Goop empire or even BuzzFeed stars in their confessional videos on how they shed 16 pounds in a month. But underemphasized or even just plain ignored in these testimonies are the celebrity fitness trainers, the nutritionists, the home chefs, the dermatologists, the personal assistants, and the whole team of people that makes it easier to lose weight or “eat healthy”—whatever that means now.

No, what these testimonies and the annual flood of commercials this time of the year for Nutrisystem, Bowflex, Jenny Craig, and Peloton tell us is that our nationwide resolution to get a “beach body” is within reach if we just try hard enough. It doesn’t matter that no one can eat prepackaged meals forever or that weight loss systems rarely empower users with an in-depth or personalized understanding of nutrition or that a lot of people just don’t have access to the free-range, organic superfoods that are the epitome of healthy eating now. It doesn’t matter that some people don’t even have access to clean water. And it doesn’t matter that healthy looks different on every body or that health is not a moral imperative. It certainly doesn’t matter that the average person doesn’t have the time or money that these celebrities have at their disposal, not to mention dedicated people paid to help them reach the body goals that we’re all meant to be emulating.

But of course, you can’t sell gym memberships, or workout clothes, or meal kit plans by being honest about how dependent our societal markers of health are on disposable income. The wellness/weight loss industrial complex depends on this elision, and on the fact that in a few weeks’ time, all these trappings of “health” will be abandoned, only to be picked up and abandoned once again in a few months. Bodies will continue to take a toll from the cycle of yo-yo dieting. Oprah and Gwyneth will continue working out with their personal trainers. The rich will get richer, and we will blame ourselves (wrongly) for not being able to keep up.