“What was your New Year’s resolution this year, Meg?” It was the first day back from holiday break, and my friends and I were sitting at lunch at our High School cafeteria in Urbana. Despite my physical difference, I was never one to be challenged socially, and was happily crammed together on a table with nine close friends. I looked over at my friend, Beth, struggling to respond. In truth, I had a mad crush on a boy who was completely disinterested in me, yet everyone knew I liked him. I couldn’t help myself but to be vocal about it. Just about to turn seventeen, I was still immature and years away from accepting myself unconditionally. Due to my blatant physical difference I still hid my hands in photos and in public. . So, to me, my New Year’s resolution was obvious– to stop talking about him so much in public. I turned to my friend. “Hmm….I dunno. I guess lose weight!” As if I were a choir conductor and I had just raised my baton for all to sing, all my friends chimed in on cue. “Me too!” “Me too.” “Me too.”
As and the group proceeded to talk about how much they had eaten over the holidays and traded diet ideas, I noticed a girl, Sandy*(name changed), in our Junior class sitting by herself, close enough to hear everything. Unlike me or my friends, Sandy was very overweight and I quickly noted her face had dropped dramatically, upon hearing our comments. My friends continued to giggle together, yet I struggled knowing that the kind thing to do would have been to invite Sandy to our table. Or at least, invite her to anything. Instead, we continued on with our conversation, unconcerned with how our discussion might affect another within earshot.
In a momentary feeling of maturity, I changed my mind. My New Year’s resolution would be to be kind to other students who appeared alone. I began to get up to say hello to Sandy and ask her how her break had been. “C’mon, Meg, let’s go to the bathroom before the bell.” I looked back at Sandy and dashed instead toward my clique. I could begin with my new resolution tomorrow.
This past weekend my family and I were out of town at a bat mitzvah celebration for a cousin. After the service, we came back to the hotel and I turned over a People magazine on the table in the lobby whose cover was hardly a surprise. Its New Year’s edition was ‘before’ and ‘after’ photos of people who had lost a substantial amount of weight.
The cover caused me to think about New Year’s Resolutions—have they always been about such superficial priorities? I had read that back when the custom began in Rome, centuries ago, the expectation had a much more moral flavor—that actually we should commit to being good to others. According to the Gallup Poll, the #1 New Year’s resolution of 1947 was just that: “To improve my disposition; be more understanding.” However, consistent with People’s choice of cover story, more recent polls reveal a clear change in direction. In fact, according to the 2014 Gallup Poll, the #1 resolution was, “To lose weight.”
Scrolling around on Facebook, I figured I would see more articles about people wanting to look their best, get to the gym and such to kick of 2015. Instead, I caught a note from a fellow blogger and mom-flaunter, Julie Levinson (Ross), who had written for me a Guest Flaunt, “A Star Is Born” a few years ago. At the time of the piece, her child George (now Jessie) tearfully shared with her that “his whole life, he had wanted to be a girl.” Having become Facebook friends with Julie in the years since her Guest Flaunt, I had been delighted to see continuously positive posts about Jessie, such as last month’s, “If you see this kid wish her a happy 13th birthday!” On her wall, Julie found ways to praise others, even some celebrity parents, like Brad Pitt & Angelina Jolie and Annette Bening & Warren Beatty who have been demonstrating unconditional love for their own children involved in gender exploration or transition.
However, Julie’s most recent post was written on New Year’s Day, and described a horrible suicide of a young transgender teen that made national news. Julie’s response was simple, “Hug your children tight, love them for who they are and know that you are never alone.” Apparently, 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn committed suicide by purposefully walking into traffic. In an emotional note, Leelah described how after she had decided to come out as transgender at school, her parents punished her. “I immediately told my mom. She reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. [My parents] next took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends.” Leelah continued, “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights According to Leelah, like many teens, she had the “weight of having to think about college and save money for moving out,” but also added in her suicide note that she had, ” the additional weight of having to feel like [expletive] because everyone is against everything I live for.”
Not long after, I came across a New York Times Op-Ed, “Resolving to Create a New You,” by Ruth Chang, a professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University that particularly penetrated. “The turning over of a New Year is an opportunity to create ourselves anew. How? The key, I suggest, is in shifting our understanding of the choices we make. For many people the most important choices in life are sources of agony, dread, paralysis—even depression or suicide. It doesn’t have to be like this.”
Although Professor Chang probably wasn’t thinking about the choices faced by Jessie or Leelah, she has a good point. Upon reflection, for me, making myself “anew” meant transitioning from being a self-loathing hider (of my misshapen hands and feet) to a proud flaunter. But regardless, if the goal is for all of us to shift our understanding of the choices we make, perhaps the most important priority is coming to terms with who we are, rather than what we should look like in the eyes of others. While I agree with Chang that, “faced with choices, shouldn’t we simply reflect on what kind of person we can be?” I suggest that the best way we can commit ourselves to being more understanding and tolerant of others is to first become more unconditionally accepting of ourselves.
Now that resolution will help lift the weight off of everyone’s shoulders.