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19 December 2014

This time of year is plagued with contradictions; we’re invited to honour traditions while being tempted by the new – welcomed to value the priceless as we spend money on those close to us. As nights darken towards the winter solstice this Sunday, we want to hibernate but instead we head out more than at any other time of year; our bodies are in an endless push and pull between instincts and imperatives.

Something has to give; so we might feel a little under the weather, shed commitments or perhaps we don’t end up looking quite as perfect as we’d like when descending the stairs on Christmas day, vitamin D-deprived and puffy-eyed.

Feeling less than 100 per cent is, I believe, the product of a culture that both creates exhaustion and then condemns us for it; a “work hard, play harder”, non-stop culture that is obsessed with status and performance. It’s a culture in which “FOMO” (the fear of missing out, apparently) has somehow become an unofficial word. And it’s a culture in which one’s moments of tiredness or the odd headache are seen as threats to the self that must be combated with pills, caffeine and purchases.

Just take a look at the adverts that surround us. This winter, one has tried to convince me that drinking a mere smoothie will allow me to “show winter who’s boss”. Such words suggest that we should beat nature, not be part of it. Somehow, seasons have become our enemies.

One advert that I saw recently featured a cartoon woman seemingly with a cold or flu and worrying about missing her daughter’s school play. “Don’t be afraid of missing out,” part of the advert read. But since when did pain-relief adverts start playing on psychological insecurity rather than physical pain itself?

Nurofen’s phrase “For lives bigger than pain” also seems to be suggesting that we can be superhuman, transcending our physical bodies. It’s part of the same discourse that dangerously frames even cancer as a “battle” to be won or lost. Such language is unhelpful; it builds on and reflects a culture in which bodies either win or fail. Such language is unhelpful; it builds and reflects a culture in which bodies either win or fail; a culture in which, when structural or social factors cause setbacks, the burden of fixing them is thrown on to the individual.

As the festive season calls on us to contemplate and consume, perhaps it’s best to ditch the fear of missing out and the language that breeds it. Accepting our instincts and our bodies is surely much more empowering than trying to win in the battle against them.

Alice Bloch is an associate producer for Monocle 24.


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