There is a grape-sized pad of fat tucked in between the muscles in your cheeks that until very recently you weren’t aware that you should hate. Buccal fat is the thing that makes babies’ cheeks glorious and it naturally diminishes as you age. At the close of 2022, after it was rumoured that the American actress Lea Michele had extracted hers in order to make her cheeks more chiselled, the words “buccal fat removal” were everywhere.
In short: surgeons pull out bloody yellow wads through your mouth while you’re awake. There is a risk of partial facial paralysis and damage to the ducts that carry your saliva – but, as we all know, suffering both of those ailments at once is still far, far better than being fat.
There’s not a single part of a woman’s anatomy that society hasn’t at one point told her to change. It’s a perverse game of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”: dye your hair, Botox your forehead, pluck your eyebrows, contour your nose, fill your lips. What a painfully boring observation; we all know this. It doesn’t even make us flinch. Yet in the hyper-accelerated world of TikTok and Instagram, it seems as though a new thing to be insecure about is invented every 15 seconds.
I have watched women dissolve their double chins with needles only to end up more swollen than ever before. I’ve seen threads pulled underneath the skin on women’s faces to lift the corners of their eyes. For my work as a journalist, I’ve spoken to teenagers who’ve had Botox injected into their still-developing heads. Just before Christmas, “forehead reduction surgery” was trending on TikTok.
To a significant part of the population, the words “New Year” mean “new body”. According to YouGov, the top New Year’s resolutions for the past four years running have been body-related, with Britons hoping to improve their fitness, lose weight and change their diets far more often than they vow to save money, take up a hobby or volunteer. A lot of us could be healthier, and it’s no bad thing to use the Earth’s orbit to provoke a positive lifestyle change – but I can’t help feeling so many of us would be happier and healthier if we opted for another resolution: go a whole year without wanting to change your body in any way at all.
Keep your self-expression, obviously – haircuts, piercings and tattoos are more than welcome in 2023. But what if we all vowed to look in the mirror for 365 days in a row without fantasising about invasive procedures, without imagining a surgeon’s pen marks circling our abdomens? What if you went a whole year without wanting to lose weight, straighten your teeth, or peel off the top layer of your skin? What if you just lived in your body as it is?
The truth is, you’re probably going to do that anyway – resolutions are far easier to abandon than a half-eaten tub of Quality Street, and orthodontia is expensive. So why not save yourself the verbal and mental bashing – end the new year in exactly the same body you started it in, but with a brain that you’ve massaged and pampered, not tortured into hating itself? If you still want to change your body after that, go for it in 2024.
I’m not going to sit here and pretend the mirror is my friend. It tells me to have eyelid surgery because one of my eyes looks bigger than the other. It tells me I should have my jaw smashed with a hammer so it can be realigned more neatly. For half of my life, it has told me I am fat.
But here’s the thing: I’m bored of listening. I don’t care. As a teen with an eating disorder, I once cared to the point of near-death – today, I dedicate every second of my life to having a great time. They say “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” and they also say “money can’t buy happiness”, but they didn’t know that there is a brown sugar bubble tea topped with caramel biscuit crumbs that you can buy in London’s Chinatown and slurp through a big fat straw.
Here’s a petty little trick I employ when my brain tells my body to change. I look at someone who’s as thin as I want to be, or as chiselled as I want to be, and I imagine how boring their life had to be for them to get to that point. Some people are naturally hot and skinny, of course, and we try to forgive them for it, but behind almost every pair of abs is determination, dedication and pain. I mean, good for you if you value that stuff – totally, well done – but for me personally? Ew. No thanks.
Those last few sentences have the power to make a lot of people spitting mad – it’s not easy to abandon the idea that our bodies are a reflection of our inner morality. But I’m being flippant and facetious because we all need to be more flippant and facetious about our bodies. At the risk of sounding like someone who writes board books for babies, the things that make you “you” are far more than the fat in your cheeks or chin.
In-between all the nips and trends and fads and tucks on TikTok, I recently saw a video that made me beam. In it, a girl claimed to have “body dysmorphia the wrong way around” – she knew, logically and literally, that she was overweight, but laughingly said, “I always forget, because I’m so fit… I’m so fit, I don’t actually understand how people think I’m fat.”
More of this, please, and far fewer reminders that there are parts of your body that you can pull at or out to look supposedly better.
Make a revolutionary resolution and wave a brand new banner: New Year, same old body.
This article appears in the 04 Jan 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Sunak Under Siege