Rage, guilt, inadequacy, confusion, a compulsion to throw your phone into the neighbour’s garden in a bid to vanquish it eternally. It’s amazing the turmoil of emotions that can consume a person subjected to an Instagram advert for “Wall Pilates” for the 456th time in a day. What, bar the fact that I am wading into my 40s, has prompted the internet illuminati to rustle up a social-media algorithm of adverts groaning with ideas for self-improvement? What do they know that I don’t?
Is this the year that my ever-deepening frown lines finally get me to start googling “filler”? Is a six-week, US-dollar-priced course in manifesting my dreams what I need to bag Trevor Noah as my beau? Is the Wall-Pilates app going to halt my lower-back pain and perpetually puckering cellulite? And what is Wall Pilates, anyway?
It’s easy for paranoia to start muscling in when you realise that two decades’ worth of targeted wedding and baby-formula commercials have suddenly been replaced by physical- and mental-health offerings underpinned by the bots’ tacit acknowledgment that aging should now be my main concern. A recent discovery that friends, many of them much younger than me, have been botoxing for years possibly means that our digital overlords are not wrong. Or that their crafty consumption-driven agendas are working a charm.
A gander through Instagram is like flipping through a 1970s women’s magazine, but without the charm. “Say goodbye to generic face masks,” a local skincare brand tells me. “Experts are claiming the 90/90/1 morning routine will help you achieve your biggest goals,” a digital-media outlet called The Everygirl asserts. So many big promises on that small phone screen.
Of course, it’s the beginning of the year, so the rejuvenation messages are beaming in at warp speed. We’re supposed to be atoning for December fun times. This means mindful waking, no booze, more padel, zero carbs, Goodreads goal setting, a script for Wegovy, self-flagellation over mince-pie eating, hitting your Move target, and camping out in the self-help section of Exclusives. I needed to take an Urbanol just to write that list — the quest for zero defects (thinly veneered as “balance”) is exhausting.
There can be no enjoyment without penance, and the marketers know this. And hell’s bells but they’re making bucks off it, too. Last year, the global self-improvement market was valued at US$41.2-billion — which is practically the equivalent of a slightly flabby paunch when compared to the steely, engaged core of the wellness economy and its worth, which was set at US$5.6-trillion in 2023.
The fact that confectionery behemoth Mondelez International is consistently expanding the gluten-free Oreo range it introduced in 2021 says stacks about where the money lies. I am having none of it. Or, rather, I am having the lite version of this “be better” mania.
In 2024, imperfection is the new perfection, says me. Sure, I’m going to move my body at the local municipal pool during aqua aerobics and try to remember to take my probiotics. But I refuse to skip the chenin and staying up far too late on a school night to binge-watch the new season of Slow Horses. And I say down with Wall Pilates, down!
• From the February edition of Wanted, 2024.