Marie Claire (South Africa) - - TREND REPORT - WORDS ANNE FULLER­TON

‘great achieve­ment is usu­ally born of great sac­ri­fice.’ At least, it is ac­cord­ing to In­sta­gram, where, in one week alone, I saw this quote plas­tered across a sun­lit field of bar­ley, a pic­turesque lake sur­rounded by au­tum­nal trees and, in­ex­pli­ca­bly, a baby crawl­ing across a mat as men in feu­dal-era Ja­panese robes looked on en­cour­ag­ingly. The words, orig­i­nally ut­tered by US self-help fa­ther Napoleon Hill, seem like sound ad­vice: you can’t lose weight with­out ditch­ing the doughnuts, or get a de­gree with­out week­end study.

But lately, sac­ri­fice and self-con­trol seem to have be­come an end in them­selves. Barely a week goes by with­out a friend em­bark­ing on a detox, an ac­quain­tance ad­mit­ting they’ve given up al­co­hol for a few months, or a rel­a­tive an­nounc­ing how much more pro­duc­tive they are now they’ve given their TV away. This en­thu­si­asm for sac­ri­fice and self-con­trol is dif­fi­cult to avoid. Log on to Face­book and you’ll find the stream of party pics has been re­placed by gym self­ies, ‘fit­spo’ im­ages and ‘mapped runs’. Even our idols have grown as­cetic. The mod­els who sipped, smoked and snorted their way through pre­vi­ous decades have been re­placed by sun-salut­ing yoga god­desses who are more

likely to credit their suc­cess to hard work, med­i­ta­tion and a gru­elling fit­ness reg­i­men than to a fast me­tab­o­lism or for­get­ting to eat.

Of course, Gwyneth Pal­trow is the celebrity most con­spic­u­ously fly­ing the flag for an ag­gres­sively whole­some life­style, but even we reg­u­lar folk have started spend­ing our week­ends at farm­ers’ mar­kets in­stead of the pub, are in­creas­ingly par­tial to a green juice, and know we should be eat­ing more kale (even if we aren’t sure what to do with it). In the of­fice, too, the nar­ra­tive has changed. These days, the con­cept of ‘work-life bal­ance’ seems pos­i­tively out­dated. Sh­eryl Sand­berg, COO of Face­book and an out­spo­ken ad­vo­cate for women lead­ers, is urg­ing us to ‘lean in’ at work, telling an in­ter­viewer that ‘there’s work, and there’s life, and there’s no bal­ance’.

If the ’80s were all about greed and the ’90s re­belled with slacker swag­ger, the present is all about self-con­trol. Wel­come to the new age of dis­ci­pline, where hav­ing it all means giv­ing ev­ery­thing up.

So, why is every­one sud­denly as­pir­ing to a dis­ci­plined way of life? ‘We want cer­tainty in a world that is in­un­dated with choice,’ says Re­becca Hunt­ley, direc­tor of re­search at Aus­tralian com­pany Ip­sos Mackay. When you con­sider that we each re­ceive up to 300 e-mails a day, are ex­posed to any­thing be­tween 300 and 3 000 ad­ver­tise­ments in 24 hours – each sell­ing a dif­fer­ent prod­uct, body or life­style – and con­sume four times as much in­for­ma­tion as we did 30 years ago, is it any won­der that laser-sharp fo­cus is prized above all else? ‘In the chaos of the lib­eral free mar­ket,’ writes au­thor and philoso­pher Alain de Bot­ton, ‘ we lack guid­ance, sel­f­un­der­stand­ing, self-con­trol, di­rec­tion.’ In other words, we crave what we don’t have.

There are also less es­o­teric forces be­hind this new-found aus­ter­ity. Put sim­ply, we like our jobs – and in un­cer­tain eco­nomic times, we’re scared of los­ing them. ‘De­spite the way we por­tray Gen Y in wider cul­ture, many young peo­ple are very am­bi­tious,’ notes Hunt­ley. ‘In a world that’s in­creas­ingly com­pet­i­tive, they may feel that they need to have a rigid, pun­ish­ing sched­ule that re­lates to both their body and their pro­fes­sional life.’ Martin Hag­ger, pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy at Curtin Univer­sity in Aus­tralia, agrees: ‘Peo­ple feel they must com­mit more time to work – or they’ll be re­placed by some­one who will.’

Par­tially, at least, we’re choos­ing dis­ci­pline be­cause it makes us feel good. Stud­ies show that dis­ci­plined peo­ple are hap­pier in the mo­ment and in the long run. But some­where along the way, these things also be­came … cool. The more gru­elling the reg­i­men, the greater the glory. In­stead of reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, we joined boot camps. In­stead of a bal­anced diet, we chose juice cleanses. Even yoga has been tur­bocharged with hot rooms and ‘power’ ses­sions. ‘The pos­i­tive way we view dis­ci­pline is partly to do with the num­ber of high-pro­file ath­letes and celebri­ties who ad­vo­cate that kind of life­style,’ says Hag­ger.

Which leads us back to Gwyneth Pal­trow. Not only does the Os­car-win­ning ac­tressturned-life­style-guru share the full, pun­ish­ing ex­tent of her diet and ex­er­cise rou­tine, she wears it as a badge of hon­our. The 41-yearold’s trans­for­ma­tion of a per­fectly fine, stock­stan­dard Hol­ly­wood bum into ‘the butt of a 22-year-old strip­per’ (her words) be­came the fairy-tale rear-end­ing for our times. In the past, says Hag­ger, most of us would have viewed Pal­trow and her ilk as ‘ge­netic freaks’. But thanks to the me­dia’s un­prece­dented ac­cess to celebri­ties’ lives, that’s changed. ‘To­day we look at them and think, I could be like you – with the right ex­er­cise, diet and life­style,’ he says.

It’s a be­lief celebri­ties them­selves are ea­ger to en­cour­age. ‘Celebri­ties re­alise there’s a real mar­ket of peo­ple out there who want to know what they eat, what clothes they like, who their favourite bands are,’ Dana Ran­dall of FORM MGMT, a New York brand­ing agency, told The New York Times. ‘And, of course, they are won­der­ful busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties.’ Pal­trow can’t sell us the age­less genes of her mother (Blythe Dan­ner), a fast me­tab­o­lism or a Protes­tant work ethic on Goop, her hugely pop­u­lar web­site. But she can pub­li­cise the recipe for her sugar-free cup­cakes, a pre­scrip­tion for rock-hard glutes and a Bre­ton-striped tee for our kids. (Did I men­tion her kids? They’re dis­ci­plined. They only watch car­toons in for­eign lan­guages.)

Add to all this the trend to­wards self­im­prove­ment, and it’s easy to see why many of us feel the need for a dis­ci­plined life­style. Genes, up­bring­ing and per­sonal re­la­tion­ships all have an in­flu­ence, says Hag­ger. But even if DNA and en­vi­ron­ment have con­spired to place you on the slovenly, fast-food end of the spec­trum, there is hope. Some ex­perts be­lieve dis­ci­pline is like a mus­cle: the more you use it, the stronger it gets.

I should con­fess that my own al­co­hol­free month lasted just four days and the clos­est I’ve come to green juice was when I was clean­ing out the veg­etable crisper af­ter a hol­i­day. So, where does the re­straint revo­lu­tion leave those of us who have never lifted any­thing heav­ier than a glass of wine and still think quinoa is a mar­tial art? Just as the pu­ri­tan­i­cal Vic­to­rian era gave way to the Roar­ing Twen­ties, there will come a time when the idle in­herit the earth. It’s just a mat­ter of ly­ing low and wait­ing it out. And I ex­pect we’re quite good at that.

The more gru­elling the reg­i­men, the greater the glory

Gy­wneth (above and right) show­ing off her ‘22-yearold strip­per’s bum’ at the pre­miere of Iron Man 3, Los An­ge­les,

April 2013.


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