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The exhausting concept of the “2022 rebrand”

Young women on TikTok are eschewing New Year’s resolutions for a “2022 rebrand.” But the rest of the world seems ready to give up entirely.

Rebecca Jennings is a senior correspondent covering social platforms and the creator economy. Since joining Vox in 2018, her work has explored the rise of TikTok, internet aesthetics, and the pursuit of money and fame online. You can sign up for her biweekly Vox Culture newsletter here.

There’s a thing going around on TikTok right now about “rebranding” one’s self for 2022; in other words, leapfrogging the concept of the New Year’s resolution and transforming into an entirely different person instead. The trend’s participants are almost exclusively young women, as is typical for this sort of aesthetic self-improvement content; they share mood boards of toned stomachs and Chanel logos, Amazon hauls of Olaplex and Crest Whitestrips, tutorials, and list templates that include lines like “listen to inspiring podcasts” and “get a fake tan routine.” They “soft launch” their 2022 selves by waking up at the crack of dawn, doing yoga, taking bubble baths, journaling.

It’s funny, not only because this stuff is so easy to mock (which I will not be doing!) but because it runs so antithetical to the general tenor of the present moment. Growth? Change? Self-improvement? In this economy? Nearly every New Year’s resolution-related commentary I have seen on the internet over the past week has come from a place of either jokey, performative cynicism (those Instagram memes that are like, “Before I agree to 2022 I want to agree to the terms and conditions,” the equivalent of a sassy Etsy mug) or takedowns of the idea that resolutions are worthwhile or even possible at all. “It feels like resolutions aren’t really in vogue anymore,” wrote my coworker Nisha Chittal in her most recent newsletter, and it truly does.

“Should you even bother with New Year’s resolutions this year?” asks the Harvard Business Review. “Stop forcing resolutions in January,” says Mic. The Guardian, meanwhile, published a story on why the only way to improve oneself is to embrace one’s imperfections. As an example, the author writes, “Your intention to make this the year you find your soulmate might simply represent your conviction that you don’t have what it takes to cope on your own. Even if it works, the so-called reinvention will only end up entrenching the status quo.”

New Year’s resolution ennui has coincided with a more general backlash to productivity culture, but also to unfair labor standards, and capitalism in general. If the past two years have succeeded at anything, it’s radicalizing people in the direction they were already leaning. Maybe you thought capitalism had some serious issues in 2019; maybe three years later you’d like to see Elon Musk in prison for the rest of his life.

If in 2020 you considered yourself a “hard worker,” perhaps today you’re questioning what you’re really getting out of that distinction — and not only in the rewards, or lack thereof, you’ve reaped for yourself. Perhaps you’re now considering whether individuals competing against one another for resources and prestige is at all beneficial for the collective good. Perhaps you’ve realized that those most likely to praise hard work and “bootstrapping” have a vested interest in keeping poor people fighting among each other.

The pandemic blackpill works in the other direction, too. Maybe you spent the last two years growing increasingly more isolated, scrolling through your social media feeds as a means of feeling connected to the outside world, but instead finding yourself incapable of escaping the endless carousel of beautiful people continuing to be beautiful and perfect and rich. Maybe your response to this is to tell yourself that next year, that could be you, and attempt yet another harmfully restrictive diet, or to start a side hustle and thereby give 100 percent of your waking hours to work, or to devote your energy into “manifesting”; wishing hard for something in the hope it may actually come true. These, too, are extremely understandable reactions.

Naturally, the “2022 rebrand” videos have their own backlash. I’ve seen several TikToks retort that “you are a person, not a product,” and many have pointed out that self-improvement is so often a hobby of the already-privileged people who have the time, space, and disposable income to spend on beauty products and silk pillowcases. Anti-productivity themes have been the subject of numerous books over the past several years, among them Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing, Celeste Headlee’s Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving, and Anne Helen Petersen’s writings on millennial burnout. Throughout the pandemic, readers have been extra hungry for content that assures us all that “extra time” we were told we had in lockdown didn’t have to be taken up by more labor; Vox even published a story in May 2020 that asked “Is this the end of productivity?” Yet by December 2021, my colleague Anna North reminded us that even as the world feels as though it’s ending, we’re still, somehow, at work.

So it makes sense that New Year’s resolutions, with their promises of becoming better, smarter, faster, stronger, are under similar scrutiny. Why, after all, should we strive for betterment? Trying has never been particularly cool, particularly when so much of the pressure to better ourselves comes from people selling something they claim will help, whether it’s a company selling an actual product or an influencer’s enviable lifestyle. Even so, we’re still willingly consuming content that promises to turn us into “That Girl,” or a certain kind of hyper-achieving (and almost always extremely thin) woman prevalent on TikTok, and we’re still wondering if 2022 could be the year we successfully rebrand our lives.

Anyway, this is all just to say that the only good New Year’s resolution discourse is the annual return of the “stepping into the New Year” girl meme, who, like all of us, has seemed to have had enough since at least 2019. She knew what was coming.

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