Saturday, January 12, 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Eating Disorders, Body Image and Thin Women in the Media

Back in December, when I was busy finishing finals, wrapping gifts and eating as many cookies as I could bake, the Daily Mail reported on a recent study showing that the brains of anorexics are "wired differently" from those of non-anorexics. As one of the researchers stated, "This means they react and think in different way to the ordinary person and that they are likely to go to develop anorexia regardless of whether they have been exposed to images of superthin models." He went on to argue that if images of thin women in the media were to blame, "we'd have hundreds of thousands of anorexics." The article concludes by encouraging readers to stop blaming supermodels for eating disorders.

I somewhat agree with these statements, but I think the underlying sentiment is very off-base. People often forget that anorexia and bulimia are psychiatric disorders that individuals don't just "catch" after suffering bouts of low self-esteem or growing out of an initially healthy desire to lose weight. Anorexics are often told just to "snap out of it" and be happy with their bodies, though their disorder is something they have very little control over. There's a reason why so many individuals with the disorder remain chronically ill their whole lives, despite the debilitating physical and mental side-effects.

I think the media, with its tendency to focus on the extremes of every debate, often ends up concluding that either the idealization of super-thin women is the cause of eating disorders, or that eating disorders are biological and cannot be blamed on the fashion or publishing industries. The media is always either contributing to a deathly illness or totally blameless. But I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. Certainly looking at a picture of an unhealthy model will not lead you to develop anorexia. But if you already have an eating disorder and you're constantly bombarded with messages saying that thin is beautiful, sexy and desirable, it only reinforces your beliefs.

Eating disorders affect only a small percentage of the population, so perhaps it's more useful to discuss this issue in terms of how the media's portrayal of women's bodies influences the self-image of the millions of women who don't have eating disorders. Does our society's obsession with thinness, our glorifying of women whose bodies are closer to gaunt than the picture of health, the very specific type of beauty celebrated in magazines and movies, encourage women and girls to have a healthy relationship with their bodies? I certainly don't think so.

There are many women out there who argue that it's ridiculous for anyone to compare themselves to supermodels or starlets, that they've never done such a thing and have always been content with their bodies. If this is you, I say that you're very lucky. Because in my experience, most women experience some kind of body insecurity at some point in their lives (if not their whole lives), and compare their regular selves to the "perfect" women they see in magazines and on TV. They want society to consider them beautiful, but when they don't resemble any of the "beautiful" women they watch and read about, it's difficult not to compare yourself and decide that you're not good enough.

I think we also spend a lot of time discussing other women's looks and comparing them. Whether you're at the cafeteria talking about how good another girl at work looks since she dyed her hair and lost weight, or sitting at the nail salon flipping through US Weekly with a friend and commenting on how bad such-and-such celebrity is looking, we talk about other women in these terms all the time. The media, with the barrage of stories about losing the baby weight, reporting on every pound gained and lost by actresses and constant analysis of the bodies of famous women, certainly doesn't do anything to discourage this type of conversation.

I think that even the most confident and self-assured women have moments of doubt sometimes, days where they don't feel good about how they look. All the studies in the world might show that you won't get an eating disorder from reading Vogue, but that doesn't mean that people don't feel a little less beautiful when they look at the perfect bodies of supermodels and actresses.

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Underwear Debate Rages On...

After reading a post on Jezebel, I read an interesting article in yesterday's Times (U.K.), in which Caitlin Moran wrote a hilarious, scathing attack on the unfortunate, unflattering "knickers" worn by most British women. Moran's call to action is to replace the thongs, briefs and bikinis that she describes as "little more than gluteal accessories, or arse trinkets" with underwear that actually fits our behinds. She blames fashion companies for not providing more attractive full-coverage underwear (not every panty with more than two square inches of fabric should resemble those hideous flesh-colored "granny panties") and argues quite persuasively that men really don't care either way.

I'm in total agreement and I'm curious what your take is on the topic. Have we been brainwashed by Victoria's Secret and other lingerie companies into believing we're better off in skimpy panties than more sensible, well-fitting underwear that actually looks good under clothes (what you wear for when your clothes are meant to come off is another post)?

If you're looking for more lively discussion on the topic of underwear, check out my earlier post titled "The Case Against Panties".

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Product Review: Conair Instant Heat Jumbo-Sized Rollers

For a tutorial on using hot rollers, check out my post here.

While my sister was blessed with thick, dark, full-bodied hair that looks good even when she doesn't shower for 3 days straight, I was not so lucky. It takes a shower, a blowdry upside-down and some work with a round brush to get my flat, thin hair to look alive. By mid-afternoon it's sunk considerably, and a liberal coating of Psssssst is necessary if I want it to look good for a night out.

I know that a lot of women would love to have stick-straight blonde hair, but proving the rule that the grass is always greener on the other side, I spent most of my life wanting thick brown curls, hair that was full and bouncy and quirky. In high school I experimented with dying my hair different colors (including pink after a botched home dye-job) and I permed it for 3 years. The combined effect of perming and coloring every few months literally fried my hair, to the point where it began to break and fall out. I decided it was time to accept my natural hair, boring as it was.

But that doesn't mean I stopped trying to fight my hair's natural inclination to play dead all day. After a lot of trial and error, I've finally found a routine and a good haircut that makes the most of what I have. And I'm pretty happy with how my hair looks most days, but there are plenty of times when I still yearn for something more fun and interesting.

For the last couple of years, I've curled my hair with a curling iron before going out with my friends or boyfriend. The curls added a little bounce, but the roots were still always flat, and unless I used a ton of product, my hair was usually straight by the end of the night. But a few months ago I bought a set of hot rollers on sale from Amazon, hoping they'd do a better job giving me big, full, movie star hair.

Because I didn't want tight curls or perm hair, I bought the Jumbo-Sized Rollers from Conair and gave them a try before a the first big party of the semester. After I blowdried my hair, I put in the rollers and let them sit while I did my makeup. It was early September and about 90 degrees in my un-air-conditioned room, making for a less than pleasant experience. I didn't know how much hair to put on each roller, or what areas to start with, and when I took them out, I found a number of creases and kinks in my hair, in addition to a few weird curls. But I had some hard-core body and fullness, and I was able to smooth the funky pieces out with a round brush and hairdryer.

Since then, I've gotten the hang of how to put in the rollers, with better results. After taking out the rollers, I look like I have four times as much hair as before, very feminine and glamorous but still natural looking. The key is using small pieces of hair at a time and starting at the roots, rolling the roller tight and securing it with clips instead of the crappy pins they give you. I really hate hair products (they tend to make my face breakout and the fragrances irritate my allergies), so I usually don't put anything in my hair before using the rollers, but I think I'll start to experiment with mousse if I want my hair to stay big and dramatic for more than a couple of hours.

The rollers add about 5-7 minutes to my routine, which really isn't too bad for special occasions. I recommend practicing with them a couple of times if you've got a big event coming up, since it does take a little while to get the hang of it. But I've never received so many compliments on my hair since I started using them, so the extra work is definitely worth it to me.

Anyone else have suggestions for creating full-bodied hair?

EDIT: Some people requested before and after photos. I was reluctant to post these, since I've seen how cruel commenters can be when bloggers post pictures of themselves, so please refrain from making any personal attacks about my looks.

Here I am (on the right) after I blowdryed my hair for 5 minutes when I was running late.

Here it is after blowdrying my hair completely dry and then putting in the hot rollers (I left them in for about 15 minutes and took them out. I didn't put any product in my hair, which probably would have made it bigger at the crown (teasing does the same thing but I'm a little reluctant to try that).

Products Mentioned in this Post:
Conair CHV14J Instant Heat Jumbo and Super Jumbo-Sized Rollers

Monday, January 07, 2008

Fake Handbags- A Big Deal?

When I read the Bazaar magazine was sponsoring a campaign to ender counterfeit handbags, called "Fakes Are Never In Fashion," I was more than a bit skeptical. How convenient, I thought, for a magazine whose advertisers are primarily the fashion houses producing luxury handbags, to come out and create a campaign encouraging consumers to avoid fakes and buy "the real thing." I found their statement "Profits from these counterfeit sales fund organized crime including drug cartels, child labor, and even terrorist organizations" vague and a little manipulative. Through the program, Bazaar is holding a contest where readers can mail in their fake bags and enter a sweepstakes to win a $1ooo luxury shopping spree. And I laughed out loud when I saw the link to an online store where you could "enjoy safe shopping for quality luxury products."

Most of the articles listed under the "Arresting Developments" portion of the site are worthless, but I did come across one that actually backed up the claim made on the main page about profits going toward terrorist organizations and organized crime. This recent New York Times column by Dana Thomas cites members of Interpol and terrorism experts who insist that the profits from sales of counterfeit goods often do support these groups. Many of the companies who produce these goods also use child labor, who earn less than $60 a month on average.

Most consumers purchasing a fake handbag think of the act as only hurting the luxury-goods makers, who very few have sympathy for. In reality, there is a chance that your money could go toward an illegal organization, though there's no way of knowing whether that will happen. Experts don't seem to know exactly how much money the counterfeiting industry sends to these groups, though one professor quoted in the article stated that "profits from counterfeiting are one of the three main sources of income supporting international terrorism.”

Bazaar makes it clear that the only solution to this problem is to buy luxury handbags instead of the far cheaper fakes on the street. What they fail to mention is that it's been found that some luxury brands use cheap Chinese labor or ship illegal Chinese immigrants to Italy to produce the goods. The workers producing the real designer bags get paid just as much as those working on counterfeits. Other brands will have 90% of their product produced in a Chinese factory, with the final details put on in Italy, just so they can keep their "Made in Italy" label. The article doesn't suggest that luxury brands funnel money to illegal organizations, but they certainly aren't the model for ethical corporate behavior either.

Personally, I don't feel comfortable buying a fake handbag, but I could certainly never justify spending money on a real luxury one either, especially after learning that a purse that cost $120 to produce is marked up to $1200 in stores.

What are your thoughts on fake handbags? And do you think the "real deal" is ever worth the price?