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Archive for the ‘Contemplations’ Category

It’s been some time since I’ve managed to do a contemplative post; and for good reason – for the past few years I’ve been highly occupied with my degree. But now as I am awaiting graduation, I finally have more time to breathe, craft… and write out thoughts unrelated to my degree.

Yesterday, I came to read an article on “Size Zero” in the fashion industry by former editor of beauty magazine Vogue (Australia), Kirstie Clements. I was outraged to hear about the extreme tactics used by some models in order to obtain an incredibly low weight/skinny physique. After all, models are supposed to be models in the first place for being genetically blessed with a beautiful body, why should they have to resort to practices which endanger their health as well? I suspect that in many cases, such models resort to such behaviour not necessarily always because they might have an eating disorder, but because they feel that it has become a necessity within their industry. I agree with many of the sentiments in the article, among them that “it cannot be denied that visually, clothes fall better on a slimmer frame, but there is slim, and then there is scary skinny”.

The affinity of the fashion industry for Size Zero has often been blamed for society’s preoccupation with losing weight. I recall a study by Becker (2002) which would seem to support this notion. I would also imagine that adolescents – who tend to be specially sensitive to socially-based information (as fMRI studies have shown – Sebastian et al 2010) – might be specially susceptible to pictures implying that thin and Photoshopped is beautiful.

But irrespective of the cause, it would seem obvious to me – as a member of society – that many people in developed countries have a dysfunctional relationship with food. The other day, I heard a friend of mine mentioning that despite her efforts to eat healthily, she had been “naughty” (or words to that effect) due to lack of sleep and snacked on sugary foods. Irrespective of whether one wants to/needs to lose weight, it is my opinion that food high in fat and/or sugar has a place within a balanced diet. Perhaps I am one of the lucky minority who feels that I am able to eat whatever I want (within vegetarian limits, of course) – yes, that includes sticky toffee pudding and chips – and still weigh in on the lower end of the “normal weight” BMI category. In my opinion, there should be no “bad” or “good” in diets, only “more”, “less” and “enough”. In fact, I personally think that “sinful vs. good” thinking with regard to food mirrors thinking in eating disorders. One only needs to read about emotional eating, feelings of self-control associated with food deprivation in anorexia and feelings of guilt in bulimia & binge-eating disorder to recognise some degree of parallel. That having been said, there are of course other factors that prevent such thinking from actually contributing to a fully-fledged eating disorder as such, such as healthy self-esteem (relative to the disordered), genetics, personality and upbringing to name a few.

Perhaps part of society’s obsession with slimness stems from the relatively recent abundance of food in developed countries. It is all very well to adopt a Seefood diet attitude (“I see food, so I eat it”) in times of scarcity, however food is relatively easily available and cheap to get in developed countries. It is all very well to eat for pleasure – I do so myself – however unfortunately I think this is where insight, willpower and personal pleasure derived from food come into play. Perhaps part of the reason as to why I am able to stay relatively slim is due to the very fact that I recognise that delicious treats are relatively cheap and in abundance in the first place; so I realise that I could eat that battered halloumi cheese whenever I’d like, as opposed to being obliged to eat it right now. I thought about this after having considered separate occasions where 2 other people I know (who happen to be watching their weight) who have mentioned that they “were full” after having consumed their meal, and then displayed a significant margin of indecisiveness when offered more food or dessert. I suppose it is easier said than done, for others!

So, it would seem to me that society’s psychological maladaptation to an abundance of food might partially be to blame for the thin ideal, given that being svelte has become an elusive state. Perhaps just as being curvaceous was a sign of vitality, good nutrition and wealth to support it in days long gone, being slim has become associated with having the money to have a personal trainer, a gym membership and health food (although in my opinion, seasonal vegetables, wholemeal grains and cheap proteins such as beans/pulses/eggs are widely available – and at prices comparable to those of crisps and sweets; and exercise can be done for free in the form of walking, gardening and other hobbies). It is just crazy and sad when the end response of the fashion industry is to go overboard, though.

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The 11th of November marks the day the Allies and Germans signed an armstice putting the end to the fighting of World War I. In France, it is a national holiday while in the UK, people start wearing red poppies (see picture) from the beginning of November to show their support for the Royal British Legion.

Ironically, as an armstice only signifies an ‘end to fighting in the battlefield’, apparently WWI only really ended on the 3rd of October 2010, when Germany finished paying off its reparations. I say, why just wear a poppy on the day the fighting ended? Shouldn’t we show our sympathy for the troops on the actual days when lions lead by donkeys were massacred? France having a holiday on Armstice day rather appears to celebrate “the day the politicians finally woke up and decided to end unnecessary bloodshed despite the catastrophes of the Somme, Paschendale etc.”

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I think there should be emphasis on allowing women to do whatever they want to do alongside allowing them equal opportunities as men, rather than priming women to become like men.

Learning to be left on the shelf, by Eleanor Mills

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Not the usual debate on determinism/free will, but rather, a question araised as to how often do we make choices that have not a spot of influence from the society around us?

I was reading a passage by Pobedonotsev on parliamentary democracy. Key phrases included:

  • “What is this freedom by which so many minds are agitated, which inspires so many insenate actiona… which leads the people so often to misfortune?”
  • “… the democracy now aspires to universal suffrage – a fatal error…”

Having been exposed to Western ideas of democracy, I initially scoffed at what he said. But then here come the more interesting parts:

  • “… an aggregation of votes alone has a relative value… “
  • “… the real rulers are the dextrous manipulators of votes… “

While I understand that what he meant was based somewhat on the principle that a single vote alone has little “power”, this did make me think about the views of society in influencing our votes. What if despite that voting may be anonymous and private (not that this was the case in Pobedonotsev’s time), what if we are inclined to vote for Party X because everybody else around you seems to think it may be good while you haven’t done your research/don’t really care? While it is hard to say who are the dextrous manipulators of votes or even if there is an individual responsible for it (I think “manipulators” indicates responsible intent), perhaps social forces tinge our opinions unconsciously, even if we as individuals in a controlled environment would have free will.

That having being said, given that he says that these manipulators

  • “… rule the people as any despot or military dictator might rule it…”; while
  • “This history of mankind bears witness that the most necessary and fruitful resforms… emanated from the supreme will of statesmen, or from a minority enlightened by lofty ideas and deep knowledge” ,

the fact that he seems to have a natural bias for the statesmen as the only people capable of learning as well as that they might be somewhat superior in ideology to the “despot” makes me suspicious of the thrust of his argument. Do we attribute it to social factors?

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Mom found some kittens that had been abandoned by one of our neighbours. Now she is not a cat enthusiast so the fact that she has an interest in them just says something about how cute they are!

Now, what is it that makes us croon over what we call cute? Perhaps it is something that evolved to encourage maternal relationships alongside the the concept of cuteness – a mother attracted to cuteness would be more likely to supervise her child’s growth and hence these genes would be passed on (similarly, babies that look cute are more likely to survive and pass on these genes.) Consider that we also enjoy contact comfort (smooth skin = baby, or smooth skin = good health when choosing a mate?), as shown by Harlow and Zimmerman’s monkeys so perhaps there is a greater inclination for the soft and furry in general in people who are drawn to cute things.

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