Saturday, May 31, 2008

Model bans

In the past year or so, there have been efforts to ban models deemed "too thin" from participating in high-fashion runway shows. If a model arrived with a BMI in the "underweight" range, she would be pulled from the lineup. The goal of all this is to combat eating disorders. This isn't effective for several reasons:

1. BMI isn't a good criterion for "health." It's especially difficult to apply to adolescents, and female models especially are getting younger and younger.
2. Being super-thin will have even greater cachet when it becomes forbidden. A model could spin being "too thin for Madrid" or "too thin for Prada" into an asset. Designers who know that controversy sells wouldn't balk at using super-thin models.
3. More media attention = more photos of shockingly thin models, regardless of if they're still on the runway or not.
4. It's sexist. Male models aren't as drastically thin as some female models, but they're getting there. Men get eating disorders, too*.
5. You're missing the target audience. I remember looking admiringly at thin runway models, sure, but I was just as envious of actresses, singers, and magazine models. If you're trying to influence girls in the 12-18 age range, targeting haute couture isn't the most efficient tactic - they're more in tune with popular culture.
6. It doesn't get to underlying issues. As a society, we attach normative values certain foods, lifestyles, and body types. High-fat, high-sugar, high-carb foods are "bad." Low-calorie foods are "good." Toned, exercised bodies are "good," flabby thighs are "bad." It's still socially acceptable to denigrate overweight and obese people, because it's assumed that they're too lazy, stupid, or stubborn to lose weight and live "healthfully." My own experience with anorexia was much more about fearing being fat - thus being a "bad" person** - than wanting to look like a model.

Banning models is a drop in the bucket. Besides, do you really want to take away these girls' meal tickets?

* Just don't call it "manorexia." Or "drunkorexia" or "brideorexia" or "momorexia." But that's for another post.
**Apologies for the quotation mark overload.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The sheep from the gloat

I'm going to brag just a teeeeensy bit: I won some money for a paper I wrote. More than the last time I won money for writing ($150 from the DAR for an essay). And I feel pretty good about it.

Friday Reads

Ooooh, lookee, wild people! Let the ethical quandaries ensue.

From the Vatican: iron my alb.

Condoleezza Rice once saw Paul Revere and the Raiders in concert, so we know she's a patriot. Oh and she likes Kiss too.

Love the hats. Don't love how moronic these women sound.

Israeli public relations: yer doin it wrong.

Note to all: I have a birthday in September. This is what I want.

This kid is probably annoying as hell in person, but his album title wins him props from me.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Why I shouldn't watch TV

I despise this commercial, and I can't decide if that makes me a bad person.

Don't get me wrong - it's great that Pampers is donating vaccines. If more people buy Pampers as a result, then everybody comes out happy.

Still, there are a couple of things that bother me about the commercial. First, it's very mommy-centric - none of the babies appear with a father or older sibling or whatnot. Second, I feel an adequate summary is "Thank you, pretty well-dressed white lady! Thank you for saving all us brown mothers and children, because we can't do it ourselves." The white Western mother is the savior; the brown non-Western mothers her grateful beneficiaries. I see a connection between this and the US's general attitude toward developing countries: we know what's best for you, and we're going to show you the right way to live. This view generally disregards our own contributions to the current poverty of the Third World.

At the same time ... if you're poor and you have the opportunity to get your child vaccinated at no cost, you're going to do it. And yes, if you saw the (white, wealthy) person who provided the vaccine, you'd probably thank them. And damn, those babies are cute. Pampers isn't doing anything wrong - I just feel very uneasy about this commercial.

I should probably start muting commercials.

Kudos and apologies

I love, and I love this secret:

I also want to apologize, to this man and everyone else whom I've ever made fun of at the beach. Age, weight, and gender aren't good criteria by which to judge someone's swimwear.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Anthropology & me

Anthropology has eaten my brain. Today I was sitting in urgent care, absolutely miserable, and I started to wonder about the gender/power dynamics at the office. The doctor was male, but all the nurses and reception staff were female. The same thing struck me the last time I was in urgent care. This might happen to other people, too, but I imagine most people don't start constructing a plan for fieldwork while they're waiting to hear back on their urine sample.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Body image

I bought size two pants yesterday. Utter mindfuck.

Three years after my diagnosis, I still do not see myself as thin. It's jarring when anyone points it out - when my mother says my arms are "so thin;" when we run into someone we haven't seen in a few years and that what happened to you question flashes on her face. Part of me, rationally, knows how I look. When I see my reflection in the morning, I acknowledge that I am thin. But outside the privacy of the bathroom, there are no guarantees.

People don't understand this, and I don't blame them. Not everyone is especially fond of their bodies, but most people have a good idea of what they look like. They can predict how people will react to their appearance, they know what size to look for on the rack. I can't do either - because I don't have a stable body image. From day to day, from meal to meal, the way I see myself changes. It's profoundly disorienting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Friday Reads

My instincts tell me I would not like Madonna's movie about Malawi. Also, does Michael Moore somehow not understand how annoying he is?

Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war.

Responding to rude construction workers: yer doin it wrong.

Creepiest cartoon I've seen this week.

Article on gender at the doctor's office. It's pretty good until the last line, which reminds me of the time my freshman history teacher told us that the key to a woman's emotional health is to "think herself worthy of love." Had I not been 14 and stupid, I would have walked out of class.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Caveman for president

It troubles me that the writer of this commentary is a psychologist. First, I don't get the whole "comfort with aggression is sexy" bit. If a dude is going to drag me back to his cave by my hair, I want him to at least feel guilty about it. Second, is aggression really what we want in the next president? I think we've had plenty of that over the past eight years. You can take a stand and be tenacious without necessarily being "aggressive." Trying to reason with someone and speaking respectfully are not negative things in a politician - they're actually quite refreshing.

Thursday Reads

A Seattle federal court ruled that the military can't discharge you based on your sexual orientation.

Being the birthplace of Jesus doesn't bring in the dollas like it used to.

Glad my campus cares about my safety.

Recession? What recession?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Anorexia Lite*

*I swear, I just now realized that this is a pun.

I've noticed a self-deprecating trend in the way some people talk or write about their eating disorder(s). "Well, I didn't really have anorexia," they'll say, and then describe highly restrictive eating, self-loathing, or exercise habits that are clearly disordered. I did the same thing. Because I never actually stopped eating - and believe me, I tried - and I never dropped below 100 pounds, I talked about my disorder as "anorexia lite." I could point out so many others who were "better" at their eating disorder - the stuff of afternoon talk-shows and "Scary Skinny!!!" tabloid headlines.

This mindset, unfortunately, made me more resistant to therapy. I wasn't so bad off, right? So why did I have to gain weight? I wasn't passing out, I wasn't losing my hair (yet). As I told everyone, I was FINE.

People who don't have experience with ED - either their own or someone else's - often don't understand that ED patients can be a competitive bunch. It's both an excuse and a motivation. I devoured (ha) articles about ED - both to show my mother that I was fine, really, and also in the hopes of learning a new trick or two.

It's not easy to understand - I don't get it myself. But it's something to keep in mind if you're concerned about someone. And if you're the one trying to convince everyone you're fine ... it's possible that you might not be.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Organ Markets, part II

What would an organ market need?

1. People who want organs would need to be able to find people willing to sell their organs. A kidney isn't like an unwanted Kegerator; it's not something you can post on craigslist. An organ needs to be compatible with the receiver. It seems crass, but that's why we have car dealerships - to match consumers with products. I'd envision something like a private adoption or surrogacy agency.
2. Parties need to be able to negotiate with minimal transactions costs. If Max decides he can part with a kidney, and Charles wants said kidney, the two need to be able to set a price that gives them both gains from the exchange. Again, an agency could probably help with this part - provided they could gain something as well.
3. Surgeons have to be included. There will be some doctors who will simply refuse to do these operations, just like there are doctors who don't perform abortions. The ones that are willing could attach themselves to matching agencies or set up private practices.
4. There needs to be a distinction between living organ sales and cadaveric organs. There are different implications for a living donor than for a deceased one. A living donor needs to factor in recovery and time-loss costs; obviously a dead donor doesn't. However, organs have to be transported and transplanted quickly after death. Again, I'm thinking of an agency-based system. You could agree to give organs a, b, and c to the company after death - if your organs can be successfully transplanted, then your family (or your cat, or a charity) would get $x compensation.
5. There has to be some kind of oversight. I know the economists who espouse organ markets cringe at the whisper of government intervention in the marketplace. However, some kind of government accreditation could help - buyers and sellers might feel safer knowing that their organ-matching agency met certain rules and regulations. In general, property laws need to be respected and enforced.

These are things that would help an organ market function in an ideal world in which all parties would be able to negotiate on equal footing. I realize we don't live in said world, and that if an organ market were implemented serious complications would arise.

Markets for Organs?

The idea for this post came from my Economics of Healthcare class. We have an exam this week, so it's mostly for my own benefit.

Despite years of awareness campaigns and promotions, demand for organs continues to greatly outstrip supply. Economists have argued that allowing a market for organs would bring supply closer to the level of demand. Not surprisingly, this is met with quite a few objections. But how valid are they? And do they cancel out the benefits of increasing organ supply?

1. Buying and selling organs is morally and ethically repugnant. Abortion, gender reassignment, and cosmetic surgery might also transgress moral and ethical codes.
2. Only wealthy people will be able to afford organs. Poor people won't get needed transplants. This one is a little trickier. First, opening up a market for organs will increase supply - increased supply usually results in lowered prices. Second, the estimated price for a kidney on its own is in the $15-20 thousand range. The surgery to get the organ where it needs to be costs at least $110 thousand. Even if the organ were free, only wealthy people would be able to afford the operation. Third - and this is sticky - with the current system, rich and poor people die on the waiting list. With a market system, rich people wouldn't die. I'm REALLY not entirely comfortable with that last point, but in a strict economics sense, it works.
3. Thinking about bodies as commodities leads to abuse. This is even stickier. We commodify bodies anyway: bodies sell products, lifestyles, ideas. Second, you could argue that stringent enforcement of property rights laws would prevent this. However, that doesn't take into account the logistical difficulties of locating and prosecuting offenders.

Being an anthropologist, it's difficult for me to strip this issue down to the basic economic facts of it. In essence, an organ market would move goods to a higher-valued use. But bodies aren't conceptualized the same way as most consumer products. Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret Lock have written on the "anthropology of the body," looking at the way bodies are integral parts of human existence. In addition, there are already alarming abuses in many regions, and class and gender can affect who sells and who buys.

This exam is going to be a doozy.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Big-Box healthcare

I had some reservations before my eye exam last Saturday. Spoiled as I've been by LensCrafters, I worried that the Wal-Mart Vision Center would deliver sub-par care. Additionally, I just hate eye exams in general - glaucoma tests rank up there with cleaning the sink strainer on the list of Things I'd Rather Not Do.

The experience was mixed, but on the whole I was satisfied. There were all the hallmarks of a Wal-Mart experience - lack of personal attention, ugly and uncomfortable surroundings, employees who don't know and don't really care. On the other hand, the optometrist was professional and reasonably friendly. I got what I needed - a new contacts prescription - for a decent price.

There's plenty that isn't so great about Wal-Mart, but it's not "evil" like some people make it out to be. There are people in this region who might not be able to afford eye care at all - an impersonal but efficient exam is better than none. Same thing goes for the pharmacy - I'm pleasantly amazed every time I pick up my birth control prescription at the whopping cost of $2. If you're genuinely concerned about economic and social change, railing against Wal-Mart and other big-box retailers isn't the way to go. They provide goods and services at reasonable prices - just like any other company.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Stopgap post

Oh, there's so much to write about. However, the topics I have in mind require a decent amount of thought and reflection, so you'll have to wait until I have adequate time to devote to them.

Until then, you can read about my brave, wonderful, inspiring mother.

Friday, May 16, 2008

"Women's Issues"

Yesterday NPR did an interview with Valiere Jarrett, senior adviser on Barack Obama's campaign and a "longtime friend." When asked about attracting voters who currently support Hillary, Ms. Jarrett said Sen. Obama was going to focus on "issues relating to women." She repeated his plan to focus on "women's issues" a few more times before the end of the interview.

Funny, I haven't heard anything about Hillary pushing "men's issues" in order to expand her voter base. What exactly is a woman's issue? Reproductive rights, obviously, you might say. Sure, I know women who are active in ensuring my access to affordable BC and safe, legal abortions. I also know women who absolutely do not want me to have those things. Are healthcare and education reform only of interest to one gender? And if there are "women's issues" there are "men's issues," too - only no one treats "men" as a special interest group.

I recognize the pervasiveness of gender. My socialization and identification as a woman has shaped the way I look at the world in ways I might not even recognize. But my experience is far different than that of a woman of color, and evangelical Christian woman, or an immigrant woman. Having similar genitalia doesn't mean we all have similar political views.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Just listen

I know it's long. But when you think that this same scene is being repeated, tens of thousands of times ...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Food fears

When I was first diagnosed with anorexia, this was one of my greatest fears (not the Beckham part). Any food that I hadn't cooked myself was suspect - what if my mother had slipped something in? Restaurants were hard enough - now I have proof that sometimes waitresses really do things like over-butter veggies or switch out diet for regular pop. The only person who had any "duty" as to changing my body was me. I'm a fan of C.H. Anderson for the most part, and I get that she's ashamed of what she did. I hope this doesn't point to a larger trend in the restaurant industry, but given that "even the chefs would get in on it," I'm really concerned.

It's not obvious, but this is linked to the "thin privilege" I wrote about a few days ago. Waitresses who try to "fatten up" patrons, whether from spite or good intentions, are making judgments about patrons based on the foods they order. Bottom line - you don't know why a person chooses to eat what they do. People have food allergies, special dietary needs. Or maybe I just don't like butter on my vegetables. I understand that restaurant staff can't "rewrite the evening special." But if your patron has a special request, don't assume you know why, and certainly don't try to "fix it."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What constitutes a feminist issue?

There's been a lot of talk lately in the feminist blogosphere about how rising food costs, disaster relief, and climate change are all feminist issues. Yesterday I had a conversation about what makes certain issues "feminist." This is a surprisingly difficult topic, and a little exploration confirmed that I'm not the only one having these kinds of discussions.

Gender, in Western culture, encompasses a constellation of ideas, behaviors, and concepts. In varying degrees, it pervades every interaction and decision. This orientation toward gender makes it easy to brand all political and social issues as feminist.

There are a couple of problems with this. One, if all issues are feminist, then the term loses its meaning. Two, this perspective reflects a Western attitude toward gender and may not translate cross-culturally. There's unresolved tension between Western and non-Western* feminists as to different orientations and lived experiences. Three, the unfortunate baggage that accompanies the term feminist can detract attention from tasks at hand, such as disaster relief, or obscure economic and political forces that might be at the root of a particular problem. To paraphrase a recent commenter on if the patriarchy died tomorrow, poor people would still be poor.

As usual, I think the situation is far too complicated to be answered with a yes or no. I'm inclined to view all issues as potentially feminist. Viewing social, political, and economic problems using gender as a framework or lens is one way method of analysis. However, it's only one way to do so, and being quick to put the "feminist stamp" on any particular issue can be detrimental in some respects.

Tuesday reads

Fashion or neocolonialism?

This is where the forensic anthropologists are helpful.

Does a judge need to see your face to decide your truthiness?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Thin Privilege

I know I'm privileged. I'm white, I'm middle-class, I'm attending college. I have all my teeth and I use socially acceptable diction. All of these characteristics add to what anthropologists call "cultural capital," my ability to navigate power structures relative to others who aren't in possession of these.

And regardless of what I think on a given day, by most standards I'm thin - which, until recently, I didn't realize had its own privilege. Being thin has negative emotional baggage for me, so I tend not to see it as necessarily positive. This post by blogger Fatshionista! outlines common expressions of thin privilege. I recognized some of my own behaviors in the list - I'm guilty of assuming that large peoples' health problems probably stem from their size. There are a few I question, but then I've never been obese and looked for a job or tried to get health insurance.

The item that struck me the most was #18: "
My size communicates very little to most people and is value neutral. That is, most people don’t assume anything about my values, morals, etc. because of my size."

I'm very, very guilty of attaching moral values to food and body size - but I always thought of it as destructive to my own well-being. There were times when every bite I ate was a massive failure, an indication of my lack of self-control, my worthlessness. I'm ashamed to admit that I was terrified of obese people - in them I saw reflected everything that made me loathe myself. I was very sick, but I'm still disgusted with the way I thought about people.

It's taken me a long time to understand that my size doesn't have anything to do with being a good person. I didn't realize that by condemning myself for eating, I was helping to perpetuate stereotypes about obesity. To a certain extent, the way you look might be able to indicate something about the way you live: Mr. College Muscleman probably spends more time at the rec center than at the library. Then again, you can't know for sure. And while you might get a hint about a person from their appearance, there's no way to make a moral judgment about someone based on their size.

The first step toward dealing with privilege is acknowledging it. So now I know, and so do you.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Getting Old?

I recently raised a stink about this photo. People have called it beautiful, minimalistic, even "innocent." Say what you will about art - I know it was for Vanity Fair and not Hustler, I know Annie Leibovitz was in charge, I know her parents were there the whole time (probably). I don't care - she is fifteen. I have sixteen-year-old sisters, and I would have the head of anyone who took a picture of them in a bedsheet.

Last night, though, I started to think maybe I'm just getting old. I watched a sixteen-year-old Christina Aguilera writhe while singing about getting rubbed the right way and didn't think much of it. Granted, I wasn't quite thirteen when that video came out, so to me a sixteen-year-old was fully an adult - she could drive.

So is there really something more disturbing about the MC photo, or am I a curmudgeon ? Probably both. I'm fiercely protective of my sisters. But there are big differences in the two images. Christina is twisting her taut midsection and giving boys the eye, but the players are all on the table - she's a teenager ogling teenagers. She's in charge - the girl has her standards. And really, she could just be talking about heavy petting.

Not so Miley. She's topless in a bedsheet, her hair's a mess, her lipstick is smudged. No fifteen-year-old sleeps naked or wears that shade of lipstick to bed. Plus there's no context - we have no idea if the camera represents her pubescent boyfriend or her skeevy 40-something neighbor. She seems incredibly vulnerable.

In free speech issues I come down on the side of free speech, so I'm not saying the shot should never have been taken or published. But forgive me if I don't see the art.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Hello, My Name Is

If I were meeting you in person, I'd shake your hand, smile, and say "Hi, I'm Lisa." You'd be able to tell by looking at me that I'm a woman in my (very) early 20s who likes unusual earrings. I might be wearing a shirt that indicates I'm a student at a public university in the Midwest, and I'd be carrying a bag full of books to support that assumption.

It might end there. But if you talked to me for a few minutes, I'd tell you that I'm a third-year anthropology student. I love what I study, so I'd likely explain what I do and why I enjoy it. But after that, I'd probably start asking you questions.

You'd have to talk to me a while longer before you'd find out that I love strawberries, I'm a feminist (or I try to be), I like to listen to people, and I'm allergic to cats. It might take even longer to learn what kind of books I read, the jokes I like (dirty ones) the music I listen to, and what my favorite drink is. It might not come up, but I have a big family, a Significant Other, and a lot on my mind.

As for this blog, you can expect to read my take on being a student, Important Current Events, and my more coherent observations. I'll do my best to keep the collegiate angst to a minimum (except when I think you might get a laugh out of it).

So what was your name again?