Archive for August, 2012

12 Going on 21??

August 31, 2012

Thylane Rose Blondeau

The other day I was being amused by my dog, Oscar, who has taught himself to maneuver his ball around with his nose while simultaneously chasing after it, a skill that provides him with hours of entertainment and exercise and requires no effort on my part. A young girl approached whom I didn’t recognize, along with a friend. She called Oscar by name, explaining that her mother had dogsitted for us before. On second glance I did recognize her as the 12 year-old daughter of our regular sitter, however the last and only time I had seen her she had been about to go to bed, fresh and clean and wearing a long cotton night dress that would have been perfect for a purity pledge sleepover. The girl before me looked like she had walked out of a poorly styled rap video. Her shorts, while already short enough to make me question if there was a manufacturer defect, were rolled up one more time to ensure there was no question of the fact she was indeed wearing underpants. Her shirt was slightly cropped although not as much so as her friend’s which may actually have been an undergarment. Both girls had dyed the tips of their hair purple, a fad among young Hollywood celebrities these days (I’m hip to the trends). After both girls had said their hellos to Oscar, they went back to their I-phone 4Gs and resumed what I assumed to be texting their friends while I continued to stare at them with a mixture of shock, disbelief, sadness and fear.

Pinpointing why seeing these young girls in clothing that would be only questionably appropriate on even an adult woman bothered me so much was difficult. Of course I thought these girls were much too young to be dressing so provocatively. However, I kept thinking that although these outfits were unquestionable “sexy” in nature, no one in their right mind could look at these 12 year-old girls and have a sexual thought about them. It seemed apparent that neither of them had gone through puberty yet. Although both had bra straps visible, there was no evidence that such underwear was for anything but show as both girls still had the reed-like figures of children, lacking any curves which would distinguish then from their male counterparts save their long hair and 5 pounds of make-up. These girls are simply not sexual beings yet. But deep down I fear that they could be and that they will be. These girls represent thousands and millions of other young, vulnerable 12 year-old girls today who are subject to exposures and pressures that their parents and older siblings couldn’t even imagine. Are these girls covering themselves less in response to current trends, or are they finding themselves in an increasingly hyper-sexualized environment and setting out to appear desirable in the way that they have been taught by society to do so (by wearing little clothing)? Or both?

It seems as though girls are becoming aware of the concept of sexuality at a very young age. A study performed by Jennifer Abbasi and published online July 6th in Sex Roles showed that girls as young as 6 were beginning to think of themselves as sex objects. In the study, 60 girls 6-9 years old were each shown two dolls, one wearing “sexy” clothes and the other a trendy but conservative outfit. The girls were then asked to choose the doll that looked like herself, looked how she wanted to look, was the popular girl in school, and who she wanted to play with. In all categories the girls chose the “sexy” doll, with 68% wanting to look like her and 72% saying she was the more popular.

Where would a six year old get this perception? Well if you are watching Toddlers and Tiaras with her, or worse if she is ON Toddlers and Tiaras, look no further for your answer. Otherwise she is likely sensitive to the same media images that all women, teens and tweens are bombarded with day after day. The images that tell us what sexy is and how we can achieve it. I can think of no other reason I turn over to allow a perfect stranger to pour hot wax on my most private part during a Brazilian wax I derive no pleasure from. In the article ‘Teenage Girls Report Pressure To Live up to Sexual Ideals’ by Alexandra Topping published on July 14 2008 in The Guardian UK results from a study by Girlguiding UK and the Mental Health Foundation were published. The study showed that two in five teen girls felt worse about themselves after looking at pictures of models, pop stars and actresses in magazines. Furthermore “the girls questioned described being put under sexual pressure from boys at school or feeling obliged to wear clothes that made them look older.” Many of the girls felt bad about how they looked and their weight. Of the 10-14 year-old, 32% had a friend who had an eating disorder, 42% knew someone who had harmed themselves, and half knew someone who had suffered from depression.

Lottie Moss, 13 years old

These numbers are similar to those reported in a May 2010 article on Macleans.ca by Kate Fillion titled “Inside the Dangerously Empty Lives of Teenage Girls where she interviews Dr. Leonard Sax, author of Girls on the Edge, about today’s teen and tween girls. He has also written two books about the gender differences between girls and boys. He reports that 1 in 5 girls in the US is cutting or burning herself. 1 in 4 high-school girls is binge drinking. I in 8 takes antidepressants.

Social media is also playing a big part in the image young girls are able to present of themselves to their peers and the general public in cyberspace. Girls become fixated on presenting the perfect image of themselves on social media sites, and can lose sight of who they are and who they really want to be. They don’t derive any real value or positive reinforcement of themselves as a human being through this type of networking as any type of interaction is strictly superficial. According to Dr. Sax “Girls spend a lot of time photoshopping their pictures, making themselves look a little bit thinner than they are and getting rid of the pimples, because they know boys are interested in the photos on these sites. So you’ve got 14-year-old girls essentially presenting themselves as a brand, trying to create a public persona, polishing an image of themselves that’s all surface: how you look and what you did yesterday, not who you are and what you want to be. And that leads to a sense of disconnection from themselves, because in most cases, these girls don’t even realize that their persona is not who they are. They’re just focused on striving to please their market and presenting the brand they think will sell.” And unfortunately as we all know, sex sells.

When I was 12, I was in 7th grade. I wore Guess jeans and corduroy pants to school. I wore turtlenecks and teased my bangs into this ridiculous style I now call “the rainbow”. It wasn’t pretty. My mother bought all of my clothes, and while I once cried until she broke down and bought me a pair of white Sorel boots I absolutely NEEDED or I would DIE, it would have been a cold day in hell before she ever bought me bootie shorts, a crop top or thong underwear in junior high. Or now come to think of it. Furthermore, many of these young girls look too small to be shopping in the adult section. However, according to Jean Twenge from San Diego University in the same Macleans article  “Forty years ago, if you went into a department store and looked at clothes for seven-year-olds, they’d be quite different than the clothes on sale for 17-year-olds. Today there’s no longer any distinction; the same short skirts are sold to girls in Grade 2 and girls in Grade 12. T-shirts that say, “Yes, but not with you” are now sold to eight-year-olds.
Girls understand what these T-shirts are about: pretending to be sexually aware.” Furthermore, because such clothing is sold in children’s clothing stores and in children’s sizes, parents are less resistant to buying it for their daughters. They think it is normal and appropriate. Suddenly this is popular culture. On slate.com Emily Yoffe wrote about back-to-school clothes shopping with her daughter in a piece called Lolita’s Closet. “A few years ago, Abercrombie, the ‘tween division of Abercrombie & Fitch, got in trouble for marketing thong underpants—with phrases such as “eye candy” printed on them—to prepubescent girls. Now scanty panties for girls are standard. At Limited Too there were pairs with rhinestone hearts or printed with cheeky sayings such as “Buy It Now! Tell Dad Later!” My dad was upset when my mother let me get my ears pierced at 12. He thought he caught a boy looking at me, as if mesmerized by the shining 10 karat gold-plated gems in my awkward tween ears and not just a horny hormone-filled adolescent pimple canvas. Thong panties? I would not have wanted to be around for that conversation.

Kaia Gerber, 10 years old

The more overtly style of dress young girls seem to have adopted is not surprising in our culture today. But are today’s youth being more sexual than those of prior decades? The answer is yes and no. Jean Twenge says “kids may be sexually intimate—the term as I use it includes both oral sex and intercourse—a little earlier and certainly they are much more likely to be having oral sex than they were 20 years ago. There are some troubling new issues. You find a lot of 12- and 13-year-old girls who are providing sexual favours to 16- and 17-year-old boys.” According to the July 2008 Tween and Teen Dating Violence and Abuse Study 47% of tweens  (11-14 year-olds) and 37% of 11 and 12 year-olds say they been in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. 37% of tweens say touching and “feeling up” is part of tween dating relationships. 27% say so is oral sex. 28% say sex is a part of tween relationships. 31% of tweens know a friend or peer who have had oral sex and 33% know one who has had sexual intercourse. Another difference according to an April 2009 article in Macleans magazine “Teen Girls in Charge” is that “nearly half of female adolescents now say it’s acceptable to have sex after a few times out together, up from 35 per cent in 1984. “Making out” is okay after being with someone a few times has rocketed up from 79 to 94 per cent, which almost puts them on par with the guys, who are at 96 per cent.” Teen girls appear to be becoming more sexually aggressive, taking charge of their sexuality.

These numbers seem high, and it does appear that tweens are experimenting with sexual activity such as oral sex earlier. But one positive is that overall the numbers of teens who are sexually active is not increasing. In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the percentage of youth virgins is increasing, as is condom use, and as a result teen pregnancy is decreasing. In the US 2011 and 2008 data are very similar showing that there also does not seem to be an increase in the number of teenagers having sex. There is also good evidence that parents and role models can play a big role in their children’s sexual health. The National Survey of Family Growth conducted from 2006 to 2008 by the Guttmacher Institute and reported by Stephanie Pappas  on March 8 2012 on Livescience.com (Sex Education Delays Teen Sex) showed that teens young men and women 15-24 who received any sort of sex education were more likely to delay sex, and use contraception during their first sexual encounter. Another study in the June 15 2011 issue of the Montreal Gazette by Laura Baziuk reported that 45% of teens look to their parents as their sexual role models. (Over their friends, celebrities, or no one at all). So with girls being sexually aware at a younger age parents should prepare themselves to talk to their daughters about sex earlier than ever. And read up before you do. She probably already knows a lot more than you think.

MANOREXIA

August 24, 2012

Our new issue of GQ magazine arrived today. The magazine comes in my fiancée’s name, however we both enjoy the subscription. While I generally skip over the articles about sports and cars, I do enjoy the monthly glimpse into the male universe. What are they being told to wear, read, eat, and listen to? Why are there 20 variations of the same brown loafer in my front closet? The answers are in this magazine. Plus the ads are much more arousing and don’t illicit the same self-loathing as those in women’s magazines. Read: gorgeous men, often in states of undress. But I digress. When I picked up the new issue, I immediately noticed the coverline: “SPECIAL REPORT: WHY MEN ARE BECOMING ANOREXICS”. While there have been several reports indicating that the number of men with eating disorders has been on the rise, I was surprised to see this article in a major men’s magazine. How big is this issue?

 

In the last few years I have observed some subtle changes in the behaviour of men in general towards food. It seems more men are drinking diet soft drinks. I hear more men ordering “skinny” drinks at Starbucks (hold the whip!) or putting artificial sweeteners in their drinks. A lot of my male friends choose salad instead of fries as their side dish. At the last wedding attended, my fiancée and I were seated at a table with four male firefighters. These men were young, thin and appeared to be in good shape. Yet for some reason all four of them were on the low-carb “Southbeach Diet”. I watched with fascination as they removed the single crouton from the soup course, refused the pasta salad, and carefully removed the layer of breading from the fish. I decided not to mention that the 12 vodka sodas they each downed contained carbohydrates. I figured they would throw them up imminently. At another dinner I attended, a male guest questioned why both potatoes and rice were served: “Who serves 2 carbs??” In a female, this behaviour would likely not have even raised an eyebrow. In these cases I found it bizarre and off-putting. Yet I wouldn’t have suspected any of these men to have an eating disorder until I read this article.

 

As a woman recovering from an eating disorder I know that the triggers for anorexia and bulimia are complicated. However it has been shown that the pressures placed on women to conform to the media and societal ideal of perfection can certainly be a contributing factor. There was a time when this was a concern of women almost exclusively. In The Beauty Myth first published in 1990 Naomi Wolf writes of women’s magazines:

“Since self-hatred artificially inflates the demand and the price, the overall message to women from their magazines must remain…negative not positive. Hence the hectoring tone that no other magazines use to address adults with money in their pockets: do’s and dont’s that scold, insinuate, and condescend. The same tone in a men’s magazine-do invest in tax-free bonds; don’t vote Republican-is unthinkable.”

And:

“Unfortunately, the beauty backlash is spread and reinforced by the cycles of self-hatred provoked in women by the advertisements, photo features, and beauty copy in the glossies. These make up the beauty index, which women scan as anxiously as men scan stock reports.”

20 years later, the content of men’s magazines very closely imitates that of most women’s publications. Magazines such as GQ, Details, Maxim and Nylon Man have numerous sartorial recommendations for the stylish modern man, reinforced by photo spreads of young, fit male models. Articles detail what’s new in the worlds of technology, music, art and books, and ensure men feel sufficiently mediocre if these prizes are not acquired. Advertisements convey the quintessential male specimen, lean men in slim-cut clothing or topless displaying bulging pectoral, abdominal, and bicep muscles. Most months feature diet and fitness advice to help men look more like the sculpted, photoshopped gods gracing the glossy pages. If looking at an Armani underwear ad featuring David Beckham is the male equivalent of women having to look at a Victoria’s Secret ad featuring Giselle Bundchen then I have no problem grasping the concept of male eating disorders.

 

The article in GQ magazine reports some surprising statistics. The author, Nathaniel Penn, reports that 20% of anorexics are men, or to put it in perspective for those that aren’t great at math 1 in 5. This is up from 5% (1 in 20) only 10 years ago, and the number is increasing. It appears that men develop eating disorders for the same reasons as women. So why has there been such an increase in the number of cases? A person can be predisposed to developing an eating disorder but never actually develop the disease because they never experience a trigger. Is it simply that, as discussed above, western culture has evolved to a point where men are facing many of the same societal pressures that women have faced for decade? This is likely only a part of it.

 

An article in Details magazine published November 2011 titled “America’s New Male Body Obsession” showcased 40 images that changed the way men viewed their bodies. These images are meant to illustrate how the male ideal has changed over the last several years as well as how much more focused men have become on their physiques. Included are: Mark Wahlberg’s notorious Calvin Klein ad, Brad Pitt’s very toned body in Fight Club, Mark Jacob’s remarkable weight loss, Daniel Craig, the author of The Ultimate New York Diet, a bottle of Michelob Light beer, a picture of body wax, etc. Looking at People Magazine’s Sexiest Men list, essentially all of the men topping the list had a lean, athletic physique and are very well groomed: Ryan Gosling, Justin Theroux, Chris Evans, and the winner Bradley Cooper to name a few. Topping the music charts are songs by Fun, Maroon 5, Neon Trees and Owl City, indie and alternative musicians who insist on looking like starving artists no matter how successful they get, in skintight size 27 jeans and American Apparel deep V’s. The media and entertainment industries are screaming to men that 0% body fat and a 6-pack are essential for health and happiness. And apparently they are listening.

 

In a March 24th 2012 article on CNN.com Michael Addis, a professor of psychology at Clark University noted “male college students in his classes have changed and adapted to shifting cultural norms. In recent years, more of them spend time in the gym, focus on their appearance and monitor body mass.” He says “As women gain more financial power in society, men are expected to bring more to the table…In addition to being financially successful, they need to be well-groomed, in good shape, emotionally skilled in relationships and the emphasis on looking good is just part of the bigger package…” So a threat to male masculinity is motivating men to adopt behaviors traditionally attributed to women such as dieting and excessive exercise? Not according to some psychologists who believe men are actually trying to look more masculine by developing an obsession with muscle definition and fitness.

 

Clearly the reasons men develop eating disorders can be multifold and will be different for each person. Unfortunately, in males the disease often goes undiagnosed, at least until the patient is very ill, because doctors often won’t suspect anorexia in a male patient. Also, men are less likely to seek help due to the stigma of the disease, and the belief that it is primarily a female disease. As a result men on average will suffer with the disease longer than females, an average of 8 years. Many treatment facilities don’t admit male patients. These factors combined can be deadly, since according to the article in GQ as well as several other sources, the mortality rate of anorexia is up to 10%.

 

Most women know what it’s like to struggle with our body image. Therefore we may be in an opportune position to recognize if a man in our life is struggling with some of the same issues. It may be easier for him to talk to someone who can be empathetic rather than his male friends who he may feel aren’t experiencing the same pressures and insecurities. And the next time you find yourself worrying about what a man thinks of you, remember, he’s probably worrying about the same thing. So give yourself a break and give him one too. Nobody’s perfect.

 

 

Money can’t buy everything but it can buy you a wife

August 17, 2012

Most little girls fall asleep to fairy tales in which beautiful princesses are rescued by handsome princes and then live happily ever after in majestic castles. As we grow up to become women, the media and entertainment industry perpetuate this fairy tale through rom-coms, made for TV movies, and E.L. James novels (apparently no one’s reading Jane Austen anymore). I still think Pretty Woman is the most romantic movie ever made. What girl doesn’t want to be rescued from her fire escape by Richard Gere with a rose between his teeth? Parents and teachers can emphasize the importance of education in attaining a good job and achieving financial independence. Role models for today’s young women are often successful career women, such as mothers or perhaps even grandmothers who go to work every day to support their families. Would-be feminists can read The Feminine Mystique ten times over and embody every quality of the modern woman.  Yet even in this day and age society still nourishes traditional gender roles where the man should bear the brunt of the financial responsibility for his family while the woman, even if she ‘chooses’ to work, should still have time to cook, clean and rear children. Perhaps even more surprising? How many women who not only buy into this stereotype, but aspire to it.

Since our mothers got married, the number of women in the workforce has gone up substantially. Not only that, women’s salaries have also increased, mainly due to the fact that more and more women are getting college and university degrees than ever before. In 2009, the Bureau of Labour Statistics reported that 40% of US working wives were out-earning their husbands compared to 25% in the early 1990’s. One would think this a positive step for women in terms of equality as it seems to signify a narrowing of the wage gap between genders, long been a thorn in the side of feminists. However, a study published in January 2011 by London School of Economics professor Dr. Catherine Hakim seems to contradict this, reporting that women actually prefer men to earn more money than them.  “…64% said they aspire to find a husband bringing home more money. None wanted to marry a man who earned less.” So it seems that when it comes to relationships, women actually do revere their traditional position as needing to be provided for. A similar study done by Meghan Casserly of ForbesWoman via the website YourTango.com revealed that 91% of women would marry for love over money, but that 75% of women would still NOT wed someone without a job. And it seems that deviation from the husband-as-breadwinner role is unappealing to men as well as women. A Cornell University study published in August 2010 reported that husbands who earned less than their partners were up to 5 times more likely to cheat. Researchers found that “the secret is for women to earn 25% less than their husbands. As that gap narrows, it becomes more likely the man will be unfaithful.” Men are clearly threatened by the thought of losing their historical role in their relationship dynamic.

It comes as no surprise that many women like men with money. We all know the cliché of the young beautiful woman and the old rich man. The Real Housewives series is one of the more popular reality shows on television. Hugh Hefner still dates twenty year-olds. Anna Nicole Smith is most famous for marrying a billionaire in his 80s. I am just surprised that the distribution of earning within a relationship is an issue for so many people. Why are successful women not celebrating the progress they have made, being happy to be making more money now than ever before? Why does it matter who earns what as long as family is taken care of?

In most of my relationships prior to my current one, I have made more money than my significant other, which has generally never bothered me. As I have blogged about before, I have always and still do believe that a woman should never be dependent on a man, that she should have her own career, friends and interests. Therefore, I have always assumed that I would work, even when married with children. In relationships I have always paid for my fair half (or more) of everything. When I first moved in with my fiancée he was a medical fellow. Our arrangement was that we split rent and basically took turns paying for everything else. When he finished his fellowship and started to work as a full-fledged nephrologist, his financial situation changed quite a bit. As in, he is now making about 6 times more money than me a month. I share this information with you not to flaunt how extraordinarily upper middle-class we are, but to share with you how I came to understand the 64% of women who are seeking husbands who make more money than them. This is because I surprised and disappointed myself by the sense of security I felt at my husband-to-be’s salary revelation and how much I have taken it for granted. I no longer even glance at the cheque at the restaurant when it lands on the table, never mind make any move to pick it up. The same goes for groceries, take-out, trips to the wine store etc. He books all of our flights and hotels for trips, concert tickets and sports events. Oh, and I dropped my laptop last week so he also bought this new MacBook Air I am typing on. These are things I could pay for myself. As a pharmacist I make a good salary. But he makes a much better one and we’re partners, therefore when he offers I don’t decline. Beyond the material things, it’s comforting to know that if we decide to have children, although I have never imagined myself as a stay-at-home-mom, I will have that option. Furthermore, I am currently making a career change and taking some time off, and am able to do so without being concerned about money.

Maybe there’s a little girl inside every woman, holding onto that fairy tale, waiting for her prince. But today’s Prince Charming may not look the same as yesterday’s. Modern relationships are changing, and so are the roles of man and wife. I think it’s time we embrace the idea and make new fairy tales. Perhaps Pretty Woman was ahead of its time:

Lewis (Richard Gere): “So what happens after he climbs up and rescues her?”

Vivian (Julia Roberts): “She rescues him right back.”