Archive for October, 2012

Is it Politically Incorrect to not care if you’re Politically Incorrect?

October 22, 2012

Warning: This post is not intended for those who are easily offended, vigilantly politically correct at all times, or humorless.

It was recently brought to my attention that the term “mulatto” is outdated and offensive. I am embarrassed to admit that this came up because I used this term in general conversation to describe someone of mixed race. Furthermore, when told that the term is no longer used, I proceeded to stubbornly argue the point, conceding only after consulting Wikipedia, the final word on every topic. According to this (unverified but assumed true because it has millions of readers) source: “The term is not commonly used any more but is generally considered archaic because of its association with slavery, colonial and racial oppression; accepted modern terms include ‘mixed’ and ‘biracial.’” Got it.

Let me tell you a few things about me. As per the stereotype you have no doubt conjured up in your head by now, I’m white, blonde and blue-eyed. I’m a Canadian of Mennonite German ancestry. If you saw an extended family reunion you would think you were looking at a rehearsal for a ‘Children of the Corn’ sequel, there is hardly a brunette in the bunch. I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba in the community of North Kildonan, which is mainly populated with descendants of Germans and Ukrainians who immigrated during or after WWII. In my German elementary school there was one black student named Stephan (pronounced with a German accent). He was adopted. He had dry skin on his legs that often peeled and because his skin was dark, it looked scaly, like a snake. When I pointed this out to him he cried and I had to apologize, though I didn’t think this was fair since it was merely an observation and I thought it looked neat-o. By high school I had met about 5 black or bi-racial people. My mother’s best friend has a son who is bi-racial. My mother referred to him as mulatto the rare time she didn’t just refer to him by his name which she usually did, because, well, why wouldn’t she? In Canada, black and bi-racial citizens comprise just under 3% of the population. In Manitoba where I grew up, the number is only 1.7% and in Vancouver where I live now it is only 1.3%. The numbers may actually be lower because the races are not reported for the bi-racial statistics. What I’m saying is that while Canada is extremely multicultural, and I have friends of many ethnicities, I don’t have many bi-racial friends who have 1 parent who is black and 1 who is white. I have 1. And I call her Tracy, because that is her name. So since I was a child and my mother used the term mulatto I have ignorantly assumed it was an appropriate term. My intention was not to harm, disrespect, oppress or dehumanize anyone.

Intent. The idea of the motive behind one’s action or statement is the crux of what has been nagging at me since my ignorance had me declared a narrow-minded racist. It may just be me, but people these days sure are sensitive. If you think me a bigot then you certainly wouldn’t want to meet my dear old Oma. She’s 87, goes to church every Sunday, loves everyone, and is the only person I know who has ever let a Jehovah’s Witness into her home, even going so far as to offer them baking and coffee. Yet a second cousin of mine had a child with a Jamaican man and my grandmother, unable to recall names very well, refers to him simply as “Der Schwarzer”. This translates to “The Black.” In fact, the East Indian man dating my father’s cousin is also referred to as “Der Schwarzer”, as is anyone with a skin tone darker than ivory, which can prove confusing at times. I’m not sure if she is using an outdated German term, perhaps akin to the English “negro”, or if she is simply describing what is obvious to her, that the baby does in fact look ‘black’, since she hasn’t left her Mennonite community since 1948 and it is quite possible she has never seen a non-white person. What I do know is that she means no malice, no matter how offensive her words may sound to someone who doesn’t know her. The same can be said about an elderly physician my fiancée worked with who referred to a patient with Down’s Syndrome as a “mongoloid”, apparently unaware the term was obsolete. In fact, I may have heard that the term ‘Down’s Syndrome’ is no longer en Vogue either, and if this is the case, forgive me.

Speaking of my fiancée, if he goes out for the night with all of his closest friends, it can almost be described as the beginning of a classic joke: “A white guy, a Jew, 2 Filipinos, a South African, a Lebanese, a gay West Indian, and a very white gay guy walk into a bar….”One night with these guys and you will have a lifetime of inappropriate, politically incorrect jokes that you will probably never find occasion to use. I have heard racial slurs I didn’t know existed and terms and uses for orifices that have given me nightmares. Hearing the Indian friend being referred to as “Dark Marc” out of context could seem segregationist, but knowing that in medical school there were 2 friends named Mark and that there was a need to distinguish between the two explains any question of prejudice away. I mean, tall Marc or brunette Marc or any other differentiating feature could have worked, but they wouldn’t have been as funny, and they certainly wouldn’t have RHYMED. I myself have a multicultural group of friends but we’re civilized to each other. Even still, the jokes, bantering and mock ridicule between this group of men is a form of camaraderie. Each of them gives as good as he gets and no one goes home demoralized or exploited.

When I was in elementary school I entered a writing contest. The topic was “The Boundaries of Freedom”. I came in second place, and I was so pissed off because I always wanted to be first. Any-whoo, my essay basically talked about how one person’s freedom should not impede another’s. For example, freedom of speech is important, however what you say should not get in the way of another person’s ability to live in a free, safe, and equal society. I bring this up here because I don’t think people should be able to say whatever they want. I don’t think there is any room in our society for racism, sexism or any other form of prejudice. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a utopian society, and there are bigoted people out there. These people should just learn to shut their mouths and keep their opinions to themselves. Then there are people like me. And my Oma. And my fiancée and his friends. We’re not perfect, we sometimes say inappropriate or potentially offensive things unwittingly, unintentionally or even in jest. But the intent isn’t evil or vicious. Sometimes we need to be educated, as in my case, but sometimes we are just having a little fun with friends. Maybe people need to take a step back and look at the battle they are trying to fight and who the enemy is. I don’t think it’s me. I hope it’s not you either.

If it ain’t broke, should I fix it??

October 8, 2012

A while ago I purchased a Groupon for a microdermabrasion facial from a local laser skin care and rejuvenation center. Included in the bargain basement price was a consultation with a skin care specialist. Aware that the business offered several expensive cosmetic procedure I wasn’t entirely surprised that although I had listed dry skin and occasional breakouts as my only skin concerns, the “skin specialist” I spoke to suggested I “really consider Botox” for the “lines around my eyes and on my forehead.” In a bid to reassure me that Botox is safe and effective, she let me know that she herself had regular injections. True, she had nary a line on her face. She also appeared to be about 25 years old. Granted, she could be 50 and her apparent youth the result of the wonders of Botox. Yet a glance at the stud through her cheek, Lulu Lemon tights and Sketchers sneakers suggested this to be highly unlikely. (So as not to undermine her credibility, I will also point that she was wearing a white lab coat, the epitome of professionalism). Even still, I declined the Botox. At 31, if I choose to look closely, I can certainly see where my face folds when I smile, frown, squint, laugh, or furrow my brow. I just feel that as long as I can still get away with referring to these as “expression lines” I will continue to age gracefully. (With the exception of my Vitamin A face wash, 2 eye creams, retinol serum and day and night anti-aging moisturizers). We’ll see how I feel in 10 years.

Botox is only one tool in the anti-aging arsenal. The technology available to essentially “turn back the clock” seems to grow every day. Procedures are also becoming less invasive, more convenient, and involve less downtime, meaning people can literally walk into their doctor’s office and walk out a newer, younger person almost instantly.  It seems every other week I’m reading about a new technique to treat some cosmetic condition that I have never even heard of or never would have thought about as a physical defect. A few posts ago I wrote about cosmetic surgery for feet. I have often cursed my wide feet while shoe shopping, but never would have thought about this feature of mine as a treatable deficiency. I have just accepted that I would have to live with this trait. Alas, not anymore! With advances in cosmetic surgery, wide footism is treatable! It makes me think: Are these advancement in cosmetic surgery serving to address existing weaknesses that impede people’s lives either physically or psychologically or are these new procedures actually generating anxiety and perceived imperfections out of the normal variations among us?

Let me illustrate this quandary using the prescription lash enhancement drug Latisse. You have likely seen the advertisements for this product featuring gorgeous spokesmodel Brooke Shields. The preparation itself was originally (and still is) used as an eye drop to treat glaucoma when it was noted that patients using the solution developed thicker, longer eyelashes. Result: Latisse. The cosmetically marketed product is brushed on the lashline, and about 12 weeks later you have longer, darker, thicker lashes. Of course any substance seeking FDA approval to be sold by prescription requires a valid medical indication. And this is the kicker. Allergan, the company marketing this “medication” has identified a medical condition called hypotrichosis, defined as “inadequate or not enough lashes”. That’s right, if you are a person born with thin, lightly colored or short eyelashes, you now suffer from a treatable medical condition. The bad news is that hypotrichosis is a chronic, debilitating medical condition that will plague you for the rest of your life. There is no known cure. The good news is that the good people at Allergan have come up with an effective treatment. As long as you keep using Latisse you will have longer and thicker lashes. But you can’t stop using the solution or your eyelashes will shrink back to their original form. Hypotrichosis requires lifelong treatment.

Beyond the now routine procedures such as Botox, Restylane, lasers, implants, tummy tucks and liposuction, the cosmetic surgery industry has progressed to produce processes to “treat” the natural variations that make us unique and distinguishable from one another. Enemy number one is any natural sign of aging. Newer additions: surgery to fix a cleft chin, liposuction to treat “cankles”, turning an outie bellybutton into an innie, iris implants to turn brown eyes blue, abdominal etching (selective abdominal liposuction to give the appearance of a “6-pack”), butt implants, bicep implants, calf implants, and even pubic hair implants. What next??

Cosmetic surgery can be a touchy subject with people feeling strongly in one direction or another. There are those who feel that any attempt to be physically altered is wrong. Others are more accepting of such a metamorphosis. I find most people are in the middle. The majority of us see some of our traits as requiring reinvention, while other deviations from the middle ground are the result of simple human uniqueness. Whether demand is influencing supply or vice versa, it seems that as people continue to seek physical perfection, advancements in the cosmetic surgery field will continue. Perhaps we need not attack the industry itself, but rather take a hard look at the way men and women are represented in the media and society as idealized specimens. Finally, we have to remember that we have the autonomy to refuse to buy into the message that we are being sold. We still have free will until it goes out of style.