The Ban of Underweight Models

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Anja Rubik for Quazi Fall 2010

Underweight models are declared banished from advertising and runway, but is the backlash against the uber-skinny trend fair or even realistic?

This year several factions of the fashion world took the step that no one thought they ever would — they declared that underweight models, i.e. those with a Body Mass Index under 18.5, will not be allowed to participate in advertising and runways. While some declared, “Finally!”, others claimed this move against skinnier models is discrimination against the naturally underweight, a small but real part of the female population.

Among the countries participating in the ban are Israel, Italy, and Spain, who was among the first to ban underweight models in 2006. The countries’ bans vary — some say no to underweight models in local advertising, while others like Spain ban models in fashion shows, whose popular Madrid Fashion Week 2006 refused one-third of past participants who were declared underweight. Most notably, however, is Vogue Magazine’s ban in the summer of 2012. The editors of the well-respected international fashion magazine, known for launching the career of many a model, signed an agreement not to use models who appear to have an eating disorder.

Those involved say they have many objectives with this ban of underweight models, including:

  • Ensuring the health of models — being extremely underweight causes health risks and past models have died from complications of low weight.
  • Promoting a healthy body image — those in the modeling world understand that many young girls and women look to their models as the height of beauty and strive to look like them. Having very skinny models presents an unhealthy and unrealistic body image for women.
  • Working against eating disorders — in their quest to become “model thin”, models, and even women who are not models, develop an unhealthy relationship with food. An estimated 20 to 40 percent of models are thought to have an eating disorder and women who read magazines and watch runway shows are more likely to develop an eating disorder.

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Gender: The Nature vs. Nurture Debate

gender-boyI’ve posted several times on the topic of gender — the social and biological aspects of what determines a man or a woman; the subject is one I’ve been interested in for a long time. Learning more about the topic has made it clear that the origins of gender and sex are not as simple and uncomplicated as some might believe.

There are generally two sides to the nature versus nurture debate of gender. There are those who believe that sex and gender are for the most part, biologically determined and that the two sexes think and act differently, often in opposing ways. This group also tends to believe that gender is fixed and not much changing across cultures and time periods.

On the other side of the debate are the nurture folks who hold that sex –the physical characteristics of a person– may be biological, but gender — the way that sex is shown in the outside world, is socially manufactured. They believe that men and women are taught explicitly and implicitly how to be men and women. This group also tends to believe that most gender stereotypes are false.

Nature via Nurture

Enter a third, smaller but growing group. Those who believe in the nature via nurture origin of gender think that both biological and environmental aspects combine to create what we recognize as men and women — the way they think, act, dress, and even how they look. Many who are partial to the nature via nurture explanation also assert that what is determined by a person’s sex chromosomes and what is determined by environment is not entirely clear and can’t be separated.

My thoughts tend to fall more within this group. Although I may view things differently in the future, I tend to think that nature and nurture both influence gender, possibly to the same extent. This is because most aspects of sex and gender,  when looked at closely, either show both biological and social roots, and the entirety of them points neither to biology or culture, completely:

  • gender-girlWithin gender, there is a range of behavior that spans time periods. Throughout history there have always been women who just weren’t ladylike enough, and men who weren’t tough enough. This suggests some biological roots, but not a binary one of two separate sexes determined by an X or Y chromosome.
  • Traits that have largely been shown to be genetic can vary with surrounding factors. Height, for example, is influenced by environment and nutrition, even if it is inherited. So if gender is biological, this does not rule out culture playing a big role in how gender is shown.
  • Gender stereotyping begins even before a baby is born — male babies are thought to behave one way and female babies another. With such stereotyping early on, it seems nearly impossible to say which behavior is actually biological and which are nurtured through beliefs about gender.
  • Sex hormones have been shown to influence men and women to differ on things such as hearing and verbal fluency. This suggests a strong biological component, but hormonal levels also depend on environment, such as the mother’s surroundings, health, and nutrition.
  • Attempts to raise children in the opposite sex –raising those who were born physically male as girls and children who were born physically female as boys– has turned up mixed results. Which could be taken to mean that both genes and environment ultimately create gender.

These, and more, leads me to believe that sex and gender, like many behavioral and physical traits, is a product of nature and nurture, often working together. Without one or the other, what we know as men and women wouldn’t be quite the same.

Where do you fall on the spectrum of nature and nurture when it comes to gender? And why?

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Objectification Is Not Equal Opportunity

male-objectificationHaving previously discussed objectification of women and the female beauty bind, I was once asked the question, “What about men? Shouldn’t men be included in this topic? To which my first thought was “Yes, what about them?”

In the interest of fairness (or in other cases, diversion), some believe that the increasing sexual objectification of men should be considered along with the well-known issue of female objectification. After all, there are male strippers and prostitutes, the bodybuilding industry is held afloat almost entirely by men, and plastic surgery among men is at an all-time high. This is true — more than ever before, men are being judged and assessed for how well their appearance fits a certain beauty standard.

However, objectification, and particularly sexual objectification requires that a person be seen as simply a vessel or a painting — to be admired primarily or solely for their beauty and the physical pleasure it brings, with no regard to their humanity. Are men made into objects whose worth is based on their looks? Perhaps on an individual basis, but on a wider scale, my answer would be no.

Appearance may matter, but other factors come into play in determining whether a man is “high value” or not. Personality, confidence, education, and of course career and income. All of these factors can and do override a man’s physical appearance, and looks are not generally considered more important. The same simply can not be said for women and their daily experiences.

On the other hand, as a group, women are sexually objectified — that is, their sexual attractiveness and beauty (or subjective lack of) is considered to be one of the more important aspects of their being, if not the most important. Personality, charm, and other attributes are considered later, if ever. Any woman knows this; regardless of any personal accomplishments, the first question to be asked is, “But is she good-looking?” If the answer is no, then everything else about her falls by the wayside. If the answer is yes, then again, all other traits are overshadowed. That is the definition of objectification.

So again, what about men? Male sexual objectification is on the rise, and shouldn’t be dismissed. Men getting regular eyebrow waxes and pedicures can be considered a topic of interest. But the issue is simply nowhere near that of women — there are more pressing issues for men in today’s society. In other words, sexual objectification is not equal opportunity.

What do you think — agree or disagree? Share your thoughts below.

Jessica Simpson Weight Gain — One Look at Anti-Fat Prejudice

jessica-simpson-fatSinger and actress Jessica Simpson’s weight has been the subject of discussion for some time now, with her size increasing and decreasing dramatically over the years. But Jessica’s recent pregnancy weight gain has even those who weren’t talking about adding their views. From medical professionals to politicians, many are offering their view on her size and the topic of unhealthy weight gain.

Called an “absolute porker” by Dr.  Tara Solomon, Jessica has never publicly responded to her critics. Instead she shrugged off the weight gain, saying she is pregnant and needs to eat, giving into her cravings for foods like buttered Pop Tarts and fried Oreos. Jessica says she will worry about her weight after she gives birth. But onlookers insist she deal with it now, cautioning that her nonchalant attitude towards weight and unhealthy eating choices will affect her and her baby.

But not everyone has an issue with Jessica’s reportedly 50+ pound (22.7 kg) weight gain. Actress Tori Spelling defended Jessica, saying “When women are pregnant, people need to lay off…As far [as] weight, you never know what is going to happen.” Sarah Palin remarked that if she were Jessica she “would have wanted to punch [her critics] in the neck.”

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A slimmer Jessica

Others, like myself, believe that while some may be genuinely concerned about the health of Jessica and her baby, others’ real concern lies in her looks. People are simply horrified that the once slim, 5’2″ Jessica is now clearly obese — the world is anti-fat. Upon seeing how much weight she’d gained, people could not hold in their disgust and disappointment that she allowed herself to become so, well, fat. Few things could be worse, especially for a woman.

But although the anti-fat prejudice and fat phobia is clear to anyone who is paying attention, voicing such prejudice outright isn’t considered polite. So critics couch what is truly disgust in worry about the health of her unborn child. Health is a legitimate concern — few can disagree that being obese and gorging on sugary foods can be bad for a person, not to mention a growing baby. Unlike critique about not being thin, which would only make commentators seem shallow and mean.

In other words, the conversation on Jessica’s weight is a classic example of anti-fat prejudice in practice. If you still think that anti-fat prejudice does not exist or isn’t “that bad”, you need only do a search and read the comments from the public at large on Jessica’s weight. One woman’s comment sums up the feelings of fat-phobic critics everywhere: “Seriously, this b*tch pisses me off, she is so disgusting.”

…Yes, being fat might just be that bad in an anti-fat world.

Agree or disagree?

Article Response: Why the Man Has to Chase

man-chasing-womanA couple of years ago at the Insanity Report, a social commentary blog, founder Kriss created a response article, “Why Does a Man Have to Chase a Woman?” in reaction to an article advising women to never chase men. I’ve only recently come across the post, and thought that it would be helpful to have an answer to his question — why women want men to chase them, and why women should not chase men. From a non-traditional point of view.

Kriss’ stance,

While I still believe there are certain things men are suppose to do, when it comes to approaching someone you might be interested in, I don’t think that is gender specific.  Why should it be?  You have an interest, express it.  That’s not desperate, it’s natural.

Yet there are some women who believe this.  They believe men are supposed to “chase” after the women they want.  I have to be honest, if you’re one of those women who believe that and you are finding it hard to meet a good man, this strategy could be the problem.  I think my biggest problem with this is that it’s so counter intuitive.  So you are interested in the guy but you can’t approach him first or call him first because then he’ll know you are interested in him?  Wow…that makes no sense.

Kriss’ opinion makes sense logically, and from a man’s perspective. Why wouldn’t you show your interest in someone who you’re interested in romantically? Wouldn’t keeping your interest under wraps prevent you from getting exactly what you’re seeking? Well, yes and no. Showing some initial interest would in most cases help, but any more after that is probably not so helpful.

One thing that Kriss did not make clear in his article is the difference between approaching a guy and chasing him. Approaching a man is one thing, while chasing him is something else entirely. The former may speed you along your route to getting the guy you seek, while the latter will not. In fact, in my experience, and that of many other women, chasing a guy will usually cause you to lose any chance you might have had with him.

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What’s Feminism Got To Do With It?

superhero-girl“I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.”

–Rebecca West

As mentioned in the past, according to dictionary definition, I am a feminist. I support equality between the sexes in all realms of life. I make no apologies for disagreeing with those who are opposed to equality for women, including those who don’t realize their views are in opposition to this notion. I may not agree with all feminists or feminist theories, but to me, feminism as a general principle is a no-brainer — why would I not support uplifting change and improvement in the lives of women?

However, it seems that in disagreement, the words “feminism” and “feminist” are used to dismiss or belittle opposing views. Don’t understand someone’s opinion or don’t like it? If they happen to agree with a woman or mention anything favorable about women, you don’t have to. Just call them a feminist. At this point anything they have said or will say is rendered irrelevant nonsense. They are a feminist, how could anyone take them seriously?

This may come as a surprise to those who routinely use the “feminist” dismissal: but sometimes it’s just not about feminism. While a person may agree with feminist principles and even identify as a feminist, feminism does not have to be at the core of every opinion they may have. Feminism is merely one influence on their mindset which is created from the entirety of their life’s experiences and personal biases.

Sometimes It’s About Fairness

While feminism is concerned about equal rights and fairness towards women in particular, sometimes people oppose or align themselves with an issue in the name of fairness in general. Such people are in favor of people being treated justly and respectfully, regardless of their gender. If the people in question happen to be women, it’s simply a coincidence — if the situation involved men, their sentiments would not change. Thus feminism has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes It’s About the Person

All people have their likes and dislikes, and those could include other people. So people may agree (or disagree) with an issue because of the person espousing it, and at times that person may be a woman. This has nothing to do with one’s feminist leanings, but one’s personal leanings.

So, a woman supported Hillary Clinton for the United States presidential nomination? Does it have to be because she is a feminist? Could it be that she is in favor of Hillary’s views, or even Hillary herself?

Sometimes It’s About Widening Discussion

Great discussion occurs when all sides and views are presented and debated. An opposing viewpoint may be presented for the simple reason of increasing the depth and breadth of discussion. Whether or not this view agrees with feminism or the person presenting it as a feminist is irrelevant. It just has nothing to do with feminism.

What do you think — what does your feminism (or lack of) have to do with your views?

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Women + Men = Competition

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What’s a foolproof way to turn women against each other?… Add men.

Women are alternately thought of as the gentler, more cooperative gender and as unnecessarily catty and ruthless; society can hardly decide which one represents women’s true nature. But one area where the competitive side of women can be clearly seen is in their dealings with the opposite sex — dating and relationships.

Why Do Women Compete Over Men?

Women who were once friendly and kind to each other can morph into the greatest of enemies the minute a man becomes involved. The change is so instant and drastic that upon hindsight they wonder what happened and are surprised by their own behavior.

What about the presence of a man causes this reaction in women? The answer is simple, yet complex: women base their self-worth in their value to men and their ability to attract and keep their interest. While some women have an inner sense of self-worth, other women have a fragile sense of self that is based not in themselves, but in what society, and particularly men, think of them.

  • The Rarity Mindset

Some women seem to believe that good men are hard to find so when she finds a suitable man, she is determined to have him. Even if that means she must step on another woman’s toes or ruin a friendship.

With such women, the choice of fighting and possibly hurting another women or not having one good man is simple. The former, of course.

How Women Justify Their Behavior

The most common way in which women justify treating other women badly in the sake of men is by telling themselves that the better woman “won”. In this “survival of the fittest” rationalization, they are the prettier, smarter, and more interesting woman, and that’s why they have won or will win the prize — the man. They tell themselves that it may not be the most pleasant situation, but that’s life, and there’s nothing else to it.

Another common way that women justify their behavior is by not justifying it — they just don’t have an explanation or reason for their behavior and they don’t need one. In most cases, what the truly don’t want is to admit to themselves or other people that they are simply being self-centered and ruthless.

Why Competing Isn’t Worth It

Ultimately, competing over men serves no real purpose. Contrary to the rarity mindset, suitable men can be found everywhere and anywhere — there is no shortage of “good” men. But by competing over men, women tear each other down while simultaneously reassuring and bolstering a man’s ego. Confident that he can have either woman, a man will value neither of them in the long run.  Instead, what is left is two women who will never be friends and yet another story to add to the “catty women” book.

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Slut-Shaming

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Slut-shaming is the common practice of shaming, condemning, harassing or ridiculing a girl or woman for sexual actions or thoughts. Slut-shaming arises from the continued double standard in expectations for men and women in expressions of sexuality. It is premised on the belief that a woman who engages in sexual behavior at her own will is less than or inferior to a woman who abides by societal expectations of proper sexual behavior for women.

Slut-shaming need not include the word slut or its synonyms– any act of discouraging or insulting a woman for expressing sexuality is slut-shaming. And while the definition of a slut is of a woman who is sexually promiscuous, a woman does not have to engage in sexual behaviors often, or at all, to be slut-shamed. Girls and women are slut-shamed for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to:

  • Acknowledging sexual feelings
  • Dressing in a manner which is considered provocative
  • Spending time with men who she is not in a formal intimate relationship with
  • Being raped
  • Engaging in any form of intimate behavior with a man or men
  • Being disliked or resented by other girls or women

Women Slut-Shaming Women

Men slut-shame as a way of wielding power and because they can and always have: men can not be slut-shamed as women can be.  Women, however, are also often the perpetrators of slut-shaming. But why do women slut-shame? What could they possibly gain from it?

In many cases, women who slut-shame have internalized societal expectations of female sexual expression and are often afraid of being slut-shamed themselves. They tend to believe that by discouraging sexual behavior in other women they can increase their own worth in the eyes of others, and themselves.

In this way, slut-shaming becomes a way to compete: women gain approval from men and the community at large for their “pure” behavior in comparison to the sluts of society. Even if they engage in private behavior which could be seen as “slutty”, they publicly reinforce the idea that overt female expression of sexuality is simply wrong.

gossiping-womenOther women believe that slut-shaming is necessary to protect women as a whole. They believe that direct expressions of sexuality encourage unwanted advances from men and send messages that a woman may not intend to. They discourage girls and women from blatant shows of sexuality as a response to what they believe are the even more direct expressions of sexuality of men.

But what women who engage in slut-shaming fail to realize, or don’t care to recognize, is that they are encouraging their own oppression. By consciously belittling women for expressing their sexuality in a way which is comfortable to them, they reinforce a system which constrains and polices women’s actions while allowing men a fuller range of expression.  They also support the notion that a woman’s worth is in her sexuality — or lack of it — and that this worth is rare and not assured.

To slut-shamers, slut-shaming may seem innocent or just not so bad, but the effects of slut-shaming are wide-ranging. Women who are slut-shamed feel and can be ostracized, and question themselves and sexuality in general.  They don’t feel open to express themselves sexually in context because they are worried about what others may think or say of them. At the extreme end slut-shaming indirectly encourages rape and forced sexual acts since women are too afraid to report rape for fear of being thought of as a slut or being embarrassed. In sum, slut-shaming negatively affects not just the women who are slut-shamed but all women.

What are your thoughts on slut-shaming? Do you slut-shame?

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Are Men More Visual Than Women?

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It’s one of those things that everybody knows — men are more visual than women. The proof is all around us. Pornography caters to men as their most loyal consumers, some studies show physical attractiveness of their partner is more important to men’s happiness than women’s. The physical just matters to men.

Meanwhile women are more attracted to a man’s personality, such as his sense of humor, and his ability to provide and be a good father to their potential children. Evidence for this is seen in women’s willingness to happily engage in relationships with men who aren’t generally considered the most physically appealing.

But what if the conventional wisdom is wrong, as it has been in the past? What if the idea of men being more visual has little basis in reality, or what if the gender inequalities in visual arousal have their origins in culture and society, not in biology? When looked at critically, there are several reasons why the commonly accepted idea that men are innately more visual should be questioned:

1. There is greater social acceptance and encouragement for men to value physical appearance

Historically women needed to value more than a man’s appearance. Since they couldn’t have jobs that would sustain themselves and any family they would have, women had to look to a man’s financial ability and ability as a father when choosing a mate. Men who were more financially stable could focus on other qualities in a potential mate, such as their physical appearance.

Nowadays women have more career opportunities. But differences in society’s appraisal of the genders remain — men are still expected to be able to provide financially for their wives and family. And women are still expected to be pretty enough to secure a marriage with the most financially able man.

2. Some studies challenge the idea that men are more visual

Most studies that gain popularity reinforce conventional wisdom. Thus there are easily found studies which support the idea that men are more visually stimulated than women are. Much rarely discussed are the studies which conflict with this notion.

One of the more recent studies on gender and visual stimulation found that women are as visually responsive as men are. In the study, the brains of female participants showed as much activity as the male participants when shown sexually erotic images. Researchers responded that although men might personally rate sexual images higher than women do, there was no difference in their brain activity when viewing them.

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Why You Have No Female Friends

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Maybe it’s not them. Maybe it’s you.

Some women effortlessly make friends with other women, while others struggle to find female companionship and instead find themselves at odds with the women they meet. Many of these women conclude that there is just something uniquely intolerable about women that prevents them from getting along with them. Rarely do such women analyze their own behavior in their quest to understand why they lack female friends.

Unfortunately for women who have a hard time with other women, criticizing and finding fault with other women doesn’t improve their situation and usually makes it worse. If you’re one of those women you could benefit from thinking of possible reasons why you have no female friends that has less to do with other women and more to do with yourself:

1. You’re Competitive

If you believe and behave as if women are your competition for men, attention, and resources, you’re probably putting off other women. If you make a habit of coming on to taken men or fighting for the spotlight at work or in social situations, don’t be surprised to you find yourself with few women as friends.

2. You’re Defensive

When you meet a new woman, do you assume the worst? Do you take any commentary directed to you by other women as a personal attack and think they dislike you? If so, you might be being too defensive. And your behavior may become a self-fulfilling prophecy — instead of putting up with your wild assumptions and accusations other women will simply not bother to deal with you.

female-friends-playing3. You’re Self-Righteous

When you assume that others are less morally upright than you are and are otherwise lacking in major aspects, you exude an attitude which serves as a female-repellant. Try to judge the actions of others less and realize there is more than one way to be.

4. You’re Male-Identified

If you support and defend men at the expense of women, you should expect to have few female friends. Other women can sense that you seek the approval of men and view men as the superior gender. No one wants to put up with someone who thinks so little of them.

5. You’re Inconsiderate

To be a friend to anyone, you have to take their feelings and needs into account as well as yours. Friends can help you, but friendship is a two-way street. If you consider your needs above those of others and feel no reluctance about betraying other women, you will find that you’re constantly having trouble with them.

6. You’re Unfriendly

It should go without saying that if you seek friendship you should be receptive to it. If you remain aloof of other people and their advances you send the message that you’re not concerned with having friends. Don’t always wait for women to approach you, but approach them to start a friendship.

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