the world’s prime aesthetic object

I think this article is brilliant and I think that everyone should read it.  So, here you go, everyone!

Women and body image: a man’s perspective

Ever wondered why a man can look at an advert featuring a six-pack and laugh, while a woman might look at a photograph of female perfection and fall to pieces? William Leith thinks he might have uncovered the answer

By William Leith

Plenty of guys have told me this story. The guy in question is preparing to go to a party with his girlfriend. She is trying on shoes and dresses. He is telling her how good she looks. She tries on more shoes, more dresses. And then: the sudden, inexplicable meltdown. She crumples on the bed. Something is horribly wrong. Now the party is out of the question.

At this point the other guys will say, ‘Yeah – she looks great.’ And: ‘She looks fine.’ And: ‘I saw her the other day, wearing those shorts.’ And: ‘She is hot.’ Then the first guy will say, ‘That’s what I kept telling her. And that’s when she got really upset. She said, “You just don’t understand.”‘

It’s true – men, by and large, do not understand. In her book The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf made this point very powerfully. When a woman has a crisis of confidence about the way she looks there is nothing a man can do to console her.

‘Whatever he says hurts her more,’ says Wolf. ‘If he comforts her by calling the issue trivial, he doesn’t understand. It isn’t trivial at all. If he agrees with her that it’s serious, even worse: he can’t possibly love her, he thinks she’s fat and ugly.’

But it doesn’t stop there, says Wolf. What if the man were to say he loves the woman just as she is – that he loves her for her? An absolute no-no, of course, because then ‘he doesn’t think she’s beautiful’. Worse still, though, if he says he loves her because he thinks she’s beautiful.

There’s no way out. It seems to be, in Wolf’s words, ‘an uninhabitable territory between the sexes’. So why don’t men understand? And, given a bit of education, can the situation be improved?

Well, I’m a man, so let’s see. The first thing to say is that, when it comes to their bodies, men have a completely different attitude. I’m not saying they don’t think about their bodies, or worry about them, because they do. But men relate to their bodies in a simple way.

A man’s body is either fine, or it’s not fine. For a man, the body is a practical object. It’s a machine. Sometimes it works well; sometimes it needs fixing. Some guys know how to fix it, by taking up a sport, maybe, or cutting down on the carbs. Some don’t, and go to seed.

Men see their bodies as machines because, for most of their time on this earth, they have defined themselves as hunters and protectors. They equate being attractive with being strong and fast and muscled. That’s a simple concept, isn’t it? And that simplicity is hard-wired into the male brain.

When his girlfriend has a meltdown, and says she hates her body, that is not a simple concept. Unlike men, women do not have a simple relationship with their bodies. They have a complex relationship with their bodies. This is what men often don’t understand. When it comes to their bodies, women are extremely vulnerable – and, what’s more, lots of people take advantage of that vulnerability. This makes the situation worse.

Men don’t have to contend with this – the hair people, and the make-up people, and the fashion people, and the shoe people, and the bra people, and the nail people, and the eyelash people, and the Botox people, and the cosmetic surgery people, and the perfume people, and the hair-removal people. Oh, and the diet people.

Men are not at the mercy of corporate manipulation on remotely this scale. Sure, there are six-packs creeping into our field of vision every so often. And, sure, this is making us feel insecure. I know – I was fat, and it’s no fun being fat, especially with all those pictures of Brad Pitt nagging away.

And then there are the adverts for Lynx, and the Reebok advert in which a man is chased around town by a big fat hairy belly. But for men the message is very direct. Buy some running shoes. Go to the gym. Cut down on the carbs. For men there is no mystery behind the veil of the adverts. You either tackle the situation, or become a fat slob. End of story.

For men the holy grail is within reach – you just need to get fit, and then you’ll be fine; then you can think about something else. But the messages aimed at women are much more complex and confusing. As the American social commentator Warren Farrell has pointed out, women’s magazines often contain articles about being Superwoman, which are next to adverts about being Cinderella.

In other words, the words tell women how to be independent and in control. But the adverts, where the money is, tell them they have to be beautiful.

Farrell said this more than two decades ago – and, shockingly, nothing has changed. There’s a solid pulse running through everything our culture aims at women – be beautiful, be beautiful, be beautiful.

But being beautiful, it turns out, is a near-impossible task. It keeps getting harder and harder. Everybody knows that it entails being slim – and every year the ideal gets slimmer and slimmer. In 1960 the average model weighed 10 per cent less than the average woman. Now she weighs 25 per cent less. Soon she will weigh 30 per cent less. But she doesn’t have the breasts of a skinny woman – nor, as Susie Orbach has recently pointed out, the bottom. To achieve the ideal is vanishingly impossible.

And it’s getting worse. Orbach believes that we are exposed, on a weekly basis, to several thousand images that have been digitally manipulated. And this, in turn, makes more women opt for cosmetic surgery – which, of course, moves the goalposts even farther away.

When lots of people have surgery to make themselves look more beautiful this has the effect of making everybody else feel less beautiful. And this is happening on a global scale – in 2007 people spent £9 billion on cosmetic surgery; the vast majority of them, of course, were women.

So: men are told they should aspire to fitness and strength, and women are told they should aspire to something more nebulous. But that still does not explain, in terms a man could understand, why the female message is so much more powerful and disturbing.

It doesn’t explain why a tenth of women are anorexic, why a growing number are bulimic, why almost half of women, at any given time, are on a diet. It doesn’t quite explain the meltdowns. And it doesn’t explain why women want to be so skinny. Why they think they are fat, when they are not. It doesn’t explain why, when a woman’s body is perfectly attractive, she often thinks it isn’t, and can’t be persuaded otherwise.

In short, it does not explain why a man can look at an advert featuring a six-pack and laugh at it, whereas a woman might look at a picture of Gisele Bündchen and feel a sense of unease that hangs around for days.

John Updike once said that the female body is the world’s prime aesthetic object – we look at it more than we look at anything else, including landscapes, gadgets, cars. In fact, cars and gadgets are often designed to resemble the female body, and landscapes can be painted to remind us of it. When we talk about ‘the nude’ in art we are almost certainly referring to the female nude. As far as nudes are concerned, the male nude is a distant runner-up.

I once wrote the introduction to a book of male nudes by the photographer Rankin; it was a sequel to his previous book of female nudes. One thing struck me above all – male nudes were a much, much harder thing to portray than female ones.

That’s because the female body carries with it a huge weight of iconic significance – thousands of years of being looked at. The female body has meaning. Pictures of the female body can be profound, serious and complex. For thousands of years they have been depicted with reverence. Now imagine having one of those bodies. It puts a bit of pressure on, doesn’t it?

Now I’m beginning to see why women might be so addicted to perfection. They have a lot to live up to – a couple of thousand years of art history, and a couple of thousand airbrushed boobs and bums to deal with every week.

But what started this off in the first place? Why aren’t there so many airbrushed pictures of men around? Of course, these pictures do exist, and their numbers are increasing. But why are women so much more vulnerable to pictures of perfect bodies than men?

In his book The Evolution of Desire, the American psychologist David Buss goes some way towards explaining why this should be so. Since the Stone Age, he explains, men and women have had different attitudes towards sex. Men can pass on their genes with very little risk – all they need is a fertile woman.

But it’s different for women, because pregnancy is incredibly risky. What women need is a man who looks like a good provider – better still, who looks like a proven provider.

So let’s think about our Stone Age man and woman. If he’s going to settle down, and stop playing the field, he wants one thing above all – a woman who looks fertile. More than that, he wants a woman who looks as if she’ll be fertile for many years to come. In other words, he might consider being a provider and protector, as long as his mate looks young, fertile and unblemished.

And now consider his mate. What does she want? Not just a man who is a good hunter and a good fighter, but a man who has a track record as a hunter and fighter. In other words, an older man. And this is not only true of Stone Age couples. In a survey conducted by David Buss, 10,000 people, in 37 cultures, were polled. ‘In all 37 cultures included in the international study on choosing a mate,’ writes Buss, ‘women prefer men who are older than they are.’

Now I’m getting close to understanding why women are so critical of their bodies. Since prehistoric times they have had a hard-wired link to how they look. For tens of thousands of years it was crucial; it could be the difference between having a protector and not having one – between life and death, even.

For men it’s not the same at all. The odd wrinkle or grey hair doesn’t matter. Hell, it might even be an advantage. As long as you’re good at throwing spears and building shelters, you’ll be fine.

Twenty thousand years on, what has changed? Well, as David Buss points out, it’s unlikely that a Stone Age man would have seen ‘hundreds or even dozens of attractive women in that environment’. But now, when he looks at a Playboycentrefold, he is seeing a woman who has competed with thousands of other women for the part – not only that, he’s seeing the best picture out of thousands.

And it’s not just centrefolds, is it? Just look at newsreaders – mostly, it’s a pretty girl and a grey-haired man. Message to men: relax. Message to women: panic! And then there are the girl groups, and the short-skirted girl onCountdown, and even the characters in the Harry Potter films, where the boys are allowed to look like geeks but the girl must look like a model.

As the art critic John Berger wrote: ‘Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at. This determines not only the relations of men to women, but the relation of women to themselves.’ It’s a tough one, isn’t it?

Surely guys can understand that, at least. If it happened to us, we’d have a meltdown, too.

SOURCE

emotional weather

excerpted from a talk entitled “Guidelines for Living Fearlessly”
Pema Chodron Books and Tapes

How to taste the quality of the moment, of the week, without the labels of good and bad, or succeeding and failing. But really just get used to tasting or knowing or experiencing the quality of what you are going through, not as some final thing.

I think Rilke said “no feeling is final”. Its a great line in one of his poems. No feeling is final, but somehow in the moment, we often feel, a sort of – this is how it is – in such a heavy way. And then so much story line goes with that that it drags us down.

So sometimes we like what we are feeling and then we don’t like what we’re feeling. And then we like it again, and then we don’t like it again. And then it just sort of goes like that – it’s actually fine for it to be like that.

Enlightened people, from what I have heard, the moods come and go, the energy shifts come and go. Its not like suddenly you are enlightened and then the rain never comes. It doesn’t mean you don’t wake up with a headache, or a heavy feeling in your heart.

But basically it never goes beyond that, its just the quality of awakened energy as it is manifesting right now. So it is a really profound deep shift of attitude towards our moods and thoughts and our emotions.

The path of liberation depends on not taking everything so personally.

I remember Trungpa Rinpoche saying to a group of students, one of which was complaining about their very very difficult work situation with a very difficult boss, and his answer began with the statement “well the trouble is, we all take everything so personally”. And I remember we all laughed and it seemed like a really funny comment. But I now see exactly what he meant.

Taking it personally means investing so much energy and time as if you are like this, and the situation is like this, and its fixed, instead of realizing that its always shifting and changing.

Sometimes the sun is brightly shining, and sometimes it hasn’t shone for the last three days. And you feel what you feel about that. But of course what we are really talking about is the emotional weather.


re: shocked

The story of one “lucky” dude:

A U.S. forest ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, Roy Cleveland Sullivan (1912-1983) survived being hit by lightning seven different times:

  1. In a lookout tower in 1942, the first bolt struck him in the leg. He lost a nail on his big toe.
  2. In 1969, a second bolt struck him in his truck, knocking him unconscious and burning his eyebrows.
  3. The third strike, in 1970, hit him in his front yard, burning his left shoulder.
  4. The next bolt struck in a ranger station in 1972 and set his hair on fire. After that, he began carrying a pitcher of water with him.
  5. In 1973, a bolt hit Sullivan in the head, blasting him out of his car and again setting his hair on fire.
  6. The sixth bolt struck him in a campground in 1974, injuring his ankle.
  7. The final bolt hit him in 1977, when he was fishing. He was hospitalized for burns on his chest and stomach.

Sullivan shot himself in 1983 … reportedly over a rejected love.

from

no fear, no bias

When I first read this I thought it was a joke.  I suppose it had something to do with naming this a disorder when it seems like we should all be striving to attain such open-mindedness when it comes to race and the perception of otherness.  Then I thought we should all be so lucky as to be born with this “disorder.”  What this article doesn’t mention though is that there’s a lot more to Williams syndrome than lack of racial biases.  It is not a joke.  And hopefully there will be a cure someday.  I’m grateful to those who did this study and hope to hear that further studies with racially-mixed families will be done to test this explanation of fear based racial biases.

Individuals with Rare Disorder Have No Racial Biases

Robin Nixon
LiveScience Staff Writer

Never has a human population been found that has no racial stereotypes. Not in other cultures or far-flung countries. Nor among tiny tots or people with various psychological conditions.

Until now.

Children with Williams syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that makes them lack normal social anxiety, have no racial biases. They do, however, traffic in gender stereotypes, said study researcher Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg of the University of Heidelberg in Germany.

illustration by Anne Sibley O’Brien

Normally, children show clear preferences for their own ethnic group by the age of three, if not sooner, other research has shown.

And, indeed, the children in this study without Williams syndrome reliably assigned good traits, such as friendliness, to pictures of people the same race as themselves. When asked something negative, such as “which is the naughty boy,” they overwhelmingly pointed to the other race.

Children with Williams syndrome, however, were equally likely to point to the white or black child as naughty or friendly.

While this study was done with white children, other research has shown that blacks and people of other races also think more highly of their own, Meyer-Lindenberg told LiveScience.

Williams syndrome is caused by a gene deletion known to affect the brain as well as other organs. As a result, people with Williams syndrome are “hypersocial,” Meyer-Lindenberg told . They do not experience the jitters and inhibitions the rest of us feel.

“The whole concept [of social anxiety] would be foreign to them,” he said.

They will put themselves at great peril to help someone and despite their skills at empathy, are unable to process social danger signals. As a result, they are at increased risk for rape and physical attack.

Nature or nurture?

While the first human population to demonstrate race-neutrality is missing critical genes, “we are not saying that this is all biologically-based and you can’t do anything about it,” Meyer-Lindenberg said.

“Just because there is a genetic way to knock the system out, does not mean the system itself is 100 percent genetic,” he said.

The study does show, however, that racism requires social fear. “If social fear was culturally reduced, racial stereotypes could also be reduced,” Meyer-Lindenberg said.

Despite their lack of racial bias, children with Williams syndrome hold gender stereotypes just as strongly as normal children, the study found. That is, 99 percent of the 40 children studied pointed to pictures of girls when asked who played with dolls and chose boys when asked, say, who likes toy cars.

The fact that Williams syndrome kids think of men and women differently, but not blacks and whites, shows that sex stereotypes are not caused by social anxiety, Meyer-Lindenberg said.

This may be because we learn about gender within “safe” home environments, while a different race is usually a sign of someone outside our immediate kin. (Studies to test this explanation, such as with racially-mixed families, have not yet been done.)

Racial biases are likely rooted in a general fear of others, while gender stereotypes may arise from sweeping generalizations, Meyer-Lindenberg said. “You watch mother make the meals, so you generalize this to everyone female.”

In their heads

Due to the present study, we now know that “gender and race are processed by different brain mechanisms,” Meyer-Lindenberg said, although those involved in gender are less understood.

Previous work has shown that in the brains of people with Williams syndrome, the amygdala – the emotional seat of the brain – fails to respond to social threats. While the amygdala itself is functionally normal, it is misguided by the pre-frontal cortex – the executive of the brain – to block all social anxiety.

This system is now thought to underlie racism, but it seems uninvolved in the formation of sex stereotypes.

Meyer-Lindenberg and colleagues are now using brain imaging to get a clearer picture of how racism and sexism are differentiated in the brain. The present study was published in the journal Current Biology.

SOURCE

start right now

Excerpted from “The Wisdom of No Escape”
by Pema Chodron

There is a story of a woman running away from tigers. She runs and runs, and the tigers are getting closer and closer. When she comes to the edge of a cliff, she sees some vines there, so she climbs down and holds on to the vines. Looking down, she sees that there are tigers below as well. She then notices that a mouse is gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries close to her, growing out of a clump of grass. She looks up and she looks down. She looks at the mouse. Then she takes a strawberry, puts it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Tigers above, tigers below. This is actually the predicament that we are always in, in terms of our birth and death. Each moment is just what it is. It might be the only moment of our life, it might be the only strawberry that we’ll ever eat. We could get depressed about it, or we could finally appreciate it and delight in the preciousness of every single moment of our life.

Trungpa Rinpoche always used to say, “You can do it.” That was probably one of his main teachings, “You can do it.” Thich Nhat Hanh, in his Guide to Walking Meditation, begins by talking about how everybody carries around this burden, and if you want to put it off, if you want to lay it down, you can do it. You can connect with the joy in your heart.

…When things are still, you may find that you are feeling grim and doing everything with a grim expression: grimly opening the door, grimly drinking your tea, concentrating so hard on being quiet and still and moving slowly that you’re miserable. On the other hand, you could just relax and realize that, behind all the worry, complaint, and disapproval that goes on in your mind, the sun is always coming up in the morning, moving across the sky, and going down in the evening. The birds are always out there collecting their food and making their nests and flying across the sky. The grass is always being blown by the wind or standing still. Food and flowers and tress are growing out of the earth. There’s enormous richness. You could develop your passion for life and your curiosity and your interest. You could connect with your joyfulness. You could start right now.

The Navajo teach their children that every morning when the sun comes up, its a brand-new sun. Its born each morning, it lives for the duration of one day, and in the evening it passes on, never to return again. As soon as the children are old enough to understand, the adults take them out at dawn and they say, “The sun has only one day. You must live this day in a good way, so that the sun won’t have wasted precious time.” Acknowledging the preciousness of each day is a good way to live, a good way to reconnect with our basic joy.

scary

The largest animal ever still exists today. Balaenoptera musculus more affectionately known as the Blue Whale dwarfs any living creature past or present (dinosaurs included).  A Blue Whale’s heart beats only 5-6 times per minute and is about the size of a Mini Cooper  Blue Whales can weigh up to 181 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1,000 kg) or 399,000 pounds. The Blue Whale’s tongue weighs around 2.7 metric tons (5,952 pounds) about the size of an average Asian Elephant. Its mouth is large enough to hold up to 90 metric tons (198,400 pounds) of food and water which is equivalent to 420,560 Big Macs.  Despite the size of its mouth, the dimensions of its throat are such that a Blue Whale cannot swallow an object wider than a beach ball.  The Blue Whale is thought to feed almost exclusively on small, shrimp-like creatures called Krill. During the summer feeding season the Blue Whale gorges itself, consuming an astounding 3.6 metric tons (7,900 pounds) or more each day. This means it may eat up to 40 million krill a day. The daily calorie requirement of an adult Blue Whale is in the region of 1.5 million.  Blue whales are the loudest animals on Earth! Their call reaches levels up to 188 decibels which is louder than a jet, which reaches only 140 decibels. Human shouting is about 70 decibels.  source

The largest animal ever still exists today. Balaenoptera musculus more affectionately known as the Blue Whale dwarfs any living creature past or present (dinosaurs included).

  • A Blue Whale’s heart beats only 5-6 times per minute and is about the size of a Mini Cooper
  • Blue Whales can weigh up to 181 metric tons (1 metric ton = 1,000 kg) or 399,000 pounds.
  • The Blue Whale’s tongue weighs around 2.7 metric tons(5,952 pounds) about the size of an average Asian Elephant.
  • Its mouth is large enough to hold up to 90 metric tons(198,400 pounds) of food and water which is equivalent to420,560 Big Macs.
  • Despite the size of its mouth, the dimensions of its throat are such that a Blue Whale cannot swallow an object wider than a beach ball.
  • The Blue Whale is thought to feed almost exclusively on small, shrimp-like creatures called Krill. During the summer feeding season the Blue Whale gorges itself, consuming an astounding 3.6 metric tons (7,900 pounds) or more each day. This means it may eat up to 40 million krill a day. The daily calorie requirement of an adult Blue Whale is in the region of 1.5 million.
  • Blue whales are the loudest animals on Earth! Their call reaches levels up to 188 decibels which is louder than a jet, which reaches only 140 decibels. Human shouting is about 70 decibels.

source