While you've been asleep, our world has experienced a close encounter of the third kind. Whenever you're confronted with ads for designer clothes and accessories, infomercials for fad diets and workout regimens, or simply reaching for bottled water in the refrigerated aisle squeezed between energy drinks and soda, there is a switch in the brain that goes on. Without your knowledge and authorization, a chip was implanted deep in the cerebrum by these invaders. You receive subliminal messaging about thinness and ideal beauty. The messages convince you that you are not quite good enough and in need of some type of extreme makeover. Not even the most educated among us is immune in the least to the barrage of missives. Actually, this makes you more of a sucker, er, conscientious consumer and ensures that at some point down the road you will buy product X or a version of it. It sounds out-of-this-world-ish, but it's actually a simple,scientific principle called persuasion, and advertisers hire social psychologists to consult on the best way to get us to buy products. Even if you've killed your television and are proud of it, you are still within firing range and there's no escape. The most persuasive tools are sex, food, and a distorted view of our bodies.
|Hotness credited to Photoshop CS3|
To prove his theory, Dr. Sheldon conducted studies on male undergrads at Yale and took nude photos of them without their informed consent to participate in his research. His theory has long since been discredited in the world of psychology, but the world of pop health and fitness promises weight loss tailored to your unique body type. It's not fair to hold Sheldon responsible for every maladaptive response, but much of his work was informed by eugenics and all of these standards of beauty have been shaped by racism and sexism. The British documentary Nip, Bleach, Tuck chronicles the lives of four men and women of color who are convinced that something is gravely wrong with either their noses, skin color, or legs and are in need of surgical intervention. Unfortunately, the psycho-sociological assault on humanity disproportionately affects girls more than boys. Pro-Ana and Pro-Mia movements are not designed to support healthy body/weight images, but to give an underground voice to girls and women who believe anorexia nervosa and bulimia are lifestyles choices and not diseases.
Right smack in the middle of puberty, I was issued a warning by my father: I was developing a double chin and needed to watch my weight. I hadn't noticed, with my mind all on boys and such. I took his fatherly advice to heart, ditched the boy scene, and became whipped by the need to look at my face from different angles in the mirror. All of the sudden my nose was way too big for my face, and I hated how my thighs seemed to get chunkier when I sat down. Thinking I might have eluded the madness, I attended an elite, prep boarding school for high school. In a short amount of time, I quickly noticed a pattern. Many of the girls would cut pages from fashion magazines and hang them in border or as wallpaper around their dorm rooms. There were ads of models in lingerie, in shoes, in Burberry's from head to toe. The most popular ones were the Calvin Klein ads with groups of preppy kids hanging off one another vying for who could look the most aloof and comely. How peculiar it was for a young Black girl to have pictures of White models hugging the walls of her room.
In her journey toward puberty, one of my daughter's best friends has been put on notice: lose weight or forever suffer the consequences of health-conscious, but boneheaded parents. They've hired a personal trainer for her. She is a kid with a solid build, a round, beautiful face, and a charming disposition. She also is very physically active and has yet to hit her growth spurt which will lengthen her body and even out her BMI. My daughter watches her friend bemoaning her caloric intake and wondering if the snack some kid has offered to her in school is okay with her diet. During Father's Day, she told her dad that she was hungry and wanted more to eat. He said no because she needed to watch her weight. She yelled at him saying that she wished he was not her father. He grounded her.
I think he also has been abducted by aliens.