Thursday, May 31, 2012

Weightless in Britain

As youngsters, we referred to the comedy duo of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy as Fat and Skinny. Of the team of Bud Abbot and Lou Costello, everyone described the latter as the Fat One. Of the Dean Martin and Gerry Lewis twosome, Lewis was known as the goofy-looking guy. All these performers capitalized handsomely on their physical features.

For the latest example of a legitimate concern on the verge of going wrong, we have a report of the British Parliament, Reflections on Body Image. Some honourable members want it declared  a hate crime to describe a person as "obese" or even to draw attention to a person's weight. An All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image has recommended criminalization of "appearance-based discrimination".

Much of the report was based on the fact that more than 50 per cent of the population have a negative body image. That statistic from the U.K. Centre for Appearance Research. The Centre also states that 20 per cent have been victimized because of their weight.

A key person involved with the report suggested that doctors should refrain from telling patients they have excess weight. "If they don't feel overweight, and there are no health indications, what's the problem?" she asked. Studies have consistently shown that overweight people underestimate how fat they really are.

It is to be hoped that, before any legislation is enacted, a more realistic view of body image will prevail.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Historical "racism"

An email to Toronto Star. Published on line May 14, 2012.

Re Refugee bill returns to the bad old days, May 7:

This report speaks of "legally-sanctioned racism" and of Canada returning "to the days when racism and xenophobia were part of our official immigration policy".
  This opinion is an example of presentism, that is, judging former times by today's supposedly superior standards. 

At one time, majority feeling, as reflected in government policy, was that English-speaking immigrants were favoured because of their easier and less expensive assimilation into Canadian life. At another time, only farmers were admitted, because that's what the young nation then needed.

This feeling and policy continued well into the 1960s. Today, it is hyperbole to speak of "toxins that are poisoning our country".  The word racism trips off the tongue too lightly in contemporary discourse.

Our immigration policy exists for the sole benefit of Canada. That said, we are obliged to show some leniency towards the downtrodden, the refugees and others rendered desolate by events beyond their control. Such leniency must be tempered by economic conditions and our ability to absorb more newcomers.

This report also leaves the impression that only Japanese were confined to internment camps during the Second World War. Two immigrants on our street in downtown Toronto were whisked away by the police. They joined other Germans and Italians placed in internment camps for the duration of the war. Little has been said about the economic hardship caused to their families. To my knowledge, they have not even asked for an apology.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Women Exploited

Tired of all that advice about losing weight?  In the mid-1990s, Sassy magazine gave 13 reasons not to diet.  The magazine for young women stated boldly: Starving yourself is complete and total lunacy.  Dieting makes you boring.  You'll gain it back, anyway. 

The "evil diet industry" is unregulated and has no legal obligation to prove its products work, the magazine pointed out.  The promise of liberation through weight loss is false.  Today's barbie-doll worship does much harm to girls and young women. 

Unnatural mannequins, computer-altered photographs, anorexic models, all create a false ideal.  Marilyn Monroe, sex goddess of the 1960s, would today be considered too large by the fashion industry.  It wants us to believe the ideal shapes are thin, thinner and thinest.

Unfortunately, too many young women believe this nonsense.  They look into the mirror, imagine their bodies much larger than they really are, and lose their self-confidence.  Naomi Wolf alerted us to this mischief in her book The Beauty Myth.  She tells how the industry's creation of a mythical, perfect body has taught young women and girls to hate their bodies.  This self-loathing leads to eating disorders and depression.

As a first line of defence, every woman should read Gloria Steinem's Revolution from Within.  The book's argument is that too many of our systems of authority undermine women's opinion of themselves.  People in this condition are ready victims for unproven products and services.  As Steinem says it: "Liberation begins with the nurturing of self-esteem."