Monday, September 25, 2006

Revisiting a Thin Issue

So after Madrid fashion week brought the focus on models and image issues, it seems they opened a breach in the dyke that had kept at bay viewpoints that expressed reservations about female image and health issues. London fashion week followed up by stating that they were not going to tell designers who to choose as models and how to run their shows. The culture secretary for the UK, Tessa Jowell, joined the debate with a call to follow the Spanish example. Well, anyway, all to no avail.

But. Surprise! Milan fasion week has stated that it won't participate in the exploitation of young women and has announced a new code that models need to adhere to in order to participate. In order to participate, models will have to carry a medical certificate showing they are healthy. Young school-age girls need a guardian accompanying them. The code also combats the exploitation of vulnerable women who fall prey to unlicensed operators who talk them into having sex in the hopes of attaining their dreams.

Ok, before anyone goes around thinking, I have something against skinny women, let me say that I acknowledge that some women can be naturally thin. The issue with me is not the thinness- it is the imposition of an ideal. It is the restriction of a natural range. That is why I think Milan's actions go further than Spain's. I think Spain's heart was in the right place when they tried to curb an epidemic of body-image illnesses. By asking models to show a medical guarantee of health, Milan says whatever size you are- you gotta be healthy.

I love to see policy being formulated by the users. Let's see how this keeps developing.

[interesting link:]
[pics were either NYT or BBC- I forget which- so thanks to both I guess]

Monday, September 18, 2006

And what gives me the right to Nation-bash?

So... a friend read my Orient Express post and told me that it made him very uncomfortable to read it. I seemed to be so anti-China in it. Do I hate China and the Chinese?

Well, let me ask you if the Chinese dissident who is thrown into jail for protesting things he sees wrong with the Chinese political ideology hates China? Maybe s/he does, maybe not. To answer that question straight up- No, I do not hate China as a country or the Chinese as a people. Historically, this is a culture that is a sister to my own (Indian). I do however have a strong aversion to China as an ideology- that which seems to avert attention from individual rights by making them secondary to a nationalistic philosophy which is dictated by the few to the many.

Many Chinese have given voice to how much better their lives are getting. And yet, the few dissidents whose voices are raised against some injustice are being silenced underfoot. Why? If everything is so good, why be scared of a peaceful movement like Falun Gong? Why kidnap the Panchen Lama and replace him with a State-sanctioned Panchen? Why not let Taiwan exist independently? Why...

In short, no I don't hate the country of China anymore than I hate the US or India. But I am as much against its ideology and philosophy as the nearest Chinese dissident.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Role Models

So... New development.
Madrid Fashion Week has decided that this year they will not be allowing any models with a BMI lower than 18 to participate in the show(between 18.5 and 25 is considered the normal range). While this is not a premier fashion show- hey, its a start! Every year they were facing protests from doctors and women's rights groups and this year they decided to ban underage and underweight models. Go Spain!!

About 30% of the models have flunked the BMI test. I am glad we are beginning to pay some attention to the role models put out there for younger women. Male models don't look half as unhealthy as some of the thinnest female models. I am not recommending or even condoning male modelling- just saying body image issues-wise, they are nowhere near as unhealthy.

We need healthier role-MODELS.

[Color pic from BBC news site and B&W pic from a French website on Anorexia and Kate Moss/Amber Valleta as far as I can tell. Thanks guys.]

Sunday, September 10, 2006

The Orient Express

If you were to hear the Chinese ambassador to the UN speak you would not be alone to wonder which school of diplomacy he attended. He is very clear about presenting China's policies to the world. You even have to admire the man for at least having the gumption to say what he means when it comes to world politics and the last-minute "diplomacy" run by the US to keep all the fires in the world barely in check. In a recent interview which got wide coverage in print and AV media, he reiterates that China's military build up is for self-defense (!!!ok!!!) and tells the US to "shut up" and look to itself before pointing fingers. He also goes on to say that one inch of land is more important to the Chinese polity than the lives of all its people. Strong words.

Now, as far as military buildup being for self-defense, I do have trouble buying that argument when the same military is being used to forcibly keep Tibet a part of China, attacking India without provocation in 1962, suppressing popular demonstrations from its own public mercilessly, etc. However, if I look at the fact that the US has the world's largest military expenditure, which is also ostensibly for self-defense, but is used to wage war on other nations and people, then I have to say it is high time someone did tell the US off for being a hypocrite. Sadly, the only one who have the muscles and the guts to do this will probably be the other contenders for world hegemony. :( Oh woe to the rest of us.

China has been flexing its political muscles more and more as it has learnt to play the economic game that goes under the name of democracy but is really all about capitalism. Who cares about democracy as long as free market and consumerism rules? After all that is the medicine the west has been selling for awhile hasn't it? And now how are they to call China on it when they want its cheap products and even more importantly, they want access to its enormous market? Trapped in a mire of our own making.

As clearly stated by the ambassador, one inch of land is more important to China than all its people's lives put together. This is nationalism taken to an extreme and it certainly doesn't fit the line of self-defense and peaceful, economic rise well. It is Tibet today, Taiwan tomorrow (most nations don't recognize this island nation anymore anyway so who is going to shed a tear on its re-aborption into the motherland), disputed borders and islands in the ocean the day after... I am not saying that China's ambition is to take over the world (not militarily anyway, as of now). But I can see a day when China goes from manning its borders to keep the people in to patrolling it to keep the non-Chinese out. Movements that promote jingoistic nationalism are more likely to spawn feelings of superiority amongst its espousers and followers and xenophobia towards others. (You already see this in Tibet -the Han Chinese have overrun the peaceful, monastery-studded landscape.) All the makings of a hegemon? You decide.

On an aside, speaking of "Movements that promote jingoistic nationalism [which] are more likely to spawn feelings of superiority amongst its espousers and followers and xenophobia towards others" - the American and European push against immigrants and policies towards poorer nations of the world that are seen as not having much to offer is a lovely case in point- but we will leave that for another time.

While the US has been busy stoking and controlling fires around the world, China has been making some serious inroads into South America and Africa. Continents and nations that have largely been ignored by the west as not accounting for much on the political stage. Brazil for instance, has been crying for the WTO and the west to give it fair breaks so it can grow and feed its people. All it gets instead are selfish fights about subsidies. China enters stage when it realizes it has huge resource needs as well as a need to legitimize its position as a political heavy. It can do both by offering African and South American nations investment and technology without too many strings attached. So for instance, it allows regimes such as Mugabe's Zimbabwe and the Sudanese government to continue to tyrannize its own people as long as they provide China's energy needs in return for investments.

Of course, not all the governments it deals with are banana republics. This means that some of those investments are really going to pay off in a good way. For the first time, some nations are getting a serious player in world politics giving them attention and much-needed financial and technological assistance. The rest of the developed world should feel ashamed. They have been throwing pennies at these poorer nations everytime there was a "humanitarian" crisis without making a serious and sustained commitment to help. How will they now deal with the growing legitimacy that China will gain to these nations as a friend, a success, a country like their own that has been able to bring 400 million people out of poverty?

The sad thing is that China may be doing what it is doing for selfish reasons. But the sadder thing is that the "ethically" minded and democratic west did not do anything even for selfish reasons.

[All pictures taken from the BBC news website- thanks!]

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Out with the old...

When I was figuring things out with my first child, I was a lot less compassionate. If you chose to have a child, you SHOULD be a baby-slinging, co-sleeping, nursing-on-demand mama. If not, you are simply not up to par. Your poor child…

Now, with a 3.5 rd old wild child and a new baby, I am a little frayed at the edges. I still believe in wearing my babe, and he sleeps next to me at night, and nurses round the clock. We’ve delayed vaccinations, am appalled by circumcision (of either gender!), and have embraced respectful communication. We plan to unschool.

Having kids makes you deeply mindful…of your own choices. Gives you less time and energy to judge the choices of others. Maybe more importantly, it provides new clarification into how difficult it is to be on the path no one else chose. We are biologically constructed to be social creatures, to be part of the pack. So sometimes it’s HARD to feel like you are tribe-less. To feel like you are the weird one. To not do the done thing. So, I can feel for those women who feel society’s tug, and yield to the pressure to conform.

On the other hand, and this is for everyone who chose breast augmentation and cesareans, it is tremendously empowering to walk the unpopulated path. It allows you to yield to what feels good instead of what looks right, which, despite the catcalling of those on the Christian right, is often a stunningly good barometer of behavior. It allows me to have homebirths and nurse in public, and deeply question the ways Society tells me I have to raise my kids.

I have a hard time juxtaposing my desire to be compassionate, to live and let live, with my need to co-create the kind of world I will leave to my children. The lingering question is always, always: is walking away the only option? In other words, is Society so rigidly unchangeable that the only option is to create something completely different, not just outside the mainstream, but in a new ocean entirely? Is it somehow less “progressive” to suggest giving up on a lot of the sacred tenets of modern America, instead of trying to change what I don’t like, a la

Is building a new model just as legitimate a way of life as reforming the old?

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Body

So the latest news making the rounds in the media (and, no, you no longer have to be addicted to tabloids to get these kinds of news items) is the "cat-fight" between Elle McPherson and Heidi Klum. For those of us, who don't know these women (pictures used without permission from a website called modelsblog - sorry fellas, we be little fish, don't sue us!), they are part of a relatively new breed of creatures called Supermodels. They make tons of money and are considered the epitome of beauty and sexiness.

Well, it turns out that Elle- who is now in her 4th decade on this planet- was once (1986) referred to as The Body by Time magazine. But then as she got older, she stopped modelling as much and now isn't seen as widely. Turn page. Victoria's Secret decides to run some ads in 2006 with Heidi Klum- who is now in her 3rd decade- presenting her as The Body.

Hmm... This story and the brewing dynamics are strange and weirdly off-putting on so many levels that I don't know where to begin. So I'll begin where I left off which was talking about the caricaturizing of femininity and the female ideal.

Firstly, that the female ideal in terms of physical appearance is very narrowly defined. So, the feminine ideal should be a supermodel who is between 5 feet 9 and a half to 6 feet tall, have dimensions ranging between 34-24-34 to 36-25-35 (yes, yes, with a woman those three numbers seem to say it all), should be white (so the fairer you are the better), blondish (depending on the shade in favour at the moment), should have long tresses, should have long limbs, be thin all over except in the chest (thick thighs and a hips are a NO-NO) and just be overall gorgeous and glamorous. That is The Body.

And if you ain't got it, you can try- there's growth hormone therapies to push on "shorties," there's trips to cosmetic surgeons, there's skin lighteners (for those of us not born to minimally pigmented parents), there's dieting and not to mention extreme makeover! What more can a modern woman want- we live in an age that is helpful enough to really lay it all out for us.

Secondly, here are two women in the public eye, battling over the "privilege" of representing the whole of the female human body-type. It might even be a "pseudo" fight in that it does not make much of a difference to Elle or Heidi personally whether they are the holders of the title- but a fight has nevertheless been announced to titillate people and make sure this item gets as much coverage as possible. The fallout of this is that many women, impressionable or not, will be bombarded by these seemingly irrelevant stories about two women vying for something as inane as the title of The Body. But it ain't irrelevant- it is setting standards for THE BODY! This is the benchmark, broadly broadcast, that will help you measure your sexiness at a glance. Hmm...why thanks guys!

Not to mention the fact that it is demeaning to the two women in question (Heidi and Elle) to be battling over a dubious distiinction. And demeaning to all women that we allow society to objectify women to this extent- the emphasis is solely on appearance and nothing else! It is a sorry state we have come to. Do you notice that the female ideal has nothing to do with a woman's ability, intelligence, interests or anything else?

Frank says that to him The Body would always be the original. Jesse Ventura. :P