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Archive for November, 2011

One of the common themes that keeps appearing in my life is my changing understanding of what I look like.  Today, work has contributed to that greatly.  I’m trying to do some research for a project called “Hue” which will explore how different cultures around the world attribute positive qualities to lighter skin and negative qualities to darker skin tone.  In the process I’ve been watching  heaps of NFB films that have centred around race and beauty for women.  Below are a few of them.

Western Eyes

Screen Test

The Colour of Beauty

Western Eyes made me cry, which is quite an accomplishment!  It just hit really close to home; when I was a child, I had a really peculiar face; my left eyelid had a natural “double lid” – a small, insignificant extra fold of skin that Asians gush over.  My right eyelid had a “single lid” and from what I learned, was more typical.  My mother would look at my face and would remind me that when I got older, I could always get the right one “fixed”.

When I moved to California, I was starting middle school: an age ripe with self-loathing and insecurities.  It did not help that California is home to some of the most beautiful and the most superficial people in the world.  My peers discovered hair dye, mascara and lip gloss, well ahead of my Canadian peers.  I was still wearing clothes my mother picked out for me at Wal-mart.   My neighbourhood was about 92% white (or at least it felt that way).  I was never a “cute” kid, but those three years made me feel incredibly ugly at an age when I desperately wanted my self-worth to come from my looks.  Part of my self-loathing was attributed to my Asian-ness.  Over the summer, I’d be shipped off to China to live with my aunt and my same-age cousin, where my extended family would gush over my looks and tell me how beautiful I was compared to the rest of my cousins, and a part of me would start to believe it.  I’d return to California to find out that my sparkly affirmation had returned to it’s original, pumpkin state.  This only served to further confirm what I had initially feared: I was only cute to Asian people, and frankly, the only opinion that mattered was that of white people.

Through high school and beyond, a few things happened simultaneously; Lucy Liu’s impact on the television show Ally McBeal slowly made Asian women more attractive in the eyes of western society (aka yellow fever passed its incubation period and became a full out epidemic), and I discovered ways to paint my face and present myself to make me more western.  Never underestimate the power of eyeliner.  I had over a decade to learn to build my identity around something other than my looks.  I felt good about who I was for the first time in a decade.

And all of the sudden, the tables were turned.  And it felt good.  But it’s a bit like simultaneously being a victim, an observer, and an accomplish in some kind of huge practical joke.

It’s amazing that the same women of colour who were rejected by western society a few decades ago will lap up this kind of newfound attention, like the girl who eagerly awaits an invite to sit with the popular girls at lunch when just last week they were trashing her locker.  It’s amazing how quickly we leave behind our peers who used to join us in their disappointments.  I’m of course, talking about the dudes.  That’s just another can of worms.

I think years of seeing Asian women be the only other ethnic group perceived as beautiful by Western society, I’ve come to realize that the popular girls didn’t invite us to their lunch table because they thought we were cool.  It was more of a novelty or curiosity factor than anything else.  One of the films points out that “The Bachelor [ a television show where eligible bachelors audition women to be their wives] usually has one or two Asian and Black girls, but they never make it past the second rose.”  In terms of beauty, maybe opinions have changed, but that will only get you to a short term union.  In terms of relationship material, maybe we still can’t be taken seriously.  I ask myself this all the time.

If you were in my shoes, would it be better to be labelled unattractive?  Or would you rather be an attractive but only sufficiently so to be a passing novelty?  In Western Eyes, you really get a sense that the reason Shannon goes through with double lid surgery is borne out of a deeply rooted insecurity because of a lifetime of bullying.  It breaks my heart because I know that no matter what she does with her eyelids, it won’t be enough to make her look “white,” which won’t change things for her.  Had I been born two decades earlier, would I go through that same kind of agony?

I complain about the latter option, but I don’t know if I would be strong enough to grow up in a world of only the former.  Its easy to condemn the way something is when you are simultaneously exploiting the shit out of it.

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Pizza as a Vegetable

Sorry that I’m missing.  My life has been taken over by self-admittedly selfish activities such as working out way too much, drinking, and otherwise being a burden on society.

Everyone knows I am a fat kid at heart.  Don’t let my svelt 113 lbs fool you.  I swear to God, I’ll order the onion rings and feel no guilt about it either.  There is an emergency cookie dough ball supply in my freezer right now, just waiting for the rainy day when they will get popped in the oven.  But even though I love all things butter/cheese/chocolate/bacon-laden, the story below is ridiculous.

If you haven’t heard last week:

Pizza keeps vegetable status on school lunch menus; House rules

That’s right.  Two tablespoons of tomato paste are enough even though a half a cup is a full serving.  I’m not sure if this is on a slice of pizza or the whole thing, but let’s give Congress the benefit of the doubt and assume they are talking about each slice.  This means one slice has roughly one quarter of a serving of vegetables.  If we are talking about the paste requirement covering (no pun intended) the entire pizza (assuming eight slices), that’s each slice having about three percent of a vegetable serving.

This is hilarious. But it also illustrates a failure of the government to do what they should be doing all along.

The free market (and people’s tastebuds) dictate what food products become successful, and there is no doubt in my mind that pizza is delicious enough to survive in the face of school lunch program regulations.  There will be junk food enthusiasts (like me!) who love pizza in all its greasy, cheesy goodness.  However, the role of government is to ensure market efficiency.  That market efficiency includes an obligation to account for long-term societal costs, to internalize those costs and to spit them out in some sort of society-protecting regulation.  That’s why alcohol and tobacco are heavily controlled and you can’t walk around killing people.  Pizza leads to childhood obesity, a cost that the government should have factored into its decision making process, knowing that the processed food manufacturers had no private interests to do this themselves.  The government’s role in the free market should be (IMHO) to therefore include these costs in producing school lunch regulations that protect students’ long-term health, to a reasonable degree. Within those options, students are obviously free to choose what tastes good to them, but at least then it wouldn’t be open season on their pudgy behinds.

What we have here is not only a blatant unwillingness to account for those costs and do what regulations were designed to do, but also an errant lesson in the science of what counts as a vegetable.  What are kids going to think now?  Is Kool-aid a fruit?

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On my WordPress dashboard, I am being informed that lots of people are coming here searching for Brenda Song’s bathroom fellatio scene in “The Social Network.”  Wtf? Sorry to disappoint.

. . .  Moving on.

I’m working on marketing ideas for a documentary that is coming out in February called “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” and it is pretty awesome.  It’s one of the reasons that I took this job in the first place, to be able to gain access to some interesting ideas and points of view.  Here’s the link to the trailer.

Pink Ribbons, Inc Trailer

Here’s also a pretty fair description of how the Pink Ribbon Campaign started.

It’s not a novel discovery, that companies are putting a charitable face on their products in order to up sales, sometimes with very few intentions of contributing to the charity.  What’s profound is the way that this message is communicated.  I can see why breast cancer is considered the “perfect marketing charity”; it appeals to and garners sympathy from the demographic that is the most likely to purchase products in a household: upper-middle class women, often white.  Now the Pink Ribbon Campaign and other breast cancer fundraisers generate a lot of money.  A look at the BC Cancer Agency site will tell you that we still don’t know the environmental causes of upwards of 60% of breast cancer cases.  Half of these products are ridiculous looking.  No one knows how much money is actually going to research, prevention, support, etc.  Some of the marketed products actually cause cancer themselves.

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I rarely donate to breast cancer or other cancer fundraisers (except if a friend is doing the fundraising, but that’s more out of solidarity than anything else).  I personally know people affected by cancer, but it doesn’t stop me from thinking that things like cancer, heart disease, etc, are all first world ways to die.

From my meager second year cell biology understanding of things, cells in your body divide, die, and get replaced.  As you age, the likelihood of this process messing up at some point increases, possibly because the number of divisions causes something to go wrong in the coding (kind of like how a photocopy of a photocopy is okay for a while but will start to get blurry).  If you are a cancer patient, with the exception of childhood cancers, you likely have lived long enough for your body to develop cancerous cells, as the risk factor increases with age.  The fact that cancer rates are rising is not only associated with environmental factors like what we eat and where we live, but also is being attributed to our aging populations.

Why are cancer rates so low in a country with low life expectancy, like Swaziland (life expectancy is somewhere around 30-40 years)?  Maybe it’s because they are dying of other, earlier causes before cancer cells even have a chance to develop.  A large portion of deaths are from HIV/AIDS.

Okay, so maybe HIV/AIDS is a public health crisis isolated specifically to parts of Africa and Southeast Asia.  What about a non-African country that isn’t Thailand? The first one on the CIA Factbook with the lowest life expectancy is Afghanistan. The biggest cause of mortality there is complications from childbirth.  The second biggest cause is “lower respiratory infections.”

What about something on this side of the Atlantic?  What about Haiti?  Didn’t they have that cholera epidemic?

The list goes on.  What I’m trying to say is that lower life expectancy, in general, means a cause of death such as childbirth, or war and violence, or HIV/AIDS, or a childhood disease, or a famine or a drought, or because your living conditions do not stand up to natural disasters, or organized crime, or something that is equally undesirable.  All this money is going to funding research for cancer treatments, when cancer is primarily an older person affliction.

I’m not trying to be evil.  I’m just an economist.  With limited funds and given a choice between two groups of individuals, I’d rather see funds going to people who are less likely to have spent much time in adulthood.  I’d rather see a dollar going to a malarial net in a place where children are at risk, or to providing better water, or whatever.  If I had to distribute the (really sad) paycheck I get in a manner that I thought was fair, cancer and heart disease would not be the first place I would go.  I would start with the average age of the individuals affected and I would move my way up.  If I live until sixty in a wonderful, first world country like Canada, I will know that I have escaped the causes of death of the vast majority of this world’s population.  Cancer, heart disease, and maybe a handful of others would be the only thing left to get me.

I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone in this post who is affected by cancer.  Many of you raise funds on behalf of someone close to you; a mother, a daughter, a neighbour.  It’s just offensive to me when all this energy is directed at saving lives from cancer when it could be better spent saving millions more in other ways.  And no one puts a ribbon on those millions and raises their voice on their behalf.  There are people who live and die without a champion.

Stuff I looked at for this post:

Canadian Cancer Statistics

WHO Mortality in Afghanistan – http://www.who.int/whosis/mort/profiles/mort_emro_afg_afghanistan.pdf

WHO Mortality in Swaziland – http://www.who.int/whosis/mort/profiles/mort_afro_swz_swaziland.pdf

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