Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
According to this article, males who peruse mens magazines (i.e. Maxim, FHM, Stuff, etc.) and are exposed to the highly sexualized images of women suffer from more body-image problems than their non-perusing peers.
I had conflicting thoughts about bringing this article up. They do not have any links to the actual studies (despite being a ‘science’ website) and the research methods they used are somewhat questionable. The method of assessment was self-report after being split into either an experimental or control group. The two groups data was then compared against each other. Other than the common problem of the majority of psycho-social data coming from college undergraduate males, identifying actual body-image problems from self-report questionnaires is problematic. Even if clinical therapeutic measures were used to define the dividing line between possessing or not possessing a body-image problem, the conclusions for why this might occur are mostly opinion.
The researchers say that by looking at idealized, sexualized women, guys feel less-than because they start thinking they need to measure up on the attractiveness scale to snag such a mate.
"Men make the inference that in order to be sexual and romantic with women of the similar caliber they see in Maxim magazine, they also need to be attractive," said lead researcher Jennifer Aubrey of the Department of Communications at the University of Missouri, Columbia.
Even if the statement about men making the inference is true, this does not directly connect to why the men would have body-image problems. For example, if I tried to run the 100 meter dash against an Olympian, not only would I lose but I may also feel like less of an athlete than my competitor. It is debatable whether or not my feelings are realistic and even if unrealistic, the feelings may be transitory. In other words, next week I may return to my original conclusions about how much of an athlete I actually am.
Nevertheless, Aubrey said lad magazines send the message that guys should be having lots of sex.
"So you have that in your head while you're looking at these magazines. If you want to get as much sex as possible with these types of women, then what's left but the feeling you need to look a certain way in order to do that," Aubrey told LiveScience.
What message the magazines send is also contestable, particularly since it is problematic to separate the effects of the images out from those of the words. These magazines often directly offer suggestions and advice on securing more sexual encounters and descriptive techniques on how to master the sexual encounters obtained. But even if the statement is technically correct, and men viewing the pictures believe they need to look a certain way in order to secure sex, if that view is correct in actuality then the researchers whole premise (i.e. the views are signs of body-image problems) fails. An example of this would be if you wanted to physically lift a 1972 Volkswagon beetle over your head, but you believed you would first have to go to the gym and work on weightlifting for three months before you would succeed. Unless you already are a ‘strongman’-style bodybuilder, this is likely the correct view. In other words, if you believe you need to work out, wear nicer clothes, and maintain your personal grooming to secure sexual encounters with more attractive women, you are likely correct.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
On a trip to NYC to visit a friend this past summer, we took a trip out to Fire Island for the day. A barrier island located just off the southern coast of Long Island, Fire Island hosts several small communities and beaches as well as Fire Island National Seashore (a national park). In the three years for which I lived in NYC neither I nor my friend (whom we shall call “Lori”) had ever been there. The particular section we visited, Cherry Grove, is apparently well-known as a gay-friendly beach haven as well as a nudist-friendly area.
I first met Lori shortly after I moved to NYC to attend graduate school at NYU. Though we came from different undergraduate backgrounds, Lori possessed a disarming and gregarious nature, and our friendship developed over our mutual interests in the performing arts. As a modern dancer, Lori was able to bring insight from the world she was familiar with, to the layperson/admirer which was me. Our conversations gradually over time spread from just performing arts to many topics and Lori became my closest friend in NYC, with whom I could have discussions with about anything.
Standing about halfway between five and six feet, with brownish-blonde hair, Lori has a dancer’s figure accentuated by routine workouts of Pilates, yoga, and recreational running. Over the years I’ve known her, Lori has had a healthy, though somewhat conservative (in numbers) dating life and spent one of the years I’ve known her in a steady committed relationship. So from an external socio-aesthetic sense she is on the physically attractive side. But aside from the first five minutes after I met her, and once when I saw her in a Pilates exercise outfit, I mostly didn’t notice. Unlike some of my female friends in college, I never was in, nor had an opportunity to be in, a situation with Lori where she was less than fully clothed. I suspect that there were two overriding reasons for this: the first being that Lori never felt comfortable enough with me personally to make herself vulnerable in that way; the second being that Lori—despite being in a profession that would seem to disrupt this—is a somewhat private person, particularly when it comes to her body. The latter reason is probably pretty common amongst both men and women. Though we may expend special effort and energy to put on outfits and strut our stuff, many of us would be stressed to participate in group situations involving nudity, and hardly any of us are unselfconscious enough to put our unadorned bodies on display. The former reason may have more to do with me than Lori, and I will provide an example of what may be the source of this discomfort.
While we were walking along the beachfront Lori expressed a level of unhappiness with the appearance of her lower abdominals. She mentioned that despite her best efforts, there still appeared to be a slight bulge that wouldn’t go away. In response I said that for most of the population that area tends not to be razor flat, and also that I wouldn’t have noticed anything if she had not pointed it out so she shouldn’t worry about it. Upon several weeks of reflection, I realized that this conversation (one amongst many we’ve had over the years) may be why Lori has never felt enough level of trust to be vulnerable with me. She was likely seeking assurance that I felt she was an attractive and desirable person, and rather than affirm that as my belief, I told her she was no different than anybody else and dismissed her unhappiness as not worth any concern. Unfortunately, that was not the only time I responded similarly in such situations.
The reason my realization of what my response meant was so disappointing is because that very same outing, I experienced a realization so viscerally that it quite literally took my breath away. About 5 minutes after Lori had laid out, when I had finally settled from my watching our fellow ferry travelers make their ways across to their selected beach spot I turned to glance at Lori as I sat down. I am unsure of how long I remained motionless while I gazed at Lori, but it was long enough for my limbs to begin cramping up. In a moment when I least expected it, it hit me just how beautiful Lori is. It wasn’t the bathing suit: the black floral print bikini was nothing special, neither provocative nor understated. And it wasn’t some sexual or hormonal-driven upwelling of physical desire. I can only compare it to walking outside in the late afternoon and being stunned to notice a beautiful sunset that you can’t look away from because you know it will be ending soon. And while Lori doesn’t have the surgically-enhanced cleavage of Pam Anderson or the gluteus maximus of Vida Guerra, I think it the combination of her modest b-cup breasts, round, petite rear and the demonstrable evidence that keeping herself fit is a priority that made her all the more awe inducing.
My memories of that day are somewhat bittersweet. To this day, I still feel that I let our friendship down, by not recognizing Lori’s statements as opening a window of vulnerability, and by not seizing that opportunity to take our friendship to a deeper level. And I cannot easily make up for this because I now live on the opposite coast of the continent. But I will continue to carry the wondrous image of Lori on that beach until the day I die.