On Why We Need to Reclaim Realism

Posted by on Jul 23, 2014 in appearance, men, musings | 0 comments

Power of glamour

In an article from TIME magazine last year, Virginia Postrel writes about The Twisted Allure of Jihadi Glory. While it features the outcry over the Rolling Stone cover featuring Boston bomber Dzokhar Tsarnaev, it poses a bigger picture question on the power of glamourization.

Postrel shares a quote from novelist Salman Rushdie, no stranger to controversy himself as the author of the 1988 novel, The Satanic Verses. Asked about what motivates suicide bombers, Rushdie’s answer is illuminating:

Terror is glamour – not only, but also. [Terrorists] are influenced by the misdirected image of a kind of magic… The suicide bomber’s imagination leads him to believe in a brilliant act of heroism, when in fact he is simply blowing himself up pointlessly and taking other people’s lives.

As Postrel shares in her piece, Rushdie hits the nail on the head when it comes to how glamourizing something offers an incentive to act upon, to increase the perception of who we are and how we act, which made me think of how glamour warps our everyday lives.

The Power of Glamour

You can go back to virtually any point in history, and you’ll find countless examples of glamourizing something that was anything but.

In her piece, Postrel talks about martial glamour – or how war seemed glamourous to those that would follow in their leader’s footsteps. She talks about Achilles from ancient Greece, but you could also look to the poem The Charge of the Light Brigade, by Alfred Tennyson, to see how war was glamourized.

Forward, the Light Brigade!
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
 Someone had blunder’d:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
 Rode the six hundred

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
 All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
 Noble six hundred.

Until the First World War and its huge loss of life, war was seen as a heroic endeavour. Today, we think differently – and yet, as Postrel’s piece shows, some of us don’t.

This is the problem with glamourization – how do we reel in what we encourage blithely?

The Persuasion of Hope

Marketers and brand advertisers have been using glamour in a bid to create desire and action within their target audience for years.

Think back to the black and white movies of the 40′s, where the movie stars of yesteryear would happily smoke on-screen and be regarded as sexy and sophisticated for it. Today, we know the dangers of smoking – just over 70 years ago, it was actively encouraged.

Or look at the success of magazines like Vogue and Elle, that portray perfect women that rarely reflect society’s real women and their various shapes, sizes and lifestyles.

These examples, and others like them, build on the desire of their audience(s) to be more like the actors on screen or the models on the page, as opposed to being happy with who they are.

By  tapping into this powerful hope, or desire, brands use the power of persuasion that people need to be something they’re not in order to be valued.

As Postrel shares in the TIME article, that value can come from making powerless people feel significant. In advertising and marketing, that value can come from answering the “if only” question.

  • If only I had a better job;
  • If only my car was as cool as my neighbours;
  • If only I could look good in that tiny bikini;
  • If only. If only.

The problem is, even those we aspire to be like aren’t perfect. Magazines take perfectly good-looking people and airbrush them to an even higher plane of “perfection”. Movies use focus filters and post-production effects to showcase their stars in the best light.

By creating an unrealistic desire, we’ve created a culture of hope that can never be met – at least, not until the next campaign where we can start it all over again.

Realism and Reclamation

The problem, of course, is that to deny hope, we deny growth and our future selves. Why shouldn’t we want to reach for something we don’t have, or be like someone we admire?

The thing is, we don’t need to deny ourselves. We should do all these things, and more. But we should do it realistically.

We need to stop promoting the idea that unrealistic imagery is the norm. Individually and in a wider context, we need to understand that glamour is only a facade of what realism truly is. To continue to glamourize our perfect selves doesn’t help us grow – it merely stunts us, and that benefits no-one.

It’s not as if we need to play the glamour card, either.

These are important steps from the types of companies on the front line that can truly initiate a different way of thinking. But they’re just the first steps.

As marketers, we need to be able to instil desire without taking the lazy way out. As businesses, we need to be more realistic on who our target audiences are and what they really feel, and need.

More importantly, as men – in marketing, advertising and plain old life – we need to look at women the same way we do each other. After all, when was the last time you saw a guy photoshopped to the Nth degree to present a false idea of sexiness to women?

Hopes and dreams are one thing. Selling hopes and dreams is another, and it’s the latter that can make the biggest leap to connecting the two together.

It’s time to see who’s up to the challenge.

image: Julian Rodriguez Orihuela

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GUYSIDE TAKEOVER: finding “aging” inside “changing”

Posted by on Jul 21, 2014 in aging, Guyside | 0 comments

FlashFree is all male this week! While Liz takes some time to enjoy herself, we’re going all-Guyside all the time. I hope regular readers can withstand the onslaught of testosterone. I promise not to post about cars and sports. Too much. — Bob. 

Living a long time is everyone’s goal. And the changes in our aging bodies can creep up on us, the way that you don’t notice a child growing up until he or she goes away for a time and then you look and realize “Wow, you’re six inches taller!”

There’s no doubt that you can do things to minimize the march of time. Some people swear by statin drugs as the magic pill to extend life. Others, like futurist Ray Kurzweil, are gobbling vitamins in large doses to ensure their survival to see the glorious future that awaits us all. Whatever your strategy, I’ve got a couple of ideas about this stuff I want to share.

First: maybe we need to do a personal inventory — physical, spiritual, emotional — at some regular interval. I know that if I were to chart my physical fitness from one year to the next over the last few years I’d see some significant swings, mostly based on how much cycling I’m doing. My emotional fitness too, depending on what things were happening in my life. For example, I’ve no doubt the year my dad died my emotional fitness would have been down. No wonder! For a while (until I emptied the bottle), I had a bottle of single-malt Scotch that only got opened once a year on my birthday. I’d have a birthday dram and scribble a note on the box to say what was happening when I had it. Maybe we should take a little time — on our birthday, perhaps, or New Year’s Day — and assess our selves. What’s changed since the last time? Where are we at in our lives? What would we like to see change over the next 12 months? Write it down, put it somewhere. If nothing else, it might be an interesting experience to read the previous entries.

Second, time is inevitably going to reduce our abilities. 20 years ago, I prided myself on my skills as a glutton. I can remember epic nights with friends where we’d eat countless chicken wings or endless slices of pizza or bottomless hot-fudge sundaes. That doesn’t happen now. I could survive on a couple of hours of sleep if I wanted to and never feel I needed to “catch up.” Not any more. Those are minor changes, compared to some of those I see my mom struggling with, but there’s one important lesson that I’m seeing. Those changes are quicksand, or they’re an undertow in the water. If you fight them, you exhaust yourself. If you remain calm, let them take you, and then gently push against them, you can regain some sense of control.

Third, we need to balance being done for and doing. I might not want to move house myself at this point in my life. My mom, for example, has difficulty with bending over and picking stuff up. It makes her breathing difficult. But she’s having a difficult time stopping herself from doing it. Her motivation is there but she’s unwilling to accept the limitations that her aging body is placing on her. It’s a complicated balance. For a child of a senior, part of you wants to see them taken care of and all their needs met, but I worry there’s a tipping point somewhere where the passion for self-reliance falls away.

And finally, there’s a value in finding and appreciating simple pleasures. A good meal, another person’s touch, sun on your face, a country drive — all of those things give my mom a good feeling. We could all learn a little about simply stopping and letting those things work on us, noticing them, appreciating them.

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Is daily stress adding to weight gain?

Posted by on Jul 18, 2014 in stress, weight gain | 0 comments

Food and DietAccording to a newly published online study, stress may be wreaking more than havoc on our bodies than previously reported. And, it’s quantifiable…at least with regard to weight gain.

I have certainly covered the impact of daily stressors on the hormone cortisol (think: craving comfort food, higher insulin levels and a midsection fat dump). However, study findings demonstrate that if women experience one or more stressful events the day before eating a fat-laden meal, it may slow the metabolism in such a way that over time leads to a whopping 11 extra pounds a year! Is prevention the best cure? Here’s what you need to know.

A bit of background…In this study, researchers asked fifty eight women to sample two separate calorie and fat dense meals consisting of eggs, turkey sausage, biscuits and gravy (940 calories, 60 g fat total, with the difference between the two meals saturated versus monounsaturated fats). To level the playing field and neutralize any possible factors that could affect the results, they were asked to forgo physical activity and alcohol, as well as vitamins and antioxidants in days leading up the study; they also fasted 12 hours after consuming three, standardized meals. On the day of the study visit, they completed several questionnaires assessing depression, physical activities and the degree of stress during the day before. Most of the stressors that the women reported were fairly common and interpersonal, for example arguments with colleagues or spouses, disagreements with close ones or work issues.

What they found….the more stressors that women reported having had experienced the day prior to the meal, the slower the metabolic rate and the higher the insulin levels following the fatty meal. (Metabolic rate refers to the amount of time required to burn calories and fat; insulin contributes to the way fat is stored.) More stress also meant less conversion of fat into fuel, meaning that these women were storing more fat. What’s more, the combination of depression history and a large number of stressors caused both an immediate spike in triglycerides following the high fat calorie meal and a two-fold slower decline in cortisol levels. Additionally, type of fat didn’t appear to influence these findings; regardless if it was saturated or monounsaturated, stress affected metabolism fairly equally.

One of the most interesting take-aways from the study is that the high -at, calorie-dense meals that the women consumed are equivalent to many common fast food choices, for example, a MacDonald’s Big Mac with cheese and medium fries provides 930 calories and 58 grams of fat. And, the researchers note that while most people eat every four to five hours, the women were only provided with one meal; this means that food choices appear to influence metabolic rates all day long. Yet another reason to keep healthy foods nearby when stressors hit.

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48 looks at 89

Posted by on Jul 16, 2014 in aging, Guyside, health, general, men | 2 comments

I’m spending some time with my mom as I write this Guyside column, and 89 from the perspective of nearly 48 has been making me think about lots of stuff around aging

Here’s a few thoughts, in more or less random order.

Technology

It’s really going to be interesting to find out if I deal with technology as I age. I suspect I’m at the start of the generation that has found it relatively easy to adapt to technology. Perhaps it’s just me, but I enjoy tackling technology and understanding new devices.

My mom is definitely not in that mindset. For her, managing the universal remote is about as much as she wants to take on, and even that isn’t necessarily a done deal, as my brother and I can attest from annoyed phone calls when the TV and the cable box are out of sync.

I wonder if I’m kidding myself on this, though. There was a time when I was on top of every pop cultural trend and thought I was quite the expert, but as I creep toward 50 I find myself more and more out of touch with the music that’s getting played on the radio – something I couldn’t have imagined happening. If that can happen, then who’s to say whether I’ll be wondering how this dang neural implant turns on in 25 years?

Media images of aging 

I tend to watch very different television shows from my mom; I don’t have cable TV; and I watch a lot of stuff on streaming services. So watching TV with her showed me a world of commercials for things I don’t spend a lot of time considering. Nutritional supplements, pharmaceuticals for arthritis or fibromyalgia, walk-in tubs and the like. What struck me about the ads was the idealization of aging that they showed. Sure, some people get to age with rugged good looks, dancing, hiking, driving convertibles in sunlit splendour, playing electric guitars, outsmarting their grandchildren.

But the affluence and the youthfulness of the people in commercials for products or services for seniors is as utterly mythical as a seductive babe stroking some guy’s freshly-shaved cheek or the girl who orders the magic drink catching the eye of the hunky bartender. It shouldn’t be news to anyone (I hope) that advertising sells perfect fantasies to people who live in imperfect reality. But it struck me that for many seniors, illness or lack of money must make such commercials a cruel slap in the face.

Independence

As an adult, I cherish my independence. But as an adult child of a senior, I see how easy it can be to wish my mom’s independence away. There’s a complicated and difficult balance between ensuring she has support when and where she wants it and removing her ability to control her life. And for the most part, as I see it, there are few hard-and-fast rules and lots of gray areas that have to be negotiated between people. Good will is absolutely necessary.

Death

I’ve faced up to my own illnesses, and in the last few years I’ve lost enough friends and family to consider death far more on my radar than it would have been 10 or 15 years ago. For my mom, who’s lost many friends, several siblings, and her husband, it’s much more direct. And while I think I have faced up to mortality with clear eyes, I wonder if a little denial is not such a bad thing.

Closing note: It’s a GUYSIDE TAKEOVER next week on FlashFree. The redoubtable Ms. Scherer is taking a little time off to have a lot of fun, so I’ll be posting, along with some special surprises. Stay tuned!

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Aging & the double standard

Posted by on Jul 14, 2014 in aging, appearance | 6 comments

??????????????????????????????????????????Yesterday, a Facebook colleague posted a link to a Huff Post article that left me floored. Entitled “My Naked Truth,” writer Robin Korth discusses a recent relationship in which the man she was seeing, just 4 years shy of her 59 years, told her that he could not deal with her ‘wrinkly body’ and requested that she ‘hide’ in order to continue a sexual relationship. When she informed him that she no longer want to see him, he was both stunned and confused.

I would like to say that I have no words but it’s simply untrue. I have many words, most of which are unprintable. However, the piece provided the courage for me to openly share my recent experience on a dating site. I’ve been mired in work for the past half decade and have been running from the disappointment and hurt from my last relationship; in other words, I’ve not been seeing anyone nor have I had any interest in putting myself back out in the game. But this Spring brought a shift in priorities and in my life and with an open heart and halfway open mind, I decided that the time was now to have fun with a new man.

I have male friends in my life who constantly tell me that I am pretty; some go as far to claim that I am ‘hot,’ or ‘sexy.’ Those compliments are truly lovely. And yet, my foray into the world of online dating only brought to fore everything that is wrong with the way that many men my age consider women and how they consider themselves in relation to the partners they go after. For the most part — like Dave in Robin Korth’s piece — the men that I encountered seem to have blinders on. Mind you, I know a lot of men who are as self-deprecating about their aging looks as women are, but for every single one of these guys, I also know at least two who are clueless. The latter go after women half their age or at the very least, 10 years younger. And while I can certainly understand the attraction of supple skin, perky breasts and flawless, cellulite-free derrieres, I can also see what apparently they don’t see in themselves: sagging guts and receding hairlines. In my recent ‘dating’ foray, I was contacted by countless men who ignored what I wrote that I was seeking, men a good 10 years or more older than me, inactive men, men who, based on their notes, were short a few neurons in the intellect department. I received emails saying little more than how much my hair and eyes were appreciated. For all intents and purposes, I was rewarded with superficial, icing but no cake, whipped cream and nothing more. Needless to say, I promptly took down the profile.

When does the double-standard start and end? We live in a country where there are weekly reports of  high school or college athletes raping women, where insurance companies pay for men with erectile issues to get their hard(s)-on, where a women turns 50 and becomes invisible and where men of the very same age, men with big guts and lousy postures who get winded walking up a few stairs somehow become more attractive — at least to the few who, in the majority of cases, are only interested in their money and cache. Or, as Korth writes, men can’t deal with our bodies unless we are in the dark draped in protective gear that sucks in our flaws and also our souls in the process.

So, floored? Yes, and angry and absolutely puzzled how this happens and why many women continue to lead their lives counting wrinkles and flaws and opportunities that have dried up. And I am heartened by women like Korth who are willing to share their stories and still claim their bodies for what they are: wrinkled but beautiful, flawed but strong, every “imperfection a badge of living and giving of life.”

Here’s the rub, my rub: I liked the way I looked a lot better six years ago and was hardly as self critical as I am now. And, at the age of 53, I find lots of flaws; this despite working out daily and engaging in other physical activity. Time to end the double-standard. I think I’ll start right now. What about you?

 

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Is pillow talk the key to a better relationship?

Posted by on Jul 11, 2014 in relationships | 0 comments

You can find today’s post over at Medium…

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Guyside: Don’t trust the media! (Well, completely)

Posted by on Jul 9, 2014 in anxiety, Guyside, health, general | 0 comments

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted a link on her FB profile  to a study about births by Caesarean section yesterday. The link, to the site IFLS (or, if you’re a saltymouth like me, I fucking love science), pointed to a study that found “Cesarean delivery may cause epigenetic changes in Babies DNA.

Her caption: “Great. Something else for me to feel guilty about.” 

Now, I know very well that my friend’s line was tongue-in-cheek. But there’s a glint of a problem underneath her tossed-off line.

The study looked at 43 babies, 25 born by vaginal birth and 18 by Caesarean. The researchers theorize that the changes in DNA that take place in Caesarean babies are related to the relative lack of stress they’re exposed to compared to babies being born the “normal” way and the corresponding lack of activation of their immune systems.

But I don’t want to talk about this study — I want to talk about how we all react to studies. Last week I talked about being healthily skeptical of alternative treatments. But we need a healthy skepticism about ALL treatments and research, and we need to ensure we don’t kick ourselves because of our past actions.

It’s easy to look at current dietary, drug, or treatment recommendations and look back at choices you’ve made  and see them as wrong or ill-advised. For my friend, it was having a C-section when her child was born. First off, there’s nothing that can be done about the past. Even if this study were utterly correct, there’s no remedial action she can take.

Second off, there’s the nature and limitations of any study you read or hear about. This study, for example, has a very small sample size, leading to questions about how much the findings can be extrapolated. Also, in the IFLS article about the study, here are sentences from the first and last paragraphs: “So far there has not been enough follow up to know whether the effects are long lasting… He pointed out that epigenetic changes can be either temporary or permanent and it is too early to tell whether the effects he identified will last.”  

So in this case, based on 18 test subjects, researchers observed a change in gene expression at birth. Is this related to long-term health effects? Maybe. Do we know for sure? No. Does this in any way help someone who was born via Caesarean? No.

There are thousands of pieces of research published each year that might relate to a health condition you possess — anything from cancer to bunions to myopia. When you see a news story about some piece of research, for your own good be careful about your reactions and your actions. Scientific research is a mosaic. You can’t see the whole picture without stepping back and looking at all the pieces.

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