The Model Paradox: Ken and Barbie Vs. Homer and Marge

Truthfully, do we prefer to see perfect airbrushed models or just reminders of our own bodies?  Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder or does how we spend money on magazines what we actually believe?

America has always had a love/hate relationship with Barbie and Ken. Unsurprisingly, it exactly reflects the way we both worship and curse the models we see everyday on TV and in movies and magazines. During the Fall season of 2009, there was a lot of Internet buzz about a model named Lizzie Miller who was featured in the September issue of Glamour magazine. The picture showed her proudly smiling, displaying her nude yet self-censored body, seeming both unaware and apathetic about the fact she has a “belly”, stretch marks, and thick legs.  The letters and emails poured in by the masses, praising the magazine for showing the beauty of a “normal” woman. While Glamour has been known to feature plus size women on the cover, like Queen Latifah in May 2004, the magazine mainly uses thinner models instead on a regular basis.

But, if normal sized and average looking people are what the general public really wants to see and even the magazine editors know this, why consistently do we continue to see models with perfect abs and bodies with less than 2% body fat? Because when it really comes down to it, we don’t truly want to see a model who reminds us of what our own bodies look like. The proof? Lean models sell more magazines. Bottom line. And we the average people are the ones buying.

In 2006 Dove soap began their Self-Esteem Fund campaign, featuring “real women” in their TV and Internet ads.  While the ad campaign is still active as of today, according to their website it will be ending after 2010, for whatever reason.  But even if these ads with “realistic models” help sell more soap, why are there still skinny, muscular, sexually provocative models on the covers of fashion, beauty, and even health magazines?  Because despite increased sales of soap, the image of the person on the cover of a magazine is largely what sells it. And on a regular basis, I continue to see the real life equivalent of Ken and Barbie on fashion, beauty, and health mags, not Homer and Marge Simpson.

The physical ideal self is what so many consumers are looking to become. It’s a nearly impossible image that we may be able to get close to, but never actually permanently attain for ourselves, unless we own a gym.  And that perceived void in our lives to feel beautiful or sexy (or maybe simply to feel worthy of being in a healthy relationship) largely helps to magazines to sell, by feeding into our subconscious. It’s the image that some people keep stuck in the front of their minds when they work out or when make a conscious decision to eat grilled salmon and a salad instead of a bucket of fried chicken and a 48 ounce soda.

We blame the magazines and media for bombarding us with unrealistic models. And it makes us feel good when magazines do display people that remind us of ourselves. For about five minutes. Then a flash of a shirtless Ryan Reynolds or Jennifer Aniston wearing nothing but a men’s tie on the cover of GQ changes that. We can say we want to see imperfection, but how we spend our money directly affects what images continue to show up on magazines covers and retail ads.  Tired of seeing unrealistic models?  Stop reading and buying those kind of magazines until they only feature people who look like you and me.

But that obviously will never happen.  Because our love/hate relationship with models is somehwat like a kid who goes to Disney World for the first time but is old enough to know that Mickey Mouse is not actually a 6 foot tall mutant mouse, but instead a college student in a really expensive costume.  Even so, this child is no less excited even though he or she knows it is just a fantasy.  And that’s just what models are- a fantasy, both equally demotivating and inspiring.

An Untamed Lust to See the World

Visiting the Epcot Center at Walt Disney World back in 1990 must have really left an impression on me.  Because now I want to travel the world,  for real.

Yesterday as I was driving home from work, “Who’s Says” by John Mayer came on the radio, and while it’s been in my head ever since then, there’s a particular line that I keep dwelling on: “plan a trip to Japan”.

It opens up this can of worms for me, one that I try to keep out of mind and out of sight: The realization that I will never be able to travel and see the entire world, in all its beauty and mystique. 

To see the ancient and modern wonders of the world.  To meet the people who live in those countries.  To eat their food and drink their wine.  To publish a photo album on facebook from my travels to these places.

I have seen a few countries of the world: Ecuador in 1998, Trinidad and Tobago in 2002, Thailand in 2003 and 2004, Korea in 2004, and New Zealand in 2007.  But that only made me thirst for more.

Best case scenario: I would have to earn or win millions of dollars and retire early in order to be able to see all the parts of the world I want to.

Like Norway and Switzerland and Italy and Croatia.  So basically Europe. 

So since it would be disappointing to assume I’ll end up a millionaire and be able to travel the world in this lifetime, I should consider my next best option:

That when we get to Heaven, in the likeness of a glorified Epcot Center, there will be portal we can step into and instantly see any part of the world we want to. 

Even better, in any year.  Sweden 1983, here I come!

Paul Maley, whom I’ve never met and just happened to randomly find your website, I envy you and your 30 plus years of world travel…

Click below for enlightenment:

Most of Life is Just Simply Showing Up

There is an art to “being there” when it comes to discovering The Quality of Life. From gaining educational degrees, to getting a job interview, to meeting one’s future spouse, showing up is the most important part. The rest is just details.

Showing Up: 75%
Getting a person to show up for anything is a task in of itself. Because I am a first-born child and because my wife was born of both first-born parents, she and I have both been wired to be planners. There is a schedule and a calendar. When at all possible, we live by them.

It’s easy to get us to show up if we have been told two weeks in advance. But we’re bound to be no-shows when we’re told about an event the day of, via text message. Because chances are, we already have plans.

Anyone who has been married in the last several years surely has a fresh-on-the-brain story or two about RSVP’s gone wrong. Like guests who say they will be there, RSVP for guests of their own (which were not invited), then don’t know up at all. Even at just $35 a head, it still stings when the bill comes after the wedding.

Human presence at a specific event at a specific time is a flighty thing. More fickle and unpredictable than any other aspect of The Quality of Life. A person has to be there before anything else can happen. But once they’re there, things tend to work themselves out.

You show up to class, you’re likely to learn at least a little something.

Experience: 5%
How can one person qualify to relate to another without the minimal proper experience? Whether it’s enough work experience, educational experience, or just simply life experience, without a history and understanding that is similar, it’s difficult for people to be on the same page.

Appearance: 5%
Not a matter of physical beauty, but instead what a person wears when they do show up. In other words, I’m referring to the importance of “wearing the right costume.” Despite what our bodies look like underneath our clothing, what we use to cover our bodies up with is worth more than the money we spend to buy it. Just like a nice Frank Sinatra-style hat can make any slob look a little bit classier, so can a person’s well-presented wardrobe make anyone look at least a bit more attractive.

Not necessarily a matter of expensive clothing. Just simply the right “costume”. A good presentation goes a long way. Or at least 5%, according to my calculations.

A few weeks ago on the “makeover episode” of The Biggest Loser, I laughed when I saw Allen. He already was a clean-shaven, clean-cut man to begin with. They just stuck him in a nice suit and tie. That was his makeover.

Personality: 5%
People like people who remind themselves of themselves. A person is much more likely to positively respond to another person who uses the same speech patterns, who positions their body in a similar stance, who laughs and shows sympathy at the right cues, who uses the other person’s name sporadically in conversation, and who maintains good eye contact. Dale Carnegie 101.

Performance: 5%
I have a philosophy I live by at work. “Do your best constantly. That way it’s easier to have your boss never say anything negative about you during a performance meeting or mass e-mail, especially when the boss is having a bad day.” With so many slackers in the world, when a person proves that they are competent, creative, and dedicated, they automatically stick out from the crowd. Just like we are quite aware of the inflation of money in our economy, it seems the same thing is happening with work ethics.

To acknowledge I can do something better is to say that I’m not already doing my best. And sometimes, for a person to do their best means that they are meeting their co-workers’ and superiors’ reasonable expectations. Which includes not pushing the dress code, taking constant personal calls, and leaving regularly for outside appointments. And that goes back to simply showing up.

Random Chance: 5%
Right place, right time. I showed up to a random filming of the CMT show “Crossroads”. I had the life experience of a 25 year-old American guy and could relate to a 25 year-old American girl. I was dressed neatly (not wearing Bachelor Pants). I was friendly and confident, not obnoxious or desperate. I successfully entertained the beautiful girl who I noticed as soon as I walked into the room, while we waited in an hour long line.

Without random chance (divinely guided or not) I wouldn’t have met the girl I would eventually marry. On October 5th, 2006 a stranger would walk into my life who would forever change it.

But of course the “random choice” of her being there too that night only reflects the importance of the most important element of the Quality of Life: being there. She showed up.

People are the meaning of life. And most of life is just simply showing up. To work parties. Service projects. Family reunions. School plays. Church activities.  People tend to notice, remember, and appreciate the ones that are there in person, not just in spirit.

This post is based on a concept presented to me by Shawn Garbett, a guy I met at my wife’s Christmas work party. We both showed up. Our initial conversion produced this as the result.

healthnutshell: Being Healthy Vs. Being Attractive

Beauty and self-worth aren’t the real issues. Lack of will power is.

As a kid I couldn’t understand why people have to experience physical pain. It seemed cruel that we were designed that way. Until it was explained to me like this: Pain is the body’s way of warning a person that something is wrong. Otherwise, a person could bite their own tongue off or continue walking on a broken foot, unaware they are even hurt.

In a less obvious sense, the human body was designed to give different warning signs other than just pain. As I teenager, I had the typical expected diet: Anything I wanted. Soda, snack cakes, pizza, burgers and fries, ice cream, there were no limits. Being overweight was not an issue for me, knowing that no matter what I ate I would still be noticeably skinny. I actually dreamed of a day when I could just have a normal body and not have to hear people say, “Man, you’re skinny.” By the time I was 20, that day came.

I realized that what I ate began to have an effect my stomach, which was no longer perfectly flat. Though I’ve always been in or under the right weight range for my age and height, the fact that my body finally started showing a poor diet spoke something clearly to me: Being overweight is a warning sign from the body. A warning for early onset diabetes, heart attack, cancer… the list goes on.

As we age, the body progressively displays its inability to naturally burn off fat like it did when we were younger. It’s not about looking good, it’s about being healthy. There is something that bothers me about the fact it is becoming taboo to talk about the need for people to be at a healthy body weight, as it is potentially easily offensive in our society- we are now living in a country where the majority is overweight. The rules of our culture teach us to see beauty in all sizes, to counter the rising number of unhealthy people.

Missing the point. Beauty is not at stake here. The quality and length of life are.

Noticeably this year, our country has lost several well known 50 year-old men, all for different health reasons. And not that it was their fault. But the truth is, to live as a modern day American, the only way to be healthy is to be weird. What our country calls a “health nut” is actually a person who is simply being healthy, not overly strict about their food and exercise. “Health nut” shouldn’t be a derogatory term. It should be the norm. But our culture ensures it stays that way. It sells more diet pills and programs because of it.

It’s not okay to drink soda. It’s not okay to eat fried food. It’s not okay to eat white bread instead of whole wheat. It’s not okay to eat to snacks that come in a big bag. I have to remind myself of those rules every day, living in the middle of a cleverly named Fast Food Nation.

It’s normal, but it’s not okay.

And though my teachings on pork and shellfish fascinate people, they ultimately fade into the categories of impracticality and irrelevance. It’s still not okay to eat pork and shellfish. I’m with the Jews, Muslims, and Rastafarians on their literal belief that when God told people not to eat pork and shellfish through Moses in the Old Testament, he meant it. And while Jesus changed so many laws when he came to earth, he did not change the science of how these animals function in the ecosystem. They were designed to clean up the earth by eating other dead animals, feces, and waste matter as their bodies have a high poison intake. And Peter’s dream of the animals coming down from the sky on a blanket in Acts was God’s way of getting Peter’s attention to convince him to preach to the non-Jews for the first time, not to literally start eating the unclean animals.

We are not supposed to eat the clean-up crew. Shrimp and shellfish may be low fat foods, but they’re extremely high in the bad kind of cholesterol. That means they’re full of low doses of poisons and heavy metals which weren’t designed for human consumption. Yesterday on the MSN home page there was an article listing the top 5 foods containing parasites. Unsurprisingly, pork was #1:

My diet definitely has shown some offense and confusion in my office. We have had BBQ Pork Day, Pizza Day, and Hot Dog Day. The idea is that everyone in the office pitches in $6, then shares in the community meal. It’s not fun trying to explain why I won’t participate unless there is an alternative to pork available for me. I earned the title of “Picky Eater”, but ultimately know that I stood firm on my belief at the cost of looking like a whiny weirdo.

There are annoying “health nuts” out there. They go around judging the cuisine choices of others around them. That’s not my job. It’s a personal decision that people must decide for themselves. But it is my job to relay the message in a non-obnoxious, informative way, and then let the listener to decide from there.

America lives a double-standard: We put way too much emphasis on being thin and muscular and equating beauty with those things, yet our lifestyles and budgets are built for consuming unhealthy foods. So much focus on weight loss, such easy access of fast food to help keep America unhealthy. While on one extreme there are bulimia and anorexia which are credited to being mental diseases, on the other side there is the lack of willpower that allows people to feed themselves too much of the wrong things, consistently. Food is psychologically addictive.

I wonder which is easier: To quit smoking, or to convert from a fast food diet to one that is consistent in vegetables, lean meats, and fiber plus regular exercise. It seems when people stop smoking, it’s more permanent since a person has to make a conscience effort to go buy cigarettes. But the temptation of unhealthy food and not making an effort to exercise is all around. In other words, it’s not a black and white issue like smoking.

The intriguing documentary Super Size Me mentions the fact that in our society it is near acceptable to confront a smoker about the damage they are doing to their own body, while it extremely offensive to say the same about a person’s poor diet and exercise habits. What’s the difference? The quick answer is that cigarette smoking produces harmful second-hand smoke.

However, a person’s eating habits are learned by those around them. Food and family tradition go hand in hand. The danger to others resulting from a person’s poor diet and exercise? Second hand poor dietary habits. It’s not as obvious and instant as second hand smoke, but it’s just as dangerous in the long run.

On Sunday night’s episode of Shark Tank, the only 2 products the millionaires invested in out of all that were shown to them were both health enhancing products. The investors repeatedly explained that products that fall into the category of Health and Diet are a given success. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year on diet programs and physical fitness. The products work, but we don’t.

I could save thousands of people from wasting millions of dollars every year by saying, “Don’t do a diet program. It’s a temporary fix. Don’t try a pill. It’s an illusion. There is no quick fix or substitute for the right sized portions of healthy food, and exercising almost every day.” It’s that simple and it’s that hard. No exceptions.

The 2nd leading preventable cause of death in America is inactivity and lack of exercise. (Tobacco use is #1.) It can be a struggle to make time for daily exercise and it makes it worse that most of us sit in a chair all day to make a living. Despite the millions of dollars spent on gym memberships and diet programs, the sad simple truth is that these memberships often go unused and that diet programs are only as effective as the person. There is no substitute for an actual healthy lifestyle.

Beauty and self-worth are associated with being fit in our culture. That’s why diet pills and programs continue to make millions. No one can put a price tag on will power, nor could it ever be bought. It’s all in the mind.

Leading causes of death in America

Super Size Me clip