Archives for January, 2012
My last post, about the effects of wearing cosmetics on people’s perceptions of women's competence, raises some compelling issues, discussed in the comments, in which one woman takes me to task for an article she says is “disheartening to say the least.” She continues, “Why must a woman conform to society’s fascist beauty standards to be deemed acceptable? Articles like these contribute to all the artificial beauty and body images projected towards girls and women in every day media.” I don’t entirely disagree with this view. I’ve written many times in the past about the messages women get, about body image in particular. (Check out Am I Fat? Who the Hell Knows, for one.) Do I feel the same way about cosmetics? Certainly I object to any suggestion that cosmetics should help us hew to some sort of standard definition of beauty, and I don't believe cosmetics should be a condition of employment. But cosmetics don't change us, they just jazz us up a little. And I admit, I’ve always thought women were kind of lucky to have the option of wearing cosmetics, particularly on those mornings after a night of too much fun. I’m definitely not the kind of woman who can’t leave the house without “putting on my face,” but I also admit to preferring my appearance with a light glazing of makeup. I’ve been thinking about this research and what it means for women. Yes, in some ways it it is a little disheartening. But in another way, having this knowledge provides women with what could be a useful piece of information.
I love me some What Not To Wear —or any makeover show, for that matter. I get a kick out of watching Stacy and Clinton take frumpy dumpies and zazz them up into snazzy sassies. I don’t always agree with the styling (what is this obsession with flat irons?), but usually, the afters are lots better than the befores. Women on these show who start out resistant to the makeover process often argue that what’s important is what’s inside, that appearances are superficial, and that people should respect them no matter how limp their hair or saggy-baggy their clothes. I agree, in theory, but that’s not the world we live in. It’s not even the world animals live in—appearance counts for them, too. The peacock’s tail isn’t exactly practical, but the ladies love it. Lots of research has shown that natural beauty is an advantage in life, and natural beauty would be considered a biological phenotype. You’re born that way (or not). But recent research looks at whether the “extended phenotype” has any benefits. In the nonhuman kingdom, extended phenotype would be “the spider’s web, the hermit crab’s shell, the bowerbird’s bower and the beaver’s dam,” the researchers write. In the human world—at least in America—the extended phenotype includes cosmetics. Maybe you can’t judge a book by its cover, but apparently we try because it seems women wearing makeup are perceived as more competent.
A friend is fretting about her 22-year-old son, who is living at home and, she fears, not getting it together. This is a family with plenty of dough. The boy is well-educated and has been well cared for, despite some dysfunctional family fun, which few of us escape in this world. My friend complains that he’s lazy and over-entitled. He hasn’t been knocking himself out to find a job, and he’s drinking too much. What’s a mother to do? she asked me, wondering if research might hold some answers. Is tough love the answer? Is this a predictable developmental stage? Were we all like that at 22? When did we finally grow up? I've been hearing lots about boomerang kids, who are of an age to be independent but can't seem to get out there and do it. Of course, the lousy economy and unemployment rate don't help and can't be downplayed. But is there something more? Don’t you wish I were about to give you the answers? I’m not and can’t. But here’s some food for thought.
Several years ago, I got into an online squabble with a friend who was in grad school, getting her MSW for a future career as a counselor. The whole thing unfolded in the comments section of my blog and concluded (along with the friendship) when she spluttered that I am “…WEAK! And I MOCK weak people!” Wow, I thought. Your future clients are in for a treat. This incident came to mind when a Twitter buddy sent me a note wondering if any research had been done into “potential damage done by therapists who tweet/blog judgmental, hurtful views, jokes...?” This person, a retired counselor, first noted a former mentee doing it. “I talked to her about it and she thanked me, stopped it.” But that young counselor was the exception. When my friend noticed a couple of others doing the same, “I gently pointed out to both of them the problems both career wise and client wise with some of their postings (fat put down jokes, sharing very personal info about their own issues, sarcastic misuse of words like crazy and psycho etc) Both ignored me; one posted to mind my own business. “All of this was done with their full names and locations and accessible to any of their clients with a quick google search,” my friend said. “I know how hard it is for most clients to trust and how vulnerable they are to being judged,” she continued. “I can just image how crushing it would be for a desperate, suicidal client to read something demeaning/too revealing written by the person they expect to be compassionate, stable and on their side.” The Internet strikes again.
“The Internet has ruined everything,” my husband likes to grumble. In some ways, he’s right. The Internet has laid waste to newspapers and threatens traditional publishing in all forms. It sucked the money out of the music industry. It's killing off traditional bookstores--even the superstores that killed off the small independents. New technology has opened up forms of expression to people who had been blocked by gatekeepers, but at the same time threatens to drag down the quality of that expression overall, because of the lack of those same gatekeepers. (If you saw some of the press releases I receive for self-published books, you would understand what I mean.) News operations struggle with the ever-increasing speed of the news cycle, trying to balance getting news out fast and getting it right. What I wonder now is what the speed of technology is doing to creativity. And because we are taught to “write what you know,” I will write about writing. Specifically blogging.
Habit and inertia. I believe those are behind every New Year’s Resolution failure. A recent study out of Harvard finds that nicotine replacements—patches and gum—are not particularly effective in the long term. I read that in my newspaper this morning, along with an article discussing the we’ve-heard-it-before finding that eating foods marketed as sugar-free, fat-free, or low-cal are not a particularly good route to weight loss. They’re just not satisfying, so we just keep eating. What these two articles together suggest to me is that substitution to break a habit is no substitute for breaking the habit itself.
This blog celebrated its first anniversary on January 1, so I am therefore compelled (it's the law) to reflect on the past year. Writing Real World Research has been fun and also a lot of work. I read a lot more research than I end up writing about. Academic writing is no easy read and I am eternally grateful to those researchers who manage to slip a little joke in here and there. Some papers are so dense that even if the topic is compelling, my eyes cross and I can’t hack my way through them. I have no one to blame but myself---I decided to focus this blog on research. Sometimes I hate myself for choosing a theme that so often forces me in way over my head. Still, one of the perks of being a writer is that I get paid for finding out stuff I want to know. Reading and writing about research has taught me all kinds of useful things which, as the blog title suggests, I can take into the real world. So to reflect on the past year, here is some of the stuff I learned writing Real World Research in 2011 that has been most useful to me.
Remember when I interviewed Post Secret founder Frank Warren about the app that launched just a couple of months ago? Well, say good-bye to that. Warren had to close down the app because people were behaving so badly, his screeners couldn’t keep up with the screeds. In a post explaining the decision, he wrote, 99% of the secrets created were in the spirit of PostSecret. Unfortunately, the scale of secrets was so large that even 1% of bad content was overwhelming for our dedicated team of volunteer moderators who worked 24 hours a day 7 days a week removing content that was not just pornographic but also gruesome and at times threatening. Pathetic. Why are people so hateful online?