Archive for the ‘health’ Category

As we are coming to the end of the first decade of the twenty first century the way we appear to other people and how it affects our standing in society is just as important as ever, indeed with photo-sharing, tagging and commenting through media that is as available in Timbuktu as it is next door we have never before been exposed to such scrutiny regarding out appearance and how we present ourselves to the world but the University of Bristol information is being discovered about the interesting history of style, culture and the place of personal appearance within it.

Archaeology professor João Zilhão at Bristol University has discovered evidence that the use of cosmetics goes back not only to our early human ancestors but even to our pre-human antecedents, the Neanderthals. Not only did they have make-up but they produced the compacts in which to store it which were found, along with other artefacts, in Neanderthal burials. These toiletries were manufactured from drilled sea shells which were found up to 60km inland, indicating both trade and organised migration where objects considered valuable would be retained and used or exchanged. It was known that shell had been used for adornment since prehistory but Zilhao’s more recently discovered artefacts show that they were also used to keep pigments and coloured clays which were perfect for personal decoration.

So it seems that adorning the body in order to present a more attractive profile or impress our social status upon our peers through our outward appearance isn’t just a very old idea, it’s an idea that goes back to before we even existed as human beings. The first humans existed in Europe from 40,000 years ago while Neanderthals existed in Europe from 50,000 years ago and although they co-existed it had previously been believed they kept to their own regions and the only contact they had with one another was confrontational. However there is evidence now that the two societies not only shared culture and goods but may have even occasionally interbred. A child’s remains, found in Lagar Velho, Portugal which have been dated to 24,500 years ago show evidence of mixed Neanderthal-human parentage which, while certainly proving genetic exchange, would also lend strength to the theory that cultural exchange took place between the earliest European inhabitants.

Because Neanderthal fossilized remains were the first European to be found, they were presumed to be closer to our primate ancestors , that is they were thought to be nearer primates and the missing link. However, since evidence now shows that Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, that is modern humans, exchanged culture, goods and it seems, affection then the differences between them and us were in fact very slight. Things like made objects and cosmetics had been thought to be only within the realm of the human, neanderthals were assumed to be ‘cavemen’; troglodytes who merely grunted at one-another and threw sticks and rocks at passing animals yet what little evidence there is for this attitude is rapidly diminishing as we learn more about them. We see they had cosmetics which denote culture and they made cases to put them in which indicates they were capable of forward planning, invention and manufacture of products and sensed that items thad value and should be kept, developing a method and items by which to do so.

Neolithic ‘cave’ man not only seems never to have actually lived in any caves but he now proves to have had culture, religion and medicine, as evidence in herbal preparations found with bodily remains, remains which also show that he could perform successful surgery including trepanning, surgery to release pressure on the brain to relieve epilepsy, and release evil spirits by boring a hole in the skull. Considering these advances in science and religion it seems strange that we should believe these proto-humans as amoral savages who could only say ‘Ug’. Developing religion, decorating themselves and their surroundings with magical symbols and drawings, often with outstanding accuracy as found in preserved cave paintings and caring for the sick while only communicating with one another through rudimentary grunts and gestures seems barely possible. Indeed, the trachea and larynx wouldn’t have evolved to an advanced state if its practical application was only to be later realised by Cro-Magnon man who subsequently used their ability to control the voice-box to develop complex language. It’s far more likely that the larynx would have needed to develop as greater requirements were made of it, as language and the needs of the speaker developed the structure of the throat would have needed to keep pace with it, rather than the converse.

It seems that while couture models are sometimes and unkindly regarded as being little more than clothes horses, parading up and down wearing too much make-up and clad in clothes that only exist to display the social status of the wearer they are, in reality, engaging in activity which is older than man himself, activity which can be seen to have been concomitant with advances in science, language, art and culture, advances by which we define ourselves as human.

But if we are going to regard models as mere vehicles for the clothes that designers produce how have they become both the victim and villain in the war on fat? An issue, alongside global climate change, that seems set to become one of the pivotal developmental concerns of the early twenty first century while one half of the world’s population seems to be suffering from an “obesity epidemic” while the other half face issues of clean water and trying to find enough food to feed themselves from one day to the next.

Recently, Kate Moss repeated the mantra which has been picked up as the motto for the pro-anorexia movement that “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels”, a sentiment that at the time obviously sent the tabloids into a moral outrage about how icons such as her could make such comments because it’s clear that super skinny models are to blame for making young girls anorexic. Except the problem of obesity is far more common and threatening more lives in the west than the problem of a relatively few girls taking skipping lunch to its illogical conclusion.

It’s easy to blame slender models for the apparent increase in childhood anorexia and eating disorders as well as body dysmorphia but that’s simply shooting at the most obvious target until the evidence is looked into a little more deeply.

Designers use extremely thin models for their haute couture ranges and runway shows it’s true but what girls are interested in high end fashion when most girls’ pocket money will barely stretch to buying more than a few bits from Primark, let alone investing in fashion titles such as Vogue or Harpers?

With mass media sources propagating the notion that obesity, while being undesirable, is a normal aspect of the human condition and the very fat are something of a curiosity as they draw our attention whether we like to admit it or not. For example, looking at TV scheduling any week you will be almost certain to find documentaries entitled “Superfat versus Superskinny” “My Big Fat Diet Show” “The Biggest Looser” among many others.

Our government tries to encourage us to eat healthily and people know that to have a health and fitness are associated with a slender body but the message carried in schemes such as the ‘five a day’ initiative is not getting across. In a recent survey in Scotland it was revealed that some parents thought that a can of Coke or a bag of chips counted toward their ‘five a day’.

Governmental initiatives are trying to convince us that obesity is becoming an epidemic and but information is so thin on the ground it should come as no surprise that children are confusing the message and becoming dangerously thin while there’s a constant stream of information telling us ‘Britain’s getting fatter, loose more weight’. These mixed messages are exacerbated by advertising and fast food retailers who give their products a healthy looking name or provide carrot sticks instead of fries with their children’s meals yet put so much fat into meals such as their Caesar salads that they contain more calories than their chicken sandwiches.

The root of many of the problems that we face in regard to our size can be blamed on our love of convenience, a trait which can also be traced back to our pre-human antecedents. Our ancestors were inclined, when food was plentiful, to eat as much as they liked and not stray too far from the source, logical if you don’t know when this time of plenty might suddenly dry up. However, in the post industrial age this ability to put our hands on food as soon as we desire it together with a disinclination to undue effort means that the ready-meal is now king.

The prevalence of ready-meals, take-aways and fast food has meant that, for many people, cooking is no longer a skill that they posses. It’s always so much easier to take something out of the freezer and put it in the microwave for 5 minutes. We no longer know what goes into our food and very often simply look at non-standardised icons and emblems to discern whether food is healthy or not. We no longer know how much salt sugar or fat we ingest, all of which play a detriment to health when over consumed and all are routinely added to processed foods to preserve and add flavour, moisture and texture to foods with a reduced nutritional value which also end up costing many times more than the component fresh ingredients would if bought separately from the same store.

Cooking, an ability once strongly associated with the ability to create fire, is now regarded as something of a hobby or relaxing pastime, as an event which again is suitable to watch on TV, much like a sport or a unusual activity. Cookery is seen as something other people do and no longer something that we are required to do on a more than daily basis. We watch celebrities do it badly and ordinary folk do it well, we are told that if we want to try any of the recipes we can look on the website. But how many of us do? On average it is reckoned that on average we each know three or four recipes, consequently we only buy the ingredients that are necessary for those meals so it is unlikely we are going to be able to dash off something new unless it happens to contain ingredients we already have or the process and presentation of the dish on TV is so impressive, so memorable, that we simply can’t help ourselves but go and re-create it. Unless it’s available as a ready-meal.

Some TV chefs adopt a vendetta against processed food and try to encourage us to start cooking again yet, as viewers, we passively watch with a gimlet eye as a worthy crusader’s stunt is stymied by mothers who believe in their children’s right to choose chips over crushed baby new potatoes and burgers over broccoli. We want choice, we want convenience, we want to be healthy and we want it to taste good with the minimum amount of effort. What we get is marketing instead of information, lifestyle choice instead of the healthy option and Go Large instead of Grow Your Own.

Those of us who were brought up being taught that to throw away food was a sin because there were people starving in the world pass that message on to our children, children who’ve grown up with third world poverty as a televisual event that can be switched of or guilt assuaged by getting sponsored not to eat for a day. We teach our young to finish what’s on their plate but the meal may very well have been measured by the bucket with fries and a diet cola.

So the thin must be paragons of restraint whose very existence is a slap in the face to those who don’t seem able to find the time to cook a ‘proper’ meal, right? Wrong. As much as it is unacceptable to mention weight to some-one with curves, it seems that anyone who is of average size or more is fully entitled to criticise the weight of those who may not be able to put weight on, calling them ‘stick thin’, asking bluntly if they have an eating disorder, if it’s a female in question, pointing out their lack of boobs and bum and telling them they look like a boy. If a male, mocking his scrawny physique and questioning his masculinity since he clearly doesn’t work out. So, when we are looking for scapegoats for the apparent polarization between those who seem unable to loose weight and those who are unable to put the pounds on as much as we need to stop blaming the overweight for their own failings when it comes to moderate portion sizes we should also stop blaming the thin for promoting the idea of thinness as an ideal.

By the very nature of their title models have bodies that others are supposed to strive toward. Models shouldn’t be the spokespeople for any agenda; they’re employed to look pretty in pret a porter and haute couture. They’re not supposed to be a great ambassador for any cause and certainly not for something as important as the younger generation’s long term health.

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