Monday, September 14, 2015

So Sayeth The Queen

These two books have exactly nothing to do with each except that I just read them both. At least the books on The Shelf were related by proximity- I can't even pretend that. I mean, I guess they were both in the Berkeley Public Library, along with a bajillion other books. But mostly, I just read them both, and I need to return them both, so I'll write about them both. I'm also going to make a VERY tenuous connection: they both discuss very beautiful women. It's my blog, I'll do what I wanna.

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I didn't know this but Gwyneth Paltrow apparently gives lots of health and beauty advice. You probably did, especially if you're a woman, but I'm not shy- I'm one of the most out of it girls around. I recently, in fact, had my first DIY adventure and applied coconut oil to my skin. It felt fantastic, and, although I think I read this book while I was trying this experiment, I'd probably say that it helped. I also know that it most likely didn't, and I can say with 100% certainty that rolling around in the sand cured my skin bumps and that the exfoliating scrub I made with the coconut oil and sand has not stopped the skin bumps from coming back. I can also say that I continue to try, even with evidence aplenty that it's not working.

Duh, Timothy Caulfield writes. Why, Timothy Caulfield asks? Why do we (especially women) listen to celebrities (I just listened to what other people suggested, probably celebrities) and buy/try/do crazy things? Why won't we listen to science, even when we know we're doing the wrong/useless/foolish/overpriced thing? "Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything?" is Caulfield's attempt to answer this question. His answer, unsurprisingly, is basically, yes. He tries her advice and anecdotally, it doesn't work. He also looks at the science behind it, and disproves it. He talks to experts, who without fail roll their eyes. Here's one expert when asked about Gwyneth's very popular master cleanse: "By considering weight as a chronic condition [themacinator notes, for context: not being OVERweight, just having a weight], and lifestyle changes as its treatment,... you can never abandon the treatment or the weight will return." Caulfield continues: "If the maintenance of weight loss is your goal, you'd better like your 'treatment.'" Ultimately, no one is going to live on the ingredients of Gwyneth's cleanse (lemon juice and cayenne) forever- so the weight is going to come back. This is just one of many many examples.

The problem is, our time and society tells us to be young and "healthy" (read: skinny). "Popular culture is completely drenched in images of young, thin women. In many ways, the dominant image of modern popular culture is young, thin women." (I would add young, thin, white women, but Caulfield never really deals with race- one major flaw of his book.) With social media, we feel extra close to "our" celebrities, and we have also developed into a society with even more (if it's possible) focus on what can be shared in a two dimensional selfie: we are all on all the time. (I have some hilariously awful stories about my most recent trip to Hawaii and girls posing basically everywhere for selfies. I just wanted to tell them to chillax and enjoy the ocean. I tested it out by taking a selfie- my first. It felt Very Very awkward.) Worse, we compare upward and find ourselves (and everyone else) lacking: "Popular culture acts like a cruel, constantly operating dissatisfaction machine."

Caulfield also discusses how important celebrity has become in our culture, and what an outsized, improbable role it plays for us. Basically, you're never going to be a celebrity- you're just not going to make it in sports, music, fashion, whatever. It's not going to happen. But the numbers are scary: When I was growing up (and before, obviously) 25 years ago, here are the top five career goals for grade school kids: "teacher, banker, doctor, scientist and vet." Now? "Sports star, pop star, actor, astronaut, and lawyer." Another study found that more than half of 16 year olds had "fame" as their career goal. What does that even mean? What do you want to be when you grow up? Famous. FAMOUS? There are so many problems with this, not least, that statistically, you're not going to make it. How sad to have this ambition that is Never Going To Happen. Further, how bad for the psyche to think you can do it, when statistically, you just can't. Even worse, the ambition is something that can't happen with hard work- I can be a vet if I want to go back to school and work hard (not going to). But I can't be a model or an athlete, no matter what. My genetics won't let me, and models and athletes are models and athletes because of a fantastic combination of genetics and good fortune. People who make it, and many more people who don't, sacrifice time and money and time and money that they could be putting in on real, likely careers.

This is a good book. It's a depressing book, and written in a funny, humorous, readable way (which can sometimes get annoying). Most people won't believe what Caulfield is saying, which I think he knows. Those of us who do believe him, probably already believed him, which, again, I think he knows. But with all the emphasis on celebrity in our lives, the work is important.

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Then I read my next Dumas book. Unlike the other books that I've read by Dumas (there are 300, if I read them all, I won't blog them all, I promise), Queen Margot is a saga- the story of some French kings and, of course, Queen Margot of Navarre. I kind of loved Margot- a hilarious, strong female character with a strong, silly female best friend. Margot and her husband, Henri, the King of Navarre have an understanding: they can each have their own love (and sex) interests, but stay together in ambition, even when that means conniving against her (pretty atrocious) family. I loved sagas as a kid- this one wasn't the best ever, but, originally published in the mid 1800s, it was a lovely period piece of the 1500s. Ride in a litter, anyone?