Ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby ….

I was going to write about music today. A fun topic – a great way to roll us all into the weekend. I was planning – and have nearly finished – a post containing my Top 40 of 2016. Then, as so often happens to this mouse’s best-laid schemes, it went awry. An ad (surely the bane of any YouTube user’s experience) popped up when I clicked on a link to a song (which will remain unnamed, as I do not want to give away anything about my chart until I publish it). I scrambled for the “skip ad” button, then stopped. This ad accomplished what no other ad in all my time of ad-watching has ever done: it caught and held my attention until it was over. Why? Because it was awful.

The iPhone 7 Plus features several tweaks to iPhone camera function and output. I had seen the boyfriend ad, the soulmate ad and the one featuring two kids in a play (“your movies look like movies”). These, all by themselves, are obnoxious. Put them all together, though, and add some extra words – and you’ve got what I saw (for which, for some strange reason, I am unable to find a link). Basically, the ad was saying that everything in your life looks better when you capture it with the iPhone 7 Plus. It makes your profile pic look even hotter. It makes your boyfriend look even more handsome. It makes your dog look even more adorable. Because, of course, the picture – the showpiece – is what matters. Not you. Not your boyfriend or girlfriend. Not your pet. Just the proof of it, displayed for your digital audience.

Isn’t a camera supposed to capture things as they are? Isn’t that how you want to remember them? Not unnaturally glowing or backlit. Not more highly coloured or slimmer. Not bent at the odd angle calculated to remove the double chin and round belly. Just themselves, as they are at this moment in this place, with all their beautiful dents, chips, scratches and scars. If that is not want you want – if you are looking to smooth all the edges – perhaps it is not actually the person or animal you value, but what he or she represents. What he or she says about you, as you carefully curate your life online. They’ve become an advertisement for you. How cold.

As I watched the ad, I was reminded of something I’ve never used, though they seem to be everywhere – filters. Not the ones that give you cat whiskers or dog ears – the ones that improve your appearance based on some algorithm of attractiveness. They are basically designed for the same purpose as the NEW! IMPROVED! iPhone camera: to make what we photograph or film look better. They subtly slim the bottom half of your face. They widen your eyes. They superimpose tans and light make-up. They airbrush everyone. They lie. Worse still, they up the ante for everyone else. Because so many of us are primarily connected through social media, we see each other’s profile pic several times per day – though it may be a long time between face-to-face encounters. In our mind, the person we know becomes the image we see. Then, we look at our own unfiltered photo – or our face in the mirror – and it doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, we need a filter, too, so we can look as good as everyone else. My profile pics never seem to stack up to some other people’s, and – though I know what they really look like – I have found myself unfavourably comparing mine with theirs. It’s insidious. If it rattles me this much – a fairly confident 36-year-old who didn’t grow up in the digital age – I can only imagine what it’s doing to my daughters and their friends.

Apple is – to say the least – a very successful company. Apple knows what people want, and is good at giving it to them. Apple, and its many peers, are just doing what we all do in a free economy: capitalizing on people’s perceived needs and desires. But we don’t have to go along with it …. What if we choose to ignore the noise? What if we take a step back from what we think we want, and reassess? To put it bluntly, what if we decide it’s time to get real?

(Because I teased you with my title and a reference to music, I feel like I should toss you this little bone …. Click here to enjoy Tammi Terrell and Marvin Gaye!)

Farewell, Facebook! (For a little while, anyway ….)

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Yes, I know – it’s been months since my last post. Christmas has been celebrated and packed away, January and February have been endured with varying amounts of grace. I don’t know why my blog has remained untouched by me all this time. Emotional ups and downs, the need to simplify life in order to keep up with it, plain old laziness …. ? I struggled to express all this to my lovely cousin, Charlene, over dinner together recently (delicious food and a thoroughly enjoyable experience at Khao Thai in the market). She’s been a great source of encouragement and enthusiasm for BethBlog, and she mentioned that she still checks in from time to time in the hopes that I will have written something new. A glance at my stats reveals that she’s not the only one. My appreciation to all who keep coming back – and my apologies for the prolonged cyber-silence. One factor in my writer’s block that I discussed that evening with Charlene is the avalanche of information that buries me regularly. There are many days when I feel like I’m being smothered by it – strangled by it – drowned in it. Bad news, good news, fake news. Quizzes, videos, how-tos, recipes, memes. And those ads …. I don’t want to put my girls in private school, rent a beach house in Jamaica, or enhance my sex life. I’d love to buy new dresses and shoes, but not online – and not right now. Where’s it all coming from? Facebook. I’ve been using Facebook for ten years now – I started using it when it was small. My, how it’s grown! What started as a handful of friends and private jokes has become dozens of voices all talking at once, and the resulting babel is grating and exhausting.

Whenever someone complains about internet content, there’s always a snappy, sanctimonious beauty ready to chime in with “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I’m taking their advice, and leaving Facebook for Lent. As soon as the idea surfaced, I was excited about it. Imagine all that free time! All that peace! An internal clutter-bust! It will be like a long, soothing shower for my soul …. Facebook doesn’t make me a better person. It doesn’t improve my impact on the world. In fact, it makes me dislike people and the world more. Lent is an opportunity to examine our habits and hooks, and assess their impact on our lives. Why not see how leaving Facebook could help me?

Yesterday, though, doubts emerged. There are some family members and friends I only communicate with via Facebook. How am I going to know what’s going on in their lives? How will I know what they’re doing, or what their children look like now? How will they know any of that about me? My beautiful niece and nephew are growing fast – I’m sure I’ll miss some milestones and adorable photos.  I can’t remember the last time I received a party invitation through anything other than Facebook. What if there are lots of awesome parties and events going on and I don’t know about them? My primary form of communication with some people is Facebook. What if I lose touch with them because I’m no longer on Facebook? Sometimes, I see funny memes and videos on Facebook. Sometimes, Facebook tells me what’s going on before I find out from any other source. People on Facebook are all incredibly eager to express how a given death or split or news piece affects them, and that alerts me to the event in question. Facebook gives me ideas, meal plans, exercise regimes, decorating and parenting tips, movie reviews, conversation fodder. And then there’s me, the person I’ve become since using Facebook …. My first thought about quitting Facebook was “how many likes and comments will I get when I say I’m not Facebooking anymore” – and then I realized that I wouldn’t know because I won’t be checking. Can I have thoughts and experiences without sharing them with an instant audience of over a hundred? Can I take pictures without sharing them digitally – just take them like I used to, for the pleasure of capturing a moment? Can I cook or bake or eat someone else’s cooking or baking without taking a picture and uploading it to Facebook with a witty comment? Can I grow a plant without documenting its progress online? Ryan’s birthday’s coming up. So is my friend, Blue’s. Can I send them birthday greetings without fêting them on Facebook – would it look strange not to send them a public shout-out? On March 28, my father will have been gone for fifteen years. It seems strange to let that go by without saying anything on Facebook. Can I go back to the life I used to live, one without an audience? One in which what I did was for me and the people around me, and nobody else? We’ll see ….

I have a feeling I’ll come back to Facebook. It might even creep into my life, little by little, just like it did before – and have me in its thrall in a matter of days. But, for this small slice of time, I’m just me. In my world. Watched by nobody but the people who are actually there. Enjoying the silence …. (I know – awesome song!) Sure, I’ll miss some things. But I have a feeling I won’t miss them as much as I think I will.

The Girl Who Cried “Body-Shaming”.

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Maybe it’s because I’m a woman, and therefore the target audience for these news stories and opinion pieces. Maybe it’s because I’m drawn to human interest stories in general, and those that feature women in particular. Maybe my social media filters are not tight enough, or I have the wrong contacts. Maybe, deep down, I simply love a good hate-read. Whatever the case, I have really gotten tired of the concept of body-shaming (or, as some call it, fat-shaming) and the people who whine about it.

Every day, I encounter a new outrage (sometimes more than one). There are no fat leading ladies because society finds fat people repulsive. There are no fat models because designers don’t want to be represented by fat people. Designer X wouldn’t dress Celebrity Y because she is fat and Designer X is a fat-bashing snob. Stores don’t carry clothing in my size because the store owner is embarrassed to have fat customers. Some jerk at the beach looked at me funny because he thinks I should be wearing a mumu instead of a bikini. I feel embarrassed about my girth at the gym in front of all those mirrors, so gyms are fat-shaming enterprises. Airlines are mean because they make fat people pay extra for taking up extra space. Cruise ships are mean because they are reluctant to super-size their deck chairs. Hospitals are mean because they are grousing about having to stretch their already-paper-thin budget to buy special equipment to accommodate fat people. Taxing junk food is discrimination against fat people. Wah, wah, wah.

The latest mention has come courtesy of the Ottawa Citizen. Apparently, the health care system is mistreating obese women who are pregnant, or wish to become so. This is according to a study that includes 24 white, middle-class women in two unnamed mid-size Canadian cities. Excellent methodology, that – sure to lead to reliable conclusions. Two of the examples cited may have a case, in my view. One woman reported that her doctor refused to remove her IUD because she is so fat that pregnancy, for her, would be “a disaster”. Refusing to remove an unnecessary foreign object from a patient’s body is denying care, and her doctor should have done what she requested, while counselling her regarding the potential consequences. Another woman reported that her doctor never examines her internally. A good doctor does his or her due diligence, and internal exams are a required aspect of quality gynecological care. Both of these circumstances merit, at the very least, further investigation.

However, the rest of the complaints discussed in the Citizen article seem to be a matter of ignorance, skewed patient perception, and hyperbole. Women report dreading prenatal appointments, feeling like they are disgusting, or feeling like their doctor thinks they are bad mothers. This is too baseless and vague to properly address, with no anecdotes to back any of it up. How can it be proven, or even investigated, that a woman says she feels like whatever? Two more-concrete claims came from a woman who was refused fertility treatments until she lost 60 pounds, and one who was told that her infertility is caused by her fatness. These two stories make me feel sorry for the women. However, let’s consider the facts …. Obese pregnant women run a higher miscarriage risk. They are more susceptible to high blood pressure and gestational diabetes. Their babies are more likely to have congenital abnormalities. Obese pregnant women are also far more likely to require a caesarean section, because labour and delivery are complicated by extra weight and its attendant health problems. These are important medical issues.

If I tell a pack-a-day smoker he shouldn’t try to run a marathon until he quits smoking and lets his lungs clear out, I’m not trying to crush his dreams or hurt his feelings or make him feel like a bad person – I’m merely trying to protect the fool from pushing his damaged body past its limits into dangerous territory. Doctors who tell fat women they might not be able to conceive in their condition are not trampling on hope. They are giving medical facts to their patients. Doctors who warn fat women of the dangers of pregnancy are not being mean. They are trying to help their patients prepare for the strong possibility that they will face more limitations and problems during their pregnancy and delivery than a woman with a healthy body weight. Doctors who refuse to help fat women become pregnant unless they lose weight are not practicing “soft eugenics”, as ridiculously suggested by the authors of the study. They are giving the woman and her future children a better chance for a healthier outcome. All of these things are a doctor’s job.  If a plumber is called to my house to replace a toilet, and he notices and comments on a leaky sink, he is not pipe-shaming me. He is doing what he is supposed to do as the particular expert I’ve consulted.

This nebulous study, and the attention it has received, is yet another example of the daily hand-wringing I’m done with. The reaction to perceived body-shaming mainly comes in the form of an online rant, with a few well-meaning lines about bodies coming in all different sizes and loving the skin you’re in – and then the accusation of body-shaming. I let you make me feel uncomfortable because I’m sensitive about being fat – so you must be an asshole. The whole situation is painted black and white, and the only side anyone should be on is the side of the so-called victim. It seems that the whole world is out to get fat people. Or is it?

I’m not without sympathy. Some children are mercilessly bullied over their weight. Some people have been treated poorly by the healthcare system and the service industry because they are fat. Extra materials, more complicated patterns and manufacturing processes drive up the cost of plus-sized clothing – and having to pay more for clothing is frustrating. Simple economics: extra weight means extra wear-and-tear on a vehicle, and extra fuel – and buying two seats on an airplane is a hardship many people can’t afford. It must be painful to know that your dream of being a mother or the health of your children may be hampered by your weight. It can be the battle of a lifetime for some people to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. And on and on …. However, along with the sympathy, it’s time to administer a healthy dose of reality.

Sure, it’s annoying to see that the entertainment industry consists mainly of people who are smaller than you – but, in many cases, famous actresses and singers and models are smaller than most people. It’s not pleasant to hear that a designer refused to dress whoever because her bones don’t protrude. However, we’re talking about a rarified world that reflects very little of our daily existence anyway. That’s why it’s entertainment, not the evening news or a documentary! No intelligent person I know is looking to Hollywood to see a reflection of herself and find the meaning of life. Clothing stores are businesses. What they care about is money. If they don’t carry your size, it’s because it’s not profitable – they don’t need your money badly enough to cater to you. Whining about how mean they are and posting desperate online diatribes begging them to value your business because you are so much more than your dress size will not shame execs into stocking your size. Instead, take your money to a store that will sell you clothing that fits you, and enjoy stepping out in it. Airlines also only care about money. All they see is extra weight = extra fuel = higher expense to fly you somewhere. They don’t want to deal with multiple passengers complaining that their space was partially occupied by someone else’s ass, so they will make make you buy an extra seat. When you protest, they don’t care that you are never going to fly with them again. Everyone else still will, and – if you’re honest – you probably will, too, if their seat sale is juicy enough. As for how people “make you feel”, if you examine the situation in detail, you may find that how you feel has alot to do with your own perception of yourself coupled with the oh-so-human tendency to make everything about ourselves. People are not looking at you all the time – in fact, most of the time they aren’t even thinking about you. Don’t assume that every negative facial expression or action or comment is leveled at you and your weight. By frantically flinging the body-shaming accusation in every possible direction, you’re diverting attention from areas of true concern and helping society build up an immunity to actual cases of body-shaming.

You love yourself? Great! Rock on, and enjoy your life. You don’t love yourself? Change yourself! But please stop this stupid trend of yelling at companies and organizations and the old lady at the pool and the meathead at the gym for not seeing things your way, then claiming fierce love for yourself and complete peace with your circumstances – then making excuses for, and begging us all to look past, the same self you just claimed to adore. It doesn’t wash, and it’s really irritating.

I don’t have a life, but I imitate one on Facebook.

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Cooking is a passion of mine. I love the interplay of colours and smells as you build a dish from hot oil or melted butter into a meal, adding meat, vegetables and spices along the way. I love the feeling of having created a really good sauce, or a bowl-of-love soup. I relish pulling a hearty casserole out of the oven or serving up steaming ladles of chunky chilli on a cold day. Seeing smiles on the faces of my family (and guests, when we have them), hearing the noises of appreciation and contentment as they eat what I’ve made – that’s soul food for me. A few weeks ago, I discovered a website called Yummly. It is a vast collection of recipes, meticulously organized. These recipes have been contributed by people who love cooking, and have featured these recipes in their blog. Practiced, perfected recipes, vetted by people who know cooking. Why is this worth pointing out?

Because Facebook.

My newsfeed is filled with recipes. Usually, it’s a sped-up video detailing the steps of a recipe, and it will be introduced with lines like “you’ll never microwave popcorn again” and “she takes eggs, milk and sugar and you won’t believe what she makes” and “the only good-tasting gluten-free bread I’ve ever had”. About 95% of the time, these videos are posted by people who’ve never tried the recipe. They’ve taken some stranger’s word for it, and posted it because it looks legit – and tasty. Sharing recipes used to be a thing of honour – a tried-and-true, everyone-loves-it thing cooks wanted to share with their family and friends. These timeline posts are nothing like that. They are basically part of a poster’s stream of consciousness – a “wow, check it out” shared with everyone from their mother to their mail carrier to the college roommate they havn’t seen in seventeen years.

And this is not limited to recipes …. There are housekeeping remedies (“never buy shoe polish again”, “return your shower head to a factory-fresh shine”, “wash your dishes with nothing but baking soda and lemon juice”). There are step-by-step instructions for creating elaborate hairstyles and 3D nail art. There are beauty hacks (“wash your hair with these four common household items and never deal with dandruff again”, “soothe cracked heels by soaking your feet in vinegar and essential oils”, “12 delicious face masks made with nothing but fruit, honey and oats”). Make-up tips and tricks. Dance moves. Exercises guaranteed to address everything you’ve never liked about yourself. Fun shoe-lacing techniques. Ideas for upcycling old clothes and furniture. Fashioning the perfect spice drawer or underwear organization system using PVC pipe. Plant pots made from old hats, boots, sink basins, toilet bowls. Then there are the craft suggestions – if you have young children, you’ve probably perused the internet for fun, seasonal, age-appropriate crafts for your littles. Well, look no further. Your Facebook timeline contains everything from assembling puppets from toilet paper rolls and fabric scraps to making paint out of flour, oil, food colouring and …. oh, I don’t know, inner peace, ambition and pixie dust? Amazing vacation destinations, posted by someone who thinks it would be awesome to go there someday.

All this would be awesome if it weren’t for the fact that most of it is wishful thinking. The videos are almost always accompanied by lines like “this looks amazing”, “OMG, I’ve got to try this” and “someone do this and tell me if it works”. These things are basically a low-budget, minimal-effort bucket list, a someday-maybe-if-I-feel-like-it brainstorm. The posters have never cooked these dishes, crafted these hairdos and nail jobs, cleaned their hardwood floors with their dog’s ear wax, gotten rid of their crow’s feet using corn syrup and cream of tartar, eliminated their belly fat eating only bananas and jalapeños, or hung out in the same room with PVC pipe. They’re presenting a carefully curated image to which they aspire, and they are unlikely to ever do even a fraction of the great ideas they’re passing on. The online world (particularly the social media world of Facebook and Instagram and Pinterest) not only allows this – it encourages it.

And I’m tired of it. What a waste of time, brains, dreams. We’re like caged tigers pacing in front of a wall painted with a jungle scene. Strangely content, though there’s a restless awareness that it’s only a shadow of what we could have – what we’re meant to have. When are we going to stop creating holograms of the life we want, and start working on the real thing? Or is that just too much for us now?

 

 

 

Are pictures still special?

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I attended a wedding over the weekend. (Congratulations, Derek and Dianna!) I wasn’t just a guest, I was a bridesmaid – and wife of the best man, and mother of the flowergirls. So, I made it into alot of pictures. Thanks to the miracles of digital photography and social media, some of these pictures were available for viewing by anyone with an internet connection even before the big day had drawn to a close. Several wedding guests have already created and shared whole digital albums with all their e-friends (including me) – and the pictures keep coming. Some are beautifully arranged, with clear lines and true colours. Others are blurry and askew, streaked and dotted with mysterious flashes of colour. In fact, I have a few of my own to share – of varying quality – whenever I get around to uploading them.

Clicking through all these pictures got me thinking of …. well, pictures. Over my lifetime, I have taken thousands. I received my first camera for Christmas when I was ten years old. It was a Safari 35mm Accushot:

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I loved that camera, and spent most of my allowance on film and development. I took pictures of everything and everybody around me. I have albums filled with sneaky shots of unprepared people looking odd, and follow-up shots of angry people who have just had a goofy-looking picture taken of them by a giggling brat. Painfully posed groups of people waiting with glassy smiles while the same brat fiddled with the settings on her camera, accidentally turning it off, then imploring everyone to stay right there while she turned it back on and aimed again. Ok, everyone – smile! Oh, you’re weren’t looking – let’s try it again. Say “cheese”! Aw, come on, just this one picture …. One more. My friends making funny faces, my many invariably red-eyed pets, grudgingly captured images of my little brother because he begged me to take a picture of him. When a roll of film was finished, I posted it, and some cash, to a photo development company, and waited for pictures to arrive in the mail. In the meantime, I’d wonder if any of my pictures were duds, and I’d think of that one special picture that just had to turn out right. When I discovered walk-in, one-hour photo huts, I was very excited – though I rarely chose the more expensive one-hour option, at least I didn’t have to trust the postal system with rolls of film and wads of money anymore.

I didn’t jump on the digital camera bandwagon right away. I liked the anticipation of waiting to see my pictures in print rather than peering at a tiny screen, deleting, rearranging, retaking. Then, in 2004, Walmart lost all thirteen rolls of film from an amazing road trip. Ryan and I tented all the way to the Grand Canyon, then crashed Vegas for a couple of crazy nights, then tented home. I cried when I found out that we wouldn’t have a single picture to show for it. Derek gave us a digital camera for Christmas that year. We’ve used one ever since. I’ve become accustomed to checking pictures to make sure they’re good, and retaking when they’re not. I don’t mind taking five pictures to try to capture just one moment. I also know that when I take a picture of Fiona or Bridget, each girl’s automatic reaction is to say “lemme see”, and wrench the screen toward her face. They’ve never known a time when they had to wait to see a picture.

Digital photography is a good thing in many ways. You don’t have to waste time, money or paper on pictures that don’t do what you want them to do. You can instantly share any moment, event or expression with your dearest, even if they’re not-so-nearest – and these days many families and groups of friends are scattered across the globe, their only connection being the internet. You don’t even have to carry around a camera to take pictures; you can take them with your phone (although it must be said that most phones take shitty pictures). On the other hand, digital photography has cheapened pictures. Ok, ok – the reams of pictures I took with my little Safari were not high-quality. They weren’t even that good. But I couldn’t wait to get that bulky envelope in the mail, rip it open and pore over each image twice, maybe three times, before lovingly pasting it in an album. I still have them, and I’d probably cry if I lost them.

Pictures from the years before that were even more precious. I liked to look at me as a baby, a toddler, and then a big sister gripping my new sibling with an evil – I mean, er, loving – smile. I relished pictures of my parents before I was born – grainy, brown-tinged images of them as children, teenagers and then newlyweds. When I stumbled across black-and-white photos of my grandparents and great-grandparents, I felt like an archaeologist discovering a lost civilization. Because pictures were so rare and expensive, each subject was carefully arranged in their best clothes, with a solemn expression and a steady gaze. They knew these pictures would be framed and given pride of place in the family home for decades – these pictures would be their legacy to descendants they would never meet. These pictures were special.

I still have pictures printed, but I’m one of the few people I know who bother. Fiona and Bridget like to look at our albums, and so do we. Because printed pictures cost money and take up space, only the best images are selected for print. Years from now, will their children or their children’s children experience even the mildest flush of excitement over flipping through our albums? I suspect not. They’ll already have seen dozens of selfies, twosomes, crowd scenes – and my entire wardrobe. They may not ever meet me in person, but they’ll have seen every smugly displayed, carefully captioned culinary achievement since the mid-2000s. Great-Grandma Beth will be as accessible to them as pictures of themselves, and they’ll be bored of her grinning mug. Maybe this isn’t a bad thing – but it is definitely banal when compared to my childhood relationship with cameras and pictures.