The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons has released new data on the incidence of invasive and non-invasive cosmetic procedures. The U.S. leads in sheer numbers of procedures but, accounting for population, we fall into 4th place. South Korea leads for the number of procedures per person, followed by Greece and Italy.
By far the most common kinds of surgical cosmetic procedures are lipoplasty and breast augmentation. Along with fat, breasts seem to be a particular concern: breast lifts and breast reductions for both men and women are also in the top ten. Abdominoplasty, nose jobs, eyelid surgeries, and facelifts are as well.
Likewise, we’ve posted about surgeries that create an epithelial fold, a fold of skin in the eyelid more common in people with White than Asian ethnic backgrounds. This surgery is a trend among Asians and Asian-Americans, as colonization has left us with an association between Whiteness, attractiveness, and power.
Breast augmentation, the second biggest surgical procedure, is most commonly performed in America and Brazil. Buttock implants are also a Brazilian specialty, as is vaginal rejuvenation. Asia is keen on nose jobs: China, Japan and South Korea are among the top five nations for rhinoplasty.
More on where and how many procedures are being performed, but nothing on why, at the ISAPS report.
After the outcry in response to this revelation began, IKEA responded by called the removal of women a “mistake” “in conflict with the IKEA Group values.” IKEA seems to have agreed with its critics: erasing women capitulates to a sexist society and that is wrong.
But, there is a competing progressive value at play: cultural sensitivity. Isn’t removing the women from the catalog the respectful and non-ethnocentric thing to do?
Susan Moller Okin wrote a paper that famously asked, “Is Multiculturalism Bad for Women?” The question led to two decades of debate and an interrogating of the relationship between culture and power. Who gets to decide what’s cultural? Whose interests does cultural sensitivity serve?
The IKEA catalog suggests that (privileged) men get to decide what Saudi Arabian culture looks like (though many women likely endorse the cultural mandate to keep women out of view as well). So, respecting culture entails endorsing sexism because men are in charge of the culture?
Well, it depends. It certainly can go that way, and often does. But there’s a feminist (and anti-colonialist) way to do this too. Respecting culture entails endorsing sexism only if we demonize certain cultures as irredeemably sexist and unable to change. In fact, most cultures have sexist traditions. Since all of those cultures are internally-contested and changing, no culture is hopelessly sexist. Ultimately, one can bridge their inclinations to be both culturally sensitive and feminist by seeking out the feminist strains in every culture and hoping to see those manifested as it evolves.
None of this is going to solve IKEA’s problem today, but it does illustrate one of difficult-to-solve paradoxes in contemporary progressive politics.
The blog Blue Abaya is an account of the experiences of a women who moved to Saudi Arabia from Finland. One of her posts centers around the difference in the color palette. “Pinkness,” she writes, “seems to be everywhere.” The prevalence of pink in Saudi Arabia is a great example of how the meaning of colors is different from culture to culture. Pink simply does not have the same feminine association there that it does in the U.S.
In addition, she tells this story:
[M]y american friend… was in a shopping mall with her [one-and-a-half-year] old son. His hair is a little longer which is unusual in Saudi but many parents in the U.S. find cute.
A Saudi woman with a baby stroller stopped to talk to her asking, is this your daughter? My friend said no it’s a boy. So this Saudi lady dramatically threw her hands in the air looking toward the sky and began praying: “Oh Allah guide this woman to the straight path!” “Guide her to cut the sons hair!” “He looks like a girl, guide this poor woman!”
She told my friend she MUST cut his hair because he looked like a girl.
My friend was appalled at the woman’s behavior. Nevertheless she tried to be polite and said pointing to the woman’s baby dressed up in an all-pink outfit “What a beautiful girl you have mashallah.”
The woman replied: “It’s a boy.”
My friend asked why is he dressed up in PINK?
She replied: “Oh, I don’t believe in colors being gender specific.”
Skewed sex ratios (which I’ve written about here and here) are in the news, with the publication of Unnatural Selection, by Mara Hvistendahl. The report shows some of the countries with the most skewed sex ratios, reflecting the practice of parents aborting female fetuses (Vietnam and Taiwan should be in there, too). With the exception of Korea, they’ve all gotten more skewed since the 1990s, when ultrasounds became more widely available, allowing parents to find out the sex of the fetus early in the pregnancy.
The most egregious inequality between women of the world is probably in maternal mortality. This chart shows, for example, that the chance of a woman dying during pregnancy or birth is about 100- 39-times higher in Africa than Europe. The chart also shows how many of those deaths are from unsafe abortions.
Finally, I made this one myself, showing women as a percentage of parliament in most of the world’s rich countries (the spreadsheet has the whole list). The USA, with 90 women out of 535 members of Congress, comes in at 17%.
Last week I stopped in the candy store on State St. in Madison, WI only to discover a product that I remember consuming as a kid, but thought had been banned in the U.S. years ago: tobacco-themed candy.
According to wikipedia, candy cigarettes (I’m not sure about the other products) are banned in Finland, Norway, Ireland, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia; Canada has banned packaging that resembles real cigarettes. A U.S. ban was proposed in 1970 and again in 1991, but it failed to pass in both instances.
I do remember feeling cool, as a kid, when I pretended to smoke them.
As a member of a cattle-raising family, I hear a pretty steady stream of complaints about people eating less beef, which is variously attributed to a conspiracy against the American rancher (possibly by terrorists), the result of stupid city people who get all terrified over every little health concern (Mad Cow Disease is a myth! Unless it’s a terrorist plot to ruin ranching), environmentalists, animal rights activists, and me (I’ve been a vegetarian since 1996 and thus single-handedly nearly destroyed the beef industry).
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is similarly concerned about reduced beef consumption. And given that we frequently hear about the connections between red meat consumption and health concerns such as heart disease, and are advised to substitute white meat for red meat (to the point that the pork industry began branding pork as “the other white meat”), you’d probably expect to see a dramatic decline in consumption of beef.
And we do see a decline, but not as much as you might expect, as this graph from the Freakonomics blog, sent in by Dmitriy T.M. and Bryce M. (a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), illustrates:
Clearly beef consumption has declined since its peak in the late 1970s, when people in the U.S. ate nearly 90 pounds of beef each per year, to closer to 60 lbs. each today. On the other hand, all those health warnings, disease scares, and environmentalist-vegetarian terrorist plots haven’t yet knocked beef out of its position as the most-eaten meat in the U.S. Clearly, chicken seems poised to take over that position, but beef doesn’t exactly appear to be falling off the charts.
So how do we compare to other countries in terms of overall meat consumption? In a 2003 article in the Journal of Nutrition, Andrew Speedy provided data on global meat consumption (defined as “beef and buffalo, sheep and goat, pig meat and poultry”) — note it’s in kilograms, not pounds, and the legend should be read across, not down (so the first bar is for the U.S., the second is for France, and so on):
So insofar as there has been a decrease in beef consumption in the U.S., and more dramatic increase in chicken consumption: what’s going on? The Freakonomics article presents an explanation:
A study by the agricultural economists James Mintert, Glynn Tonsor, and Ted Schroeder found that for every 1 percent increase in female employment, beef consumption sank by .6 percent while chicken consumption rose by .6 percent. Why? Probably because beef takes longer than chicken to prepare, and because poultry producers did a good job marketing cheap and ready-to-cook chicken products. Furthermore, all those working women meant more household income, which meant more families eating in restaurants — where meals are less likely to contain beef than meals at home.
Health concerns do play a part; the authors found that negative media coverage of beef (either recalls due to contamination or general links to heart disease, etc.) reduced consumption, while positive coverage that linked eating meat to getting iron, zinc, and other minerals increased it. But they found that health effects were small compared to the effects of changing family dynamics — that is, women working outside the home and families eating fewer meals at home.
It’s a nice example of how the factors driving social changes are often much more complex than we’d expect. Common sense explanations of changes in beef consumption would, I think, a) overestimate how much less beef Americans eat than in the past and b) assume the major driving factors to be health-related concerns, whether about chronic disease or recalls. Yet it turns out a major aspect of the story is a structural change that doesn’t seem clearly connected at all.
I guess if I were a health advocate hoping people in the U.S. were starting to listen to messages about healthy eating, that might depress me. But I guess I can tell my grandma that the terrorists’ evil plans to infect U.S. cattle herds with Mad Cow or some other disease might not be as catastrophic as they might imagine.
UPDATE: As a couple of readers point out, the increase in chicken consumption can’t be explained just as a result of people eating chicken when they otherwise would have eaten beef; the drop in beef consumption is way overshadowed by the increase in how much chicken people eat. The total amount of all meat eaten each year has increased dramatically.
I don’t know what is driving all of that change, but I suspect a lot of it is marketing campaigns — not just directly to consumers, but efforts by industry groups and the USDA to get more meat into a wide variety of items at grocery stores and on restaurant menus, as they have done with cheese.
If you were to view an article about the diversity of Saudi Arabian life, and it included the following images, what would you likely take away from the article?
Elisabeth R. drew our attention to a recent study asking about the relationship between images and text. It found that, when images that confirmed a reader’s stereotypes about a place were paired with a complex textual narrative, they detracted from the ability of the reader to appreciate the way that the text undermined those same stereotypes. In fact, even if there were a diversity of photographs, if any of those photographs confirmed pre-existing stereotypes, learning was undermined. And, if one only looked at photographs, those disconfirming your preconceived notions were likely to be overwhelmed by those confirming them.
So I guess that means that the entire premise of our blog–pairing images with analysis–is fundamentally flawed. In fact, we’re likely simply reinforcing everyone’s stereotypes! Alas! You should stop reading us right now!