Thursday, April 23, 2015

Why the marathon is not for me

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"Are you training for a marathon?"

I get asked that question a lot by people who find out that I like to run. It's a totally understandable question, given the prominence that the marathon has assumed as the presumptive "event" for recreational runners. And yet, I have pretty much zero interest in running one. To be sure, I say that with absolutely no intention of downplaying the accomplishment of those who train for and run (or try to run) one. If that's what gets someone motivated to run, that's great. It's just not for me.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Is a ban on "anorexic models" more thin-shaming?

France is going to make it a crime "to use anorexic models or encourage anorexia" - joining Spain and Israel in pushing for such measures:
The amendment forbids anyone with a body mass index below a certain level from earning money as a model. The level — based on height and weight — would be defined later by decree if the law is definitively passed. 
Any modeling agency or person who pays a model below that index would face up to six months in prison and 75,000 euros ($80,000) in fines if convicted. 
"The idea behind this law is not to send people to prison or fine them," said Veran. "The law will be dissuasive enough to make sure that the health of people working in the modeling industry is protected."
The underlying goal of this law appears to be to eliminate the cultural pressure that women may feel to adopt unreasonable weight loss goals and the like. It's hard to argue against that goal. But the mechanism of the goal is, for lack of a better term, censorship of the imagery of very thin models. It would seem a better approach (at least, better from my American free speech perspective) to provide incentives to the fashion industry to showcase a more diverse group of models.

Moreover, there is a strange disconnect between what the law purports to block and how it measures that same problem. It appears that the law is going to use body mass index as the measure of "anoxeria," such that if she fall below some BMI, she will be banned from modeling.

Does this blunt use of BMI sound familiar?

One of the big criticisms of using BMI to diagnose obesity is that BMI only looks at height and weight, with the result that very muscular people are considered "obese" by BMI when they are anything but obese.

The French law seems to do the very same thing, except on the other end of the normal distribution. I'm not a doctor, but it seems like anorexia nervosa is a medical condition that requires clinical diagnosis. How about requiring that fashion models get checked out by doctors and certified that they aren't suffering from anoxeria?

Otherwise, this well-intentioned law simply discriminates against a subset of people, those who happen to be very slight of build, and for whom modeling is a natural career. I suppose the response would be that such people - mostly women, of course - can "simply gain weight" if they want to work as models.

But why would it be okay to tell people they should "gain weight" if they aren't unhealthy? Should the government go around telling overweight people they should "lose weight" and block their ability to work in particular professions until they do? Each person has a zone of weight in which he or she is healthy, and where within that range a person chooses to be is entirely that person's business, isn't it?

I mean, I'm not underweight according to BMI, although I am pretty lean these days, and I get occasional comments from people that I'm too thin. At my last check-up, though, my doctor did not think I was too thin, and I happen to like my current build, because it seems to work well for running. 2012 Olympic 10K silver medalist Galen Rupp has a BMI of 19.5, which isn't too far from being declared underweight by BMI. Pro runner Lauren Fleshman checks in at 19.0 (and psst, she has modeled Oiselle's running clothes!), and Kara Goucher and Shalene Flanagan are at 18.8. They're all above the BMI cut-off for being declared underweight (which is a BMI of 18.5), but as world class athletes, they also have tremendously low body fat percentages and probably look as thin as people of the same height who are under an 18.5 BMI. Should Rupp, Fleshman, Goucher, and Flanagan be body-shamed for being too thin when their bodies are configured for elite performance in their chosen profession? And if not, are models different?

To be sure, modeling isn't a competitive performance like racing is, and I'm not blind to the idea that there are cultural pressures to be thin that can lead to unhealthy behavior in an effort to "look right" for the job. But as discussed above, perhaps that should be between the model and her physician, rather for some meddling legislature to dictate.

Finally, I'll admit that being seen as too thin is not the same as being seen as too heavy, and I'm not trying to draw a direct equivalency between the two. What I am saying is that the principle that shaming people for their bodies - particularly where the shaming involves, as with the French law, an actual prohibition on work - isn't something the law should be encouraging.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

"The X-Files" revival

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The news that Fox is bringing "The X-Files" back for a limited 6-episode run is a week or so old now, but here are my thoughts.

At one point, "The X-Files" was my favorite TV show on the air. (This was well before I had TiVo, but I did tend to record them on videotape so that I could skip commercials. The downside of videotaping, as opposed to DVRing, was that I had to wait for the episode to finish airing before I could rewind the tape to start watching.) I liked the alien-government conspiracy myth arc stories better than the monster-of-the-week ones, for the most part, and I was not a 'shipper.

However, the central problem with the long-time stability of the series was that it became impossible to sustain plausible Scullysque explanations for the phenomenon being depicted on-screen. About midway through the third season, it became clear that Mulder's view of the world was indeed correct and that Scully's continued refusal to accept the existence of extraterrestrial life was just pig-headed stubbornness.*