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Feb. 9 2010 — 10:52 am | 1,841 views | 2 recommendations | 10 comments

What’s wrong with Daily Beast’s Lisa Hilton?

Famous Dutch fashion designer Addy van den Kro...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Today at the Daily Beast, readers are being subjected to a pseudo-intellectual essay on why we’re all misguided in thinking that eating disorders are actually a problem, and that the fashion industry plays some part in their onset and popularity among women. Lisa Hilton, an Oxford-educated (good god) author of two books, has written a column called “What’s Wrong With Skinny?” that makes me – and presumably thousands of other readers – wonder, “What’s wrong with Lisa Hilton?”

If you’ve been living on black coffee and cigarettes, and are therefore too exhausted to read over the entire three-page masterpiece, allow me to summarize. Lisa Hilton just wants us to enjoy Fashion Week this year. Models who subsist on diet soda to squeeze into size-zero frocks aren’t disordered or naive, she says. In fact, they’re actually disciplined and empowered. Little pocket-sized entrepreneurs. Of course, she admits, eating disorders are terrible. But obesity is much worse, and afflicts far more women than anorexia and bulimia. Oh, also, women have always tried to be thin. Fashion won’t sell unless women are thin. And why isn’t anybody upset about male jockeys trying to make race weight?

Sure, I get that Hilton and the Beast are trying to be provocative. But can’t they manage to be intelligent and reasonable at the same time? Here are a few examples of misguided, disordered thinking at its very worst:

1. “Anorexia and bulimia are horrific psychological conditions, destroying lives and families, and carrying devastating long-term health risks even when not fatal. Sufferers deserve nothing but respect and support for their condition. But is that condition nearly so prevalent as the barrage of attention it regularly attracts actually deserves? And are women really so pathologically stupid that they are unable to distinguish the fantasy of the runway from the realities of their own bodies?”

She’s got the first part right. Eating disorders are pernicious, incredibly damaging and even life-threatening. Sentence three is where things really veer off-course here. If Hilton had done her research, she might have realized just how many eating disorders go undiagnosed. Not because a sufferer doesn’t seek medical attention, but because their illness simply doesn’t match the strict criterion to qualify as either anorexia or bulimia. Women and men are skipping insulin shots, spending six hours a day at the gym, waking up at 1 a.m. to binge on chocolate cake, puking up dinner “every once and awhile,” or obsessing over their food intake in the form of journals, charts and lists. Disordered eating and exercise, yes. Eating disorder? No.

That’s why these “conditions” receive a “barrage of attention.” Because they are incredibly prevalent, and either go under-diagnosed or misdiagnosed or are never even detected.

And no, women aren’t stupid. But thank you for asking. Actually, I think Hilton sums it up quite nicely when she describes “the fantasy of the runway.” Exactly. Fantasy. Runway models, and the fashion industry more generally, have taken on an aspirational, fantasy-oriented identity. Teenagers, and adults, aspire to that ideal. We aren’t deluded into thinking this is reality, but we can’t help but let it soak in a little. After all, these are the images we see every single day. So excuse us for our pathological stupidity, but sometimes, when we’re surrounded by it, we just can’t stop the fantasy from trickling in.

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Jan. 27 2010 — 4:47 pm | 325 views | 1 recommendations | 6 comments

Ladies: Extreme new perils for your (in)fertile self

This Darwin Private Hospital handout photo tak...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Remember, there’s always adoption.

That’s what the woman of the house might want to be telling herself, if she’s been taking note of the newspaper’s health section this week. It’s bad enough that one of the only reasons I ever considered pregnancy – the excuse to smoke excessive quantities of controlled substances, “for my cramps” – has gotten negative press for apparently stunting fetal development and leading to cognitively delayed kids (to which I say: whatever, the pot-babies are just really mellow, alright?). To make matters worse for women of reproductive age, though, another host of new studies are making me suspect that my own ovaries are already shriveled into tiny, infertile raisins.

One study, reported with a large photo of a ticking clock by the always-sophisticated Daily Mail, concluded that a woman’s egg supply actually dwindled much faster than science once thought. In fact, the average 30-year-old will have just 12 percent of her eggs left and rarin’ to be fertilized. “By her 40th birthday the situation is even more bleak,” the Mail warns ominously. By then, only 3 percent of her eggs remain alive and well.

But perhaps the most depressing part of this study is the reaction of the doctor behind it. “There are women waiting for the next promotion, or waiting to meet Mr Right,” scoffed researcher Dr. Tom Kelsey, of St Andrews University. “Women often do not realize how seriously ovarian reserve declines after the age of 35. Every year that goes by you are losing a big proportion of your ovarian reserve.” continue »



Jan. 20 2010 — 11:16 am | 329 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

When erections can kill: New warnings about online scams

A pack of 4 Viagra tablets

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been covering the sham that is erectile dysfunction supplements for months now. My interest in alternative health practices means that I’m often inundated with websites and pseudo-science on the benefits of various herbs, tonics and tinctures that can cure a lagging sex drive. The fact is, some of these pharmaceuticals – which are often sold online – are downright dangerous.

That’s because ‘natural’ supplements can contain unlabeled ingredients, and online Viagra is often straight up fake. A new report published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice shows just how scary your erection can become, if you opt to self-medicate. The report, a collaboration by health officials in the UK, US and Sweden, reviewed over 50 studies of online medical sales and subsequent health problems, most of them related to erectile dysfunction drugs. And, if you were wondering, there are a lot of those meds being sold: around 2.3 billion a month.

If you think you managed to score legit Viagra online, think again. More than half the pills tested were fake, and they make up a large portion of the booming industry of counterfeit drugs, which now rakes in around $75-billion a year. In the European Union, it’s estimated that 2.5 million men are swallowing counterfeit Viagra.

So why do researchers suspect that erectile dysfunction drugs are some of the most common online purchases? Embarrassment associated with the underlying condition. Know what’s more embarrassing than not getting it up? Not getting it up and ingesting printer ink:

[The study] found that that a Hungarian sample contained amphetamine, a UK sample contained caffeine and bulk lactose and that printer ink had been used to colour some samples blue. Other samples contained metronidazole, which can have significant adverse effects when combined with alcohol.”

And, on a more serious note, there’s the whole “not getting it up…and then dying” problem:

“We discovered that 150 patients had been admitted to hospitals in Singapore after taking counterfeit tadalfil and herbal preparations that claimed to cure ED. Seven were comatose, as the drugs contained a powerful drug used to treat diabetes, and four subsequently died.”



Jan. 16 2010 — 10:55 am | 5,755 views | 2 recommendations | 13 comments

A lesson in health hypocrisy: Katharine McPhee and Shape

08ce037c4d503eafb9f3f2b735e0a8d0_defI don’t think there’s any single causative factor behind eating disorders – and neither do the experts. The National Eating Disorder Association cites a myriad of overlapping issues, from low self-esteem to troubled relationships to – yes – pop culture’s glorification of thin physiques and physical perfection.

What’s a great example of that last eating disorder trigger? Women’s pseudo-fitness magazines. You know, those mags that feature interchangeable, hard-bodied celebrity cover models, who flaunt their bikini bodies and do us a huge favor by sharing their workout tips (sometimes on collectible tearaway cards!). These magazines are like heroin for the eating disordered. They often offer misleading diet information, along with airbrushed photos of impossible physical ideals, and perpetuate ugly myths about how health ought to look. It’s obvious that these monthly doses are hurting us – but we can’t help shell out for our next fix.

You can probably tell that I think very little of these publications. That said, I don’t blame them for causing anyone’s eating disorders, including my own. I do, however, think they’re blameworthy for worsening a cultural sickness that’s already quite severe. So imagine my surprise when one magazine managed to sink to a new low this month: featuring a recovered eating disorder patient on their cover. Airbrushed and in a bikini.

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Jan. 13 2010 — 6:56 pm | 524 views | 0 recommendations | 16 comments

If you’re a deviant, and you know it: get a tattoo

A man receives a shoulder tattoo during a thre...

Image by AFP/Getty Images via Daylife

Just the research I’ve been waiting for to prove what a bad-ass I am.

A study by Texas Tech University sociologists has concluded that there’s a connection between “multiple pieces of body art” and “deviant behavior.” Somehow, TTU thought it would be a wise idea to create an entire “Body Art Team” to investigate the sordid details. Upon surveying 1,753 students at four Midwestern and Southern universities, the team had bad news for parents of college kids with four or more tattoos, seven or more body piercings, or (heavens!) piercings located in their nipples or genitals. Those with inked arms and bejeweled penises were more likely to admit to marijuana use, a history of arrests, cheating at school, binge drinking, and multiple sex partners.

And that was just at Midwestern and Southern schools! Can you imagine what the tattooed kids at NYU are getting up to? Probably piercing their own genitals while smoking a joint – outside of a police station – and videotaping the entire thing.

Good news – I guess – for parents of the dweebs who’ve only got bellybutton rings or cute little flower tattoos on their feet (ugh): the study showed “sharp differences in the levels of deviant behavior among those with just one tattoo vs. those with four or more, and among those with just one to three piercings vs. those with seven or more.”

This is a bit of a wake-up call for me. Apparently, I’ve got some binge drinking to catch up on.


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    I'm a full-time heath & science writer at Sphere and a contributing editor at True/Slant. I also contribute military health news to Danger Room at Wired.com, and have recently written for Marie Claire, World Politics Review and Next American City.

    My first foray into journalism came in middle school - at a French-speaking plaid-kilt-wearing educational institute somewhere in the Canadian tundra. It was there that I decided to start my own newspaper, to disseminate my sarcasm and attitude problem among my peers. We lasted three issues.

    From there I started to freelance, and when I became a medium-sized fish in a small Canadian lake, I decided to move to New York, and become a spore in a vast journalistic ocean. The adventure continues.

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