SHORT: Don’t Miss REDEF Original on Truth in Advertising

From the “too long for a tweet” department:

I just finished Adam Wray‘s powerful Fashion REDEFined original article “With Great Power: Seth Matlins on how Advertising can Shift Culture for the Better.”

It’s about Seth Matlins‘ efforts to change how advertisements featuring too-skinny and Photoshopped models body shame girls and women (men too, by the way).

Here’s a useful except from Matlins:

This practice, these ads, cause and contribute to an array of mental health issues, emotional health issues, and physical health issues that include stress, anxiety, depression, self-harm, self-hate. At the most extreme end they contribute to eating disorders, which in turn contribute to the death of more people than any other known mental illness, at least domestically. What we know from the data is that as kids grow up, the more of these ads they see, the less they like themselves.

What we know is 53% of 13-year-old girls are unhappy with their bodies. By the time they’re 17, 53% becomes 78%, so roughly a 50% increase. When they’re adults, 91% of women will not like themselves, will not like something about their bodies. Women on average have 13 thoughts of self-hate every single day. We know that these ads, and ads like these, have a causal and contributory effect because of pleas from the American Medical Association, the National Institute of Health, the Eating Disorder Coalition, and tens of thousands of doctors, mental and physical, educators, psychologists, health care providers, to say nothing of the governments of France, Israel, and Australia, who have urged advertisers to act on the links between what we consider deceptive and false ad practices and negative health consequences. And yet to date, by and large, and certainly at scale, nobody has.

I wish that the numbers in the second paragraph were stunning or surprising, but they aren’t. What they are, however, is infuriating.

My one critique of the article — and the reason for this short post — is that blame for this sort of body shaming doesn’t only lie with advertisers and marketers.

The entertainment industry also propagates unrealistic body images for females and males alike, and let’s not forget all the magazines and websites featuring photoshopped bodies on covers and internal pages.

It’s not just the ads.

As the father of a 15 year old girl and an 11 year old boy (a teen and a tween), I’m hyper-conscious of these images, but aside from trying (often vainly) to restrict their media access there’s only so much my wife and I can do.

So I celebrate Matlins’ efforts.

You don’t have to be a parent to find this article compelling, but if you ARE a parent, particularly to a teen girl, then this is required reading, folks.  It’ll be on the final.

Along these lines, high up on my “to read this summer” list is Nancy Jo Sales’ American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers, although I’ll confess that I’m a bit afraid to read it, as I think I’ll feel the way I felt after seeing Schindler’s List for the first time.

Notes from Bergen 4: the world is less virtual than we think

It’s 8:30am as I begin writing this post.  Just minutes ago Kathi and our son trotted off towards the University of Bergen, where she’ll drop him off for his last day at Nygard Skole — the Norwegian immersion program he’s attended this year — before going to her last day at the University.  My daughter shook a leg in a perpendicular direction to her last day at Rothaugen, where she has been in an immersion class embedded in the local junior high. 

Our adventure is ending: my kids have been in 10 countries in 10 months: USA, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, France, England, Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Italy.  They are closer to being world citizens now, and the travel bug has bitten them.  I wait with fascination to watch them readjust to life in our small town south of Portland after being able to jet off to Rome for a weekend.

Now, I sit on the couch with the kitchen ravages of the morning waiting for me to order them, after which I’ll return to packing, organizing, scanning, pruning and getting ready for our crack-of-dawn departure back to America on Monday. 

Home.  We’re going home, first to visit family and friends in Los Angeles, then up to Portland a few days later.

Already, our 4-story, narrow, weird little 400-year-old house doesn’t look like us.  The books are gone, and a Berens without books is extraterrestrial.  We shipped six boxes yesterday, and this was after I schlepped an extra suitcase and bag of books to New York  with me a few weeks ago on a business trip to UPS westward at lower cost.

Other changes: the quintet resumed being our standard Berens quartet when Jordan, our beloved nanny who also works for me in the business, left on her European walkabout while I was in New York.  The house got a bit quieter. 

We measure in wake-ups: how many more times will we wake up in Bergen?  The answer as of now is three: Saturday, Sunday, Monday wheels up.  Our year-long presence falls from the house fast as an oak shakes off last leaves at autumn’s end… even though Norwegian summer is just starting to peek through the clouds here.

We have so much stuff, even in this pared down year.  We’ll travel to Los Angeles with straining duffles and carryons.  Despite buying digital books and music, being careful about what we acquire, scanning papers and then disposing of the originals… we’re still fleshy beings in a world of plastic, cloth, wood and concrete.  Friends are adopting our houseplants.  We’ve given outgrown clothes to charity.  Still we have to manage things.  Many things.

So the world is a lot less virtual than we think it is, and not just in the sense of “gosh, what a lot of stuff we have.”

When we moved to Bergen back in August I knew I’d be far away, but I thought that with Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn and Skype and Google Hangouts and email and a Vonage/VOIP phone things would chug along. 

In many ways, they did.  Facebook and Twitter helped me to keep an ambient awareness of what was happening with friends, and vice versa.  Many people have told me how they’ve enjoyed watching our European adventure unfold in picture after picture on Facebook.

But a chasm lies between recent-time Facebook updates and live conversations with family, friends and business associates.  Distance shatters immediacy, and the nine-hour time difference between Bergen and Portland is even harder to bridge than the geography.  Numberless times I’ve had to sacrifice either a meeting with business partners or dinner with the family because 9am in California is 6pm in Norway.  The numbers never added up.

After a while, I got used to the distance and forgot how different live could be.

Then, in May, I went back to Brown University for the first time for my 25th college reunion to renew acquaintance with classmates and campus.  I stayed in the dorms, which are no habitat for middle-aged bodies— each morning, the bleary shuffle from dorm to bathroom by coffee-deprived grownups (myself included) was near-slapstick comedy.  We all wandered the campus in endless combinations, trading lifetimes of anecdotes.  Often, I couldn’t recognize an older friend by looking, but when we walked, when the unchanged voice came from next to me, the years fell away.

After the reunion I went down to New York for a week of conferences.  Handshakes, hugs, smiles, meals shared, beer bottles clinked, knowing expressions traded, walks in the June sunlight: these things change, deepen and amplify interaction more than mere adverbs can capture.    

I shouldn’t be surprised by this: I’ve spent more than a decade programming conferences that exist because real relationships require real presence to start, bloom and mature.  The highest bandwidth signal we have is when we’re sitting across a table from others, feeling their bodies shift the air, hearing the crinkle of their clothes as well as their voices, noticing the new haircut, new age line, new cadence or habitual word choice.  Those things aren’t noise: they compose a richer signal.

The world is a lot less virtual than we think.

The dishes await, as do more boxes.  Tonight, friends visit.  More packing over the weekend, a last trek up Fløyen to say goodbye to the fjord on Sunday. 

You only know it’s an adventure when it’s over.

We’re going home.

Notes from Bergen 3: Paternal Victories

“Dad,” my teenager daughter asked one recent morning as she picked her way through over-easy eggs, seedy toast and Earl Grey tea. “What have you eaten for breakfast?”

At a quick scan it’s an innocuous question, but down, deep down, subterranean with stalactites, a parenting victory glints in dim light.

Here’s what I mean.

This year in Norway is a steep climb for both H, my 13 year old daughter, and W, my 9 year old son. The mountain is rockier for the teenager.  At 9, you still orbit Mom and Dad, so if they’re around and happy (and we are) then you’re pretty much OK. But at 13, particularly for girls, your identity foundation is your friends.

H’s friends are back Stateside.  Sure, she has made new friends, but it’s not the same.  The temporariness of our 10-month stay here in Bergen makes it hard to set fresh intimacies in concrete.

One unplanned but happy product of this for me and for K (my wife) is that H is closer to us than she would have been back home.  At a moment when she’d pull away it turns out that she doesn’t have that far she can go.  So even though sometimes it’s like living with a werewolf, at least this is a werewolf I know.

Both kids are busy.  They do Norwegian immersion school from 8:30 until early afternoon, then come home to do Math and English from an American home school curriculum.  Even though it’s about the same number of hours of schooling and homework as they’d have back home in Oregon, the daily rupture from one learning environment to another rubs at them, but if we put them in Norwegian school they’d be learning material they’d already learned back home— and they’d be bored.  School in Norway is slower than in the US.  That’s both bad and good, but if they’re going to be up to speed when they get back to Oregon then the home schooling is critical.

Take a generous helping of busy, add it to a heap of lonely for the BFFs who get her, toss in a language barrier, short days and a lot of different cultural presumptions and that equals a steep climb.  Add puberty to that mix where the daily baseline of her body swerves and bobs like a New Delhi taxi driver fighting post-work traffic… and that’s why it’s harder for the 13 year old.

So back to breakfast and when H asked me if I’d eaten.  What prompted the question was when I made a move to filch W’s second piece toast— mostly as a way of motivating him to stop reading and finish breakfast already, okay, sheesh — before I walked him to school.

“Yeah,” I replied. “I had a scrambled egg, coffee and I’m now eating this banana.”

“Okay,” H said, and went back to to her own toast.

This is a paternal victory because it shows two things.  First, and less importantly, a thought about somebody else (in this case dear old Dad) send ripples across the pond of adolescent narcissism.  H noticed — while I was making over-easy eggs, toast and tea for her and making scrambled eggs with cheese, toast and coffee for W, plus lunches — that she hadn’t seen me eat anything myself. Huzzah!

I now have dim hopes that one day she’ll realize that clean laundry doesn’t magically waddle into her room, scale her bed like a mountaineer and then fold itself into neat piles.  But I’m not calling my bookie on this one.

The second, more important, thing is that the message about eating a good breakfast because it fuels you for the rest of the day has seeped through the skeptical, plastic wrap outer layer of the teen brain and tinted the reflexive reptilian core.  If H is giving me a hard time about eating breakfast, then that means she has internalized the lesson enough to throw it back in my face.

When I realized this an hour later, I nearly cried with happiness.

There are no “one and done” conversations with kids. You keep having the same conversation over and over, keep suppressing the audible sighs (again? I have to talk you through this again???) and finding the tiny tree-lined place of inner calm before starting over.

Here’s the other paternal victory of this morning.

W has mild A.D.D., and so progress from bed into clothes to breakfast to teeth brushing and then jacket zipped and shoes on and out the door can be challenging before the coffee hits his bloodstream (caffeine helps A.D.D. kids focus).  I was juggling stuff in the kitchen and so K (also known as Mom) was helping him with the teeth and hair brushing. 

As I came down with his lunch and backpack, I said, “Okay, big guy. It’s isn’t raining so put your Nikes on—”

“No—” K interrupted from the other room.

“—And if it’s raining when it’s time for me to pick you up I’ll bring your boots with me,” I continued smoothly as if K had said nothing.

But my face registered that her interruption bugged me.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t just my face. My two itchy middle fingers might also have given me away.

“Dad?” W said. “Why’d you—”

“Later,” I said.  “On our walk.”

We zipped up, put our reflectors on our arms and headed out into the pre-dawn morning. 10 steps later he turns to me with a “fess up” expression.

I explained that when I told him to put the Nikes on I had the situation under control: I didn’t need input from Mom at that moment.  Plus, the way she had said, “no” irked me.  There were nicer ways she could have said what she was going to say, which was that it could rain at any moment and that she didn’t want W’s feet to be wet and cold.

“Are you still mad?” he asked.

“Nah, I’m over it.”

I explained that before I told W to put his Nikes on I’d looked outside and seen that it wasn’t raining.  Since he woke up with aching feet (at 9 his feet are nearly as big as mine: he’s going to tower over me before he can drive) I thought he’d be more comfortable walking to school in the sneakers that give his feet better support.  And if it’s wet then I’m happy to lug his boots with me to school when I collect him after school, or when he meets me at Chaos, our Tuesday afternoon hangout.  My morning kid footwear strategy, to use lingo I didn’t share with W, had already taken potential precipitation into account.

So here’s the victory.

After I’d explained my rationale to W as we walked he thought about it for a moment and said, “Huh.  Actually that was really smart.”

“Thanks,” I replied without a hint of dryness.

Unlike the breakfast question from H, having my 9 year old see the benefits of thinking ahead — and also understanding that Dad isn’t just the guy who fetches breakfast but also has a brain — didn’t make me cry.

But it sure made me smile.