Friday, 16 May 2014

Beauty is only skin deep

Where does the time go?

Flashes of genius, even the very first eureka moment, happen accidentally. It is a little known fact that Albert Einstein first toyed with the idea of relativity while waiting to get a mole removed in a doctor's waiting room. All it took for Isaac Newton to finally twig about the whole gravity lark was just a well placed apple above his head. Aristotle had too much time on his hands in the bath. These are how the legends started but the genius behind any moment of clarity is proving that you were actually onto something after all.

Einstein's special relativity is loosely, something to do with the observations of space and time and speed. What you observe will be different to that of other people if you are somehow fortunate enough to travel very fast on a space ship. The phenomenon is known as time dilation . If someone were to leave Earth on fast moving craft only to return five years later, they would have aged less than the rest of us suckers on Earth.

Time dilation occurs down here too, just the inverse though. Emerge after any amount of time from a doctor's waiting room and you will have aged considerably compared to rest of us. Alphabets have evolved in less time that it takes you get seen to. So, aside from the space and moving at near to speed of light thing, you can see how dear Albert stumbled upon his eureka moment.

Do I look much older now?

I recently had to visit a doctor. I secured the first appointment slot of the day and happily arrived 5 minutes early and mentally began to plan the rest of my day, priding myself on my efficiency. No one came to get me. It was rather strange, I had been let in through the door, asked to take a seat and left to my own devices, presumably to wait until the doctor had washed their hands and shrugged on a white coat that hung behind the door. What else really was there to do? No one came. Time seemed to have stopped still. With not much else to and the rest of my Earth time calendar crunching backwards, I looked for something to read.

Magazines, there are always well-thumbed magazines piled up somewhere in any waiting room. Aside from being marvellous germ receptacles that would make a plague rat feel miffed, the connotation of a magazine is a brief waiting period where you flick through several pages, briefly scan last season's fashions and you are off to get something stuck down your through or zapped off your skin before you know it. A blink of an eye is what they say. Of course that doesn't happen and you end up going through everything you can find, even retrieving the Caravaning Today magazine from under the couch.

Time dilation is real

This of course meant that when I picked up the magazines I was inevitably going to have wait a long long time and finally end up cross-checking caravan model specifications, despite my fond dislike of them.

That's nice but can I wash it?

We like magazines because we can picture ourselves in either what is being advertised or in a similar setting or in some combination of the two, but with us and looking better than we are now. And therein lies the catch. The problem was that no matter the combination I just could not in my mind's eye picture myself in a better world, being with better people and wearing better things.

There is nothing quite like teaching in a primary school to kill any style aspirations one might have no matter how vague. Perhaps only being a fishmonger could be more detrimental. After several years I seem to find myself drawn to anything that has the label 'machine washable'. Even ties. Italian silk won't last a day. My old wardrobe has steadily removed itself with a series of splotches and stains into the bin. When not in the classroom, I am out on the sports field, and if at home I'll either be sleeping or preferably if I have the energy, out on the mountain. I realise that my standards have dropped, perhaps irretrievably.

There is nothing quite like the union of Italian silk and runny glue to change your priorities when selecting a tie. The advantages are of such a functionally driven wardrobe is that I'll survive a car wash almost intact yet with the nearest singe of an open flame, I'll be the smouldering puddle of bubbling rubber before you can say 'whoosh'. No matter the magazine, I really couldn't find a better me anywhere. As much as I may try to harbour the fantasy of wearing a tweed jacket, tastefully matched with a man bag, complemented by mustard hued trousers cut stylishly to show my 'mankles', and staring off into the middle distance with some willowy, yet strangely limp looking female companion - it is something I give up on almost immediately.

It's not me, it's you

If I could not see myself looking good, then I at least wanted to be with someone that did. Looking at some of the women I felt equally at sea. Sure all the women looked striking. But in the way that there is something slightly awry with their appearance. The look seemed to be all about having that little something that set them apart, but not distractingly so, but just enough for you to take a second glance. It is a necessary trick for your attention when all the models are beautiful. A giant ginger mass of hair, a square mannish chin, eyes that are a little too far apart. I wondered if the little visual barbs that worked so well on the runway or photo set would be a little too startling first thing in the morning, sans the grace and skill of the make up department. Wake up next to anyone who's eyes are distanced so far apart that they seem to move independently, or someone blessed with a lantern jaw that would have snapped up the leading role in Spartacus and you would feel a small bit startled.

None of the models looked as though they had seen the sun lately. None of them looked as though they had the musculature to do anything more than contentedly adorn a chair the way a melted Salvador Dali clock would. Anyone that is involved in sport can sniff out fellow malcontents easily. Physiques tell you a lot. You can spot the rowers,the runners, the rugby players, the cyclists with a feeble and withered upper body. Mountain runners seem ill at ease and like beards. Crossfitters will most likely be wearing a t-shirt informing you before you have need to ask them. You can tell the condition of someone just by looking at the thickness of their skin, the muscles that are used tell you, the sun creased face tells you. These people move. There is something reassuring in that recognition.

Retro Housewife Fashion - Vogue UK June 2010 Far From Heaven Shoot is Sitting Pretty (GALLERY)

There was no sense of the familiar when I looked at the photos. Yes, I know I was looking at the wrong type of magazine if that was the sort of model I was looking for. Yet I was looking at magazines that appealed to the mainstream of society and as examples go I didn't think this was the example of what we should be striving for. In addition to women models needing to be slender or stick thin, they have to be smooth and muscle free.

Houston we have problem

A few weeks ago I had a maths lesson that didn't go at all as planned. That in itself is not unusual in the primary years, lessons often change in moments of inspiration or if little Jonny has glued himself to the floor. The exercise was to bring maths into a real word context and make some of the concepts tangible. How many Smarties (chocolate sweets) were required to complete the perimeter of the football field? Similarly, how many to cover its entire surface area? Progressing to how many Smarties would fill our entire classroom? Come to think of it, these tasks weren't too tangible, just an idea of heaven to a small person. Nonetheless, the idea of a room of chocolate nirvana was enough to motivate them to work out the maths. Bribery perhaps was the most real world concept taught but, bless them, they are too young to realise or feel the least bit used. Eventually we moved onto Weight. I told the kids what my approximate weight in kilogrammes was and then showed how on the whiteboard to convert my weight into an equivalent amount of Smarties.

Hilarity followed, but when they were challenged to work out what they weighed into the number of Smarties they grew uneasy. Several children did not want to reveal their weight - not because it was more or less than another class member, but because they had a preconceived idea of what a good weight for them should be and they did not want to admit how near or far they were to it. I was stunned, the numbers that were mentioned had nothing to do with how tall or short they were, or whether they were active or not. Just a round number from somewhere that indicated if they were good or bad. The maths lesson was abandoned - weights and measure can only get you so far in life and even NASA will crash a probe into Mars from time to time. The rest and much of the next lesson covered what was to be healthy. Not thin, just healthy and active. Unfortunately, this scenario too has happened a few grades below my class, with children aged 7.

Body image is an increasingly important issue of child well-being around the world. Young girls and boys have to contend with powerful ideal images of what we should look like. It is of great importance that children as they grow and develop maintain a positive body image. Unfortunately, and as happened in my class, and the class several years below mine, demonstrate body image problems. Many studies point to the problem of body image, some point to around 40-50 percent of primary school children are dissatisfied with some aspect of their body and shape. Girls most often feel they should be slender, boys a bit later on, to be muscular.

Exercise and the enjoyment of being active is being lost. Either through a feeling of inadequacy or of perception. I have had girls refuse to run a lap for fear of developing visible and unsightly leg muscles. Like it or not, children follow modelled behaviour, and parents that obsess about weight and dieting pass on these concerns to their children. I have seen it time and time again. Somewhere, the fun and activity of childhood is being lost. Perhaps it already started a generation ago. We are getting fatter, Greece, regrettably is leading the charge in creating inactive SUV sized children. Looking at the World Health Organisation's child activity level guidelines, few children come anywhere close.

Role models

Greece is particularly a bad example when looking for female role models that embrace an active lifestyle. The most well-known woman here is a sweat-free celebrity aerobics/ yoga instructor with impeccable make-up. Most amateur races are conspicuous in their near absence of female competitors. My wife, when running the Athens marathon overheard a little girl excitedly exclaim 'Look mummy, a lady is running!' To which her mother explained that my wife was certainly a foreigner as Greek women don't do that sort of thing. If that didn't snuff out any dreams of future achievement for that little girl I don't know what else could.

The stuff that our dreams are made of

And it is not just children that are easily swayed. It appears, that we who should know better are just as easily swayed by body image. My first triathlon was a pivotal moment for me. Not because I almost drowned in the swim and had to be hauled into a boat (swimming has never ever really been the same for me since and seems an unnecessary and frivolous flirtation with death, but I keep doing it), but because I came away from the event in awe of the other athletes. I had never seen so many fit and healthy looking people all in one place before. It didn't help that I discovered that women triathletes had beautiful legs too. I was swayed and in a good way. It was where my love of the bicycle started and a deeply rooted idea that it was foolish to disobey evolution and get into water again. It was, later at another triathlon that I met my wife.

A study says it is so, it must be so

Sometimes all you want to know about something can be found in some research paper. Refer to a study and it always makes your point irrefutable. And, after doing a little research into the problems the youth of today now face in a society so concerned with appearance, it is not only them. My point is that adults are fickle too. We just want to be wanted and we'll do whatever it takes to look so. Women, we know because they tell us, have long been an easy market, but now that man has become a little more in touch with his feminine side we too have a growing list of perceived flaws that need to be rectified. Where there is an inadequacy there is a study.

Do What You Love

The premise of one such study was how the male body has changed due to the overwhelming pressure of the fashion industry. Fair enough you might say, you might even agree that this is an insidious movement against the manly man, but I became fascinated by the researchers. They, in their quest for complete learning, above and beyond the call of duty decided to look at back copies of Playgirl and ponder how male models have changed over time. Methodically and exhaustively they they pored over every single centrefold from 1973 to 1997. Now, I do believe that you should love your job, or at least detest it less than other jobs that you could hold, but the seeping of their satisfaction in the task at hand seemed everywhere. Men had gained in 'thickness', 'length', muscularity' and 'decreased body fat' in almost two and a half decades. 'Girth' I am sure was snuck there too but that alas was too much for the editor to stand. 300 centrefolds were examined. Apparently, this study was an 'ingenious twist' on another pre-eminent study of female centrefolds featured in the more well known PlayBoy publication, and how too under fashion's pressure the female body had to change. I am not going to bother reading it, but I am sure it is peppered with full, pert and springy nouns.

PlayGirl model feeling the pressure, forced into wearing the latest MacGyver mullet and always poised with a Swiss Army knife at the ready. 

Relativity so.

If I were again unfortunately to age at an accelerated rate, while skimming through glossy magazines waiting for my doctor, I'd rather imagine myself fashionably attired, staring off into the distance while someone like Jessica Ennis drapes herself on something nearby. What can be better, someone who enjoys what her body can do well and wearing something beautiful? Imagine what would children think? I wouldn't even mind showing off my 'mankles'. 

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