Posted on Leave a comment

Solitude, Stressors, and the Rise of Eating Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Abby Loomis

Sometimes after sitting at my desk for 7 hours listening to Zoom lectures, my mind drifts back to the early days of the pandemic, when life seemed a lot easier. We had dalgona coffee, Tiger King and a two week long spring break! What could be better? If you were like me, you probably thought that this would be the perfect time to start working out, especially with the new Chloe Ting Two Week Shred everyone was talking about (the first video has 336 million views!).

But as we all know, the pandemic lasted a bit longer than two weeks. Quickly, what was a fun break from school became a concerning and life altering event. Schools began to announce that they may not open in the fall, and would likely continue online classes. People were laid off from their jobs, forced to move back in with their parents or adjust to an entirely new format of learning. 

Life was upended, and any semblance of normalcy was quickly lost, taking a large toll on everyone, especially those with mental health issues. While this exacerbated all mental illnesses, I am going to be discussing how the pandemic not only affected those with restrictive eating disorders, but how it also caused an increase in disordered eating in those without a previous history of eating disorders.

First, it is important to understand what exactly eating disorders are and what can cause them. According to Psychiatry.org, “[e]ating disorders are behavioral conditions characterized by severe and persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions”. One does not need to starve themselves in order to have an eating disorder, they may purposefully cause themself to throw up their food, consume large amounts of food without control during a binge, or obsessively restrict their diets. One’s genes can put them at a greater risk of an eating disorder, but according to Eating Disorders.org, it is oftentimes one’s environment that can lead to the development of eating disorders.

 Major stressors and traumas, like assault or home instability, can lead one to develop an eating disorder. And, from personal experience and medical evidence, disordered eating is often a way for one to feel in control of their life, as for many it is hard to control their external environment, but they can control what and how much they eat.

COVID-19 provided more than enough stressors that could lead to or exacerbate pre-existing eating disorders, such as isolation, job instability, deaths of loved ones and chaos surrounding supermarkets (i.e. food shortages and possibility of getting COVID-19). In fact, according to a recent survey of those who have eating disorders, 53% of those in the U.S. reported that they were ‘very concerned’ about their eating disorder being exacerbated “due to a lack of structure”. 

As well, the COVID-19 era is also notable for the shift towards online learning, and the use of Zoom in particular. We all know what it feels like to have your camera on and constantly worry about whether or not we are making the right facial expressions or if our face really looks like that. In fact, a study found that 86% of dermatologists reported that patients were “citing video-conferencing calls” as a reason to seek cosmetic care. But this increased body awareness associated with Zoom is yet another factor which can contribute to or worsen disordered eating. Many people with eating disorders avoid mirrors in order to avoid triggering themselves, but with Zoom they are constantly confronted by their reflection and by proxy, constantly confronted by harmful thoughts about their appearance, which could lead to a relapse into disordered eating. 

 However, there is another factor which has exacerbated disordered eating. With all of this free time, we have all spent an immense amount of time on social media, either making content or watching others. Experts know that social media, particularly Tik Tok, which has gained popularity during the pandemic, has a negative impact on body image and can be used to proliferate disordered eating habits in the form of ‘weight loss tips’ or intentionally triggering images which are referred to as “thinspo”. Even well meaning content, such as workout routines, can feed into disordered eating behaviors without any intent by the creator. For example, in the comment section of the previously mentioned Chloe Ting Two Week Shred, one does not need to scroll far to find comments reminiscent of 2016 pro-anorexia Tumblr, such as ‘body checks’. 

During the pandemic we have used social media and the Internet as a whole in order to keep ourselves occupied and in touch with others in order to preserve our mental stability, but for many it has a deteriorating effect. We have too much time alone with ourselves in which we can pick ourselves apart in the mirror, bit by bit. And then once we go back online, it is easy to find content which can decrease our self worth even further.

But what can we do? In the face of constantly mounting stressors and triggers, how can we protect ourselves from developing or falling back into disordered eating habits? The Center for Discovery advises that we should attempt to provide structure for ourselves, setting aside specific times for eating, sleeping, and partaking in our hobbies, as well as limiting social media use. By setting aside time to take care of ourselves and incorporating that into our daily structure, it is easier to ensure that we actually do those things instead of forgetting about them or brushing them aside amidst the chaos of quarantine. As well, it is of utmost importance to connect with loved ones to alleviate feelings of isolation, even if it is only for a quick call. While we cannot eliminate all of the stressors of COVID and possible triggers for eating disorders, we must put in the effort to take care of ourselves even when it is difficult. When we notice ourselves slipping into harmful behaviors, we must step back and focus our energies on self-care. There is no shame in asking for help or calling a hotline. This is a time of immense chaos and stress, and we need to ensure our wellbeing and mental stability.

National Eating Disorders Hotline

(800)-931-2237

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

(800)-273-8255

Posted on Leave a comment

Setting the Record Straight: Cultural Appropriation

By: Christina Lee

The next time I sit down on a chair, I should think about “cultural appropriation.”

That’s the message writer Bari Weiss relays in her 2017 op-ed for The New York Times titled, “Three Cheers for Cultural Appropriation.”

Weiss misses the point in some spots, failing to examine the impact of colonialism, i.e. the inherent power play that does exist within the broad concept of “cultural appropriation,” and claiming that cultural appropriation is what “makes America great” in an eerie echo of hackneyed Trump-isms. Nonetheless, the takeaway that “cultural appropriation” is everywhere, even in the chair I’m sitting on, may seem far-fetched, but it’s essentially an idea that has shaken my worldview ever since, making myself doubt my own stance toward this hot, new term “cultural appropriation” and what it really means for someone bicultural like me to grapple with the ways people are abusing this new phrase.

In her article, Weiss writes that cultural appropriation “is overwhelmingly being used as an objection to syncretism—the mixing of different thoughts, religions, cultures and ethnicities that often ends up creating entirely new ones”. To discuss the term as it’s commonly abused especially by young, outspoken social media users today, I would have to say that Weiss has a point: American singer Jessye Norman specializes in the Italian opera and performs pieces written by German composer Richard Wagner; one of the most popular Greek yogurt companies is run by a Kurd born in Turkey who now lives in America; and as for me, Koreans rarely used chairs until they were most likely introduced to them via foreign nomadic tribes who had already made use of stools. This exchange and adoption of various cultures into our own lives is inevitable.

With the prevalence of social media and online communication today, we’ve created an environment in which we learn to empathize with, gain awareness of, and implement new ideas faster than ever, and it’s only appropriate that we have learned to do so considering the abundance of resources at our disposal. However, the consequence emerges where these “advocates” begin to misuse their newfound power, wielding their social media accounts as a weapon to present their indignantly self-righteous cries for restoring justice in niche spaces, only to validate their self-created sense of virtue.

These are the people who blur the lines between assimilation, cross-cultural exchange, Weiss’s so-called “syncretism,” and true cultural appropriation that suggests actually harmful notions of racism, colonialism, and discrimination in the given context (e.g. naming an American sports team “Redskins,” a white individual donning Afrocentric hairstyles without facing the same consequences in the workplace). In that same sense, before examining the dangers of misusing the term “cultural appropriation,” it’s crucial to establish that nuances to this discussion indeed exist. Specifically, this issue extends to the implications of white privilege and the hypocrisy of a dominant culture misrepresenting and exploiting the cultures of ethnic groups that have been systematically discriminated against throughout history. Essentially, context matters. In the United States, where issues surrounding race have continuously marred the country, it’s important to note that “cultural appropriation” can quickly escalate into a denial of an entire ethnic group’s past struggles, the establishment of imperialist sentiments, and blatant racism.

But in examining the pros and cons of being aware of “cultural appropriation” as it’s thrown around these days, it seems that the negatives outweigh the positives.

Following the “logic” of some of these advocates of cultural appropriation’s dangers, I should have been considered guilty of appropriating culture—I’ve been copying and using the cultural items valuable to these nomadic tribes without knowing about their origins because I literally Googled the history of a chair just to write this article.

In this same manner,  the commonly misunderstood version of cultural appropriation results in a slippery-slope argument that could leave me posing endless examples: white people shouldn’t listen to R&B, jazz, or even rock music—if they don’t know the comprehensive history behind these music genres, starting from where and when they originated, their characteristics, and key figures, they should probably just stick to Bach or Mozart.

I exaggerate, but that’s essentially the dangerously flawed message that these advocates portray. These same advocates choose not to speak out so vocally about the exploitation of slaves who worked in unimaginable conditions in salt ponds during the 1800s whenever they pick up a container of salt to season their food, and these same people indulge in music genres that, surprise, have been appropriating the sounds that originates within cultures of people of color.

Perhaps we’re just picking and choosing our own battles for our own convenience and self-conceited sense of righteousness and entitlement without acknowledging the hypocrisy of our flawed logic.

A lurking sense of discomfort emerges whenever someone points out an instance of “cultural appropriation” and calls for the restoration of that particular cultural practice or item to its original place in a context that doesn’t hint at racist and imperialist sentiment. Realistically, the idea of “exoticism” and “otherness” is perpetuated instead, where we enforce the concept that whatever seems foreign and unfamiliar should remain foreign and unfamiliar. In adopting this mentality, we stray further from learning about other cultures and growing closer to them in a healthy way that encourages the unification of people rather than division. Let’s be honest: deeming other cultures “exotic” is frankly outdated. But with these mindless performances of gatekeeping, the discouraging sentiment surrounding the integration and possibility of approaching various cultures evokes the imagery of the past, of segregation, of exoticism, and of discrimination.

Would I be offended if I saw any person who wasn’t Korean wearing hanbok? Probably not. But then again, I’m in no position to speak on the behalf of an entire culture and its people when I myself am a combination of countless cultures integrating and influencing one another.

Posted on Leave a comment

Let There Be Light: Diwali amid COVID-19

By: Sai Siddhaye

With almost 70 million cases of COVID-19 worldwide, the festive cheer that autumn usually brings has been thoroughly extinguished. Though quarantine is a necessary measure, it has caused significant turmoil as families are unable to reunite for the holidays. For children of immigrants, it is already difficult to juggle the two sides of a split cultural upbringing when apart from family; the inability to celebrate cultural holidays means an even greater separation. This year, Diwali landed in mid-November, preventing the Indian festival from being enjoyed to its fullest extent. The increasingly strict shelter-in-place orders meant that millions of people were separated from traditional Diwali festivities this year.

“It just doesn’t feel the same this year,” admits Rohan, a graduate student at UCSB. “I usually look forward to seeing my friends and family during Diwali, not to mention the amazing food. It just feels like a time where I can really come back to my roots. This year, Diwali just felt a little flat; I didn’t see any point in celebrating on my own, so I just felt a little sad and lonely the whole time. Even without all the decorations and the dressing up, the thing I miss the most is being with my family.” 

Diwali, known in English as the festival of lights, is a Hindu holiday that commemorates  the victory of good over evil. Its theological origins stem from The Ramayana’s tale of the return of King Rama to Ayodhya after his defeat of the demon Ravana. To embody the symbolic triumph of light over dark, the festivities revolve around lights of all kinds. Diwali is extravagantly celebrated; it is the Christmas of Hinduism, if you will. Though this festival is primarily observed by Hindus, many Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist communities in India also recognize the holiday. This year, it took place from November 12-16, smack dab in the middle of a surge of COVID-19 cases in both India and America. 

In India, Diwali is integral to morale, spirituality, and economy. It is celebrated by nationwide parades, religious ceremonies, and large family gatherings. Fireworks can be seen lighting up the sky for days, and puja, or prayers, take place in many homes and temples. To honor the importance of light overcoming darkness, most people decorate their homes with diyas (clay lamps), paper lanterns, string lights, candles, and  rangolis. These decorations, aside from bringing a positive spiritual atmosphere to homes, also account for a sizable portion of India’s business. In fact, spirituality and economy during Diwali to the point that “stock exchanges remain open during non-market hours for a special trading session called Muhurat, scheduled at an astrologically significant time on the evening of Diwali”¹. People are more likely to buy new clothes, jewelry, electronics, and even cars during this time. Just like Christmas in America, sales skyrocket during Diwali. 

This year, however, India’s economy is locked in a fierce battle with COVID-19. Many large markets, anticipating vast crowds, have closed, but India’s economy relies on the sales made during Diwali, so the majority of stores and markets remain open. India was second only to the U.S. in its number of coronavirus cases before Diwali, at 8.5 million cases ¹. With currently over nine million coronavirus cases and 138,000 deaths ², Diwali’s festive frenzy seems to have taken its toll on the overall health of the country. 

Diwali among the diaspora, on the other hand, is quite different. The melting pot of America contains a steadily growing Indian-American population of approximately four million³. Therefore, Diwali is still a widely recognized holiday, but is generally limited to religious centers and household parties rather than nationwide events. However, many people still use their elaborate decorations to show their cultural pride. Diyas, paper lanterns, rangolis, and string lights–some homemade, some store bought–still adorn many homes during this time. Indeed, an easy way to spot an Indian home is if their Christmas lights come up a few months early. Many families hold large group gatherings to celebrate amongst their communities, bedecked in traditional Indian clothing and jewelry. Firecrackers are common at such parties as well, although they are much smaller than the ones seen in India. Amid the children waving sparklers and the wide arrays of Indian food, it is easier to feel connected to Indian culture despite the physical distance. 

Predictably, the pandemic has brought massive changes to the way Diwali is observed in America as well. Most religious and community centers did not hold public celebrations due to health and safety concerns, and many people are deciding against extravagant parties. Though this might make it easier to mitigate the damage of COVID-19, the festivity and togetherness of Diwali have been effectively squashed. Nobody has felt this isolation more, perhaps, than the children of Indian immigrants who no longer live with their families. Those who are not able to travel home for Diwali are separated both physically and emotionally from the traditions they likely grew up with, which can have harmful effects on their connection to their cultures. Just as people often lose fluency in their mother tongues after leaving home, cultural practices must be repeated to be maintained. 

Shreya, a student at ASU, says she felt the separation from her family. “ I Facetimed my parents while they were doing the puja and everything, even though they didn’t have any parties. Celebrating Diwali through a screen really doesn’t feel like Diwali at all.” When asked whether the physical distance from her family affected her closeness with Indian culture, Shreya said “Absolutely. Diwali is usually one of the only times during the year that I can be fully proud of my identity and not worry about what white people think of me. It’s so validating to be around a bunch of other Indian people who I love and don’t have to whitewash myself around. Not having that this year definitely felt like a blow. I hope next year will be normal, but if it isn’t, I want to have my own celebration just to have that feeling again.”

Others have a more positive outlook on Diwali during COVID-19. Amita, who moved to California from India in 1997, says “I celebrated Diwali with my husband, daughter, and father-in-law. It was small, but it still had that core feeling of togetherness. We made an akash kandeel, a paper lantern, and put diyas around the house. Even though we didn’t want to risk breaking our quarantine to have a party, it was still lovely to be able to wish everyone through group Zoom calls. Technology really has made the distance between our friends and extended family more bearable.” 

Just as Diwali celebrates finding light among darkness, perhaps the way to survive this uncertain time is to find a spark of hope and optimism in the bleak isolation.

Posted on Leave a comment

It’s All Rooted In The System: A Commentary On The Body Positivity Movement

By: Nicole Wagoner

I want to start off this article by saying that I am not plus sized. I never have been. So maybe I’m not qualified to write this article, but if you will listen to me for a moment, I think we can both learn something and leave this article being more educated about the life of a plus sized person.

I have always advocated for the body positivity movement. I think every body is beautiful and I think it is amazing that (at least part of) the world is finally acknowledging this. I have always had trouble accepting my body. My few extra pounds make me get down on myself sometimes. But I have never been systemically oppressed because of my size, like many plus sized people have.

Some might find this statement controversial, but it is one that is deeply rooted in the history of the patriarchy. I think when it comes to the body positivity movement, we need to stop comparing skinny shaming to fat shaming. While both are harmful, they never have and never will be on the same level. 

Once again, this is because fat people are systemically oppressed.

You wanna know how I know that? Because when I said fat just now, you were taken aback. Fat is not a dirty word as society has now equated it. Fat is a descriptor for a type of body. But ideals have forced us to think being fat is bad and fat is a mean word to describe someone with. 

Skinny was not always considered the norm. For many years curviness and having extra skin was considered the ideal for beauty, with goddesses like Venus being artistically portrayed with pear shape, plus sized bodies. But over time, women started being held to an unrealistic standard of beauty, and they were forced to take on a “boyish” type of appearance. This included being flat chested and especially slender. Calorie counting diets brought women to periods of starvation, just so that they could fit this new impossible standard of thinness.

We can see this is rooted in the patriarchy for a few reasons. One is the fact that this standard was pushed so that the norm for women would be frail and they would therefore seem subservient. The other is when women are insecure about their bodies, they feel as though they deserve less when it comes to relationships. While we live in a world where this is no longer openly discussed, we can see how openly patriarchal the “ideal” woman’s body is in society. Women’s bodies are not made for men to gawk at. A woman is beautiful no matter what, and she has no obligation to appeal to anybody at any time.

But this insecurity is still preyed upon. Commercials for Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem air on TV every single day. One can try to escape the madness by going on Instagram only to see an ad for weight loss teas. No one can escape the way society treats fat people. They see them as an object that needs to be fixed, needs to be renewed and beautified. There’s nothing wrong with being plus sized. If someone is happy in their own skin, they should be allowed to be. 

Beanie Feldstein said in her essay, “Please Stop Commenting On My Body,” that, “A person’s body changing is simply not clearance for you to talk about it. I know that nothing will truly change until we as a society are able to unravel the ingrained notion that thinness is ideal. However, I do hope that on a more interpersonal level, we can attempt to stop commenting on each other’s bodies. Because sadly, I am here to tell you that even well-intentioned compliments can be upsetting. In my case, that brought to the surface feelings about my body that had taken years to work through. And it is not how I want to continue”.

Commenting on someone’s weight enforces the fact that the person being commented on is not beautiful regardless of size. This is why Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem and weight loss teas are bad for the soul, because they enforce that there is something inherently wrong with being fat. But there is nothing inherently wrong with any weight. 

But that is not the only example of plus sized people being systemically oppressed. Take one step into a doctor’s office in a plus sized person’s shoes. An article from medium.com explored many plus-sized people’s stories of going to the doctors office and not getting proper treatment because of their size. This has led to many deaths, and not because of their weight. It was because of cancer, kidney failure, etc. These doctors ignore signs of obvious illness because one is medically “overweight.” While being medically overweight can cause health problems, many doctors give lesser care because they believe the fat person deserves lesser treatment. Another example of this is when a fat person cannot get diagnosed with an eating disorder because they do not fit this ideal of a frail girl who can be romanticized. 

Now, where do we go from here? How do we take the information from these articles, these essays, these many sources, and apply them to our lives? By not overshadowing the body positivity movement by talking about skinny shaming. The body positivity movement preaches every body is beautiful, and that no one should be treated differently because of their appearance. So let us not take away the voices of those who are actually systemically oppressed in society because of their appearance. Show this article to your mom, your dad, your aunt, your cousin. Then encourage them to listen to plus sized voices. Because maybe you shouldn’t listen to me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. But if you start listening to plus sized people and hear what they have to say about this movement, you’ll find that maybe you’ve been unknowingly feeding into society’s ideal and oppression of fat people. Don’t be that person. Keep yourself accountable, and call yourself to action. 

Posted on Leave a comment

Embracing Our Body Hair

By: Sindura Vuppu

I was only nine years old when I first used Veet hair removal cream to get rid of the shame and insecurity that came with my “unwanted” hair. Bollywood actress Katrina Kaif, the face of Veet in India back then, said I’d feel more beautiful if I did so. Thick dark hair on my dark skin didn’t help meet the beauty standards of a South Indian. Ever since, I’ve tried various ways to “clean up.” I covered up most of the time and waited desperately to visit the salon and get waxed every month just so I could wear clothes that I liked. I felt less pretty. I felt less feminine. I wondered how femininity or masculinity had anything to do with how hairy one was. 

Until a few decades ago, being hairy wasn’t so problematic. In fact, people saw beauty in facial and body hair. Indian Actress Kajol sported a unibrow in the 90s and was considered beautiful. Unibrows became trendy among Indian women. In the Middle East, as well as East and South Asia, unibrows were considered alluring in both sexes. Additionally, pubic hair is seen as a sign of sexual health and fertility In Korean culture, and many Korean women got pubic hair transplants. Similarly, many foreigners have reported that they are often surprised to see unshaved private parts in Asian bathhouses. The West, too, was comfortable with body hair until the 20th century. In the Middle Ages, Catholic women were expected to let their hair grow as a display of femininity. The only “requirement” was to keep it concealed in public. However, being hairy wasn’t that big of a deal for a long time. As we go further back in history, we can find the possible reasons why the obsession with hairlessness  began.

Charles Darwin’s book “Descent of Man” (1871) associated hairy bodies with “primitiveness” and “inferior races.” According to him, having less body hair was a sign of being more evolved and sexually attractive.  Not-so-surprisingly, these ideas targeted women more than men, establishing control over women’s bodies in the most misogynistic and heteronormative way and linking their femininity and sexual attractiveness to the lack of body hair. Scientists drew a clear distinction between masculinity and femininity based on body hair, calling this distinction “higher anthropological development” in race. At the dawn of the twentieth century, changes in fashion that exposed more skin encouraged less body hair. In 1915, Harper’s Bazaar, the first women’s magazine, launched the anti-armpit hair campaign, calling clean armpits a “necessity” for sleeveless clothes. The first Gillette women’s razor was also launched around the same time. Soon, middle-class white women desired smooth, “clean,” and white skin. Gradually, this influence spread across the world, combined with a development in various hair-removal techniques. Today, hair-removal has become so common among men and women, especially women, that most religiously opt for hair-removal as if they have no other option. As if it was a requirement to feel feminine, hygienic, and respected.

The way women are expected to have hairless bodies and smooth skins like children is a form of oppression. Making grown women feel pressured to remain young in the way they appear and behave makes it easier for the patriarchal society to establish control and dominance over almost every aspect of their lives. The term “pretty privilege” also applies to this viewpoint. While beautiful and attractive women who fit societal standards of femininity seem to receive more respect in their professional and personal lives, women who challenge these standards are often looked down upon. Recently, women letting their “unwanted” hair grow out has become associated with the desperation to be “different” and prove a point. While this might be true and is just a form of expression, rather than a personal choice, letting body hair grow has become a sign of “rebellion.” By mocking such choices, society increases the pressure on women to follow the norms and be more “modest and respectable.” Additionally, getting rid of body and facial hair has become so deeply associated with femininity that men doing so is often mocked. This stems from queerphobia and the desire to eliminate anything that isn’t heteronormative. This notion only strengthens toxic masculinity and the need to prove one’s masculinity or femininity. However, such ideas are now being challenged on a higher level. 

Frida Kahlo exhibited one of the earliest and the most significant forms of defiance by growing out her facial hair and embracing it. More recently, celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, Julia Roberts, and Paris Jackson to name a few, are encouraging the idea of embracing one’s body hair by publicly displaying their unshaved armpits and legs. In addition to being the first razor brand to show body hair on television, Billie, an indie razor brand, has launched campaigns such as the Body Hair Project and Red, White, and You do You Campaign with ads and videos celebrating the choice to shave or not shave body hair. It is also the first brand to show pubic hair on its Red,White, and You do You Campaign.  Januhairy is another campaign started by students  Laura Jackson and Ruby Jones in 2019 that encourages people to grow out their body hair for the month of January and share images of themselves online. There are many more such campaigns that strive to normalize body hair and empower hairy people. As years pass, we can expect the world to be more tolerant of all body and skin types. 

It’s time to normalize body hair. It’s also important that hair removal should remain a choice and should not be forced upon. There is nothing wrong if, as a feminist or a supporter of this movement, you choose to remove your own body and facial hair. It’s not hypocritical, but rather a personal choice. Having more or less body hair does not make one more or less feminine. Our body hair does not define who we are. Excessive or unwanted hair can occur because of several factors such as genetics or hormonal imbalance. It is normal to have more of it and it is equally normal to have less of it. The slowly fading dark patches in my armpits that came with hair removal creams, the bumps of ingrown hair that came with shaving, and the dreadful hot wax that burns my skin every month, continue to bother me.  I’m still learning to get rid of my insecurity of having a hairy body, but it is sliding down the list of my priorities with each passing day. While it’s not easy to readjust a brainwashed mind, it’s never too late to try. Let us learn to embrace our body hair, slowly and gradually. Let us appreciate what we have and be kind to ourselves.