Nov 032014
 
 November 3, 2014  Posted by  Tagged with: , , ,

If you’re a stereotypically broke college student who is looking for some consistent work and steady pay, you may consider dropping that part-time on-campus job and picking up a full-time job as a “sugar baby.” All you need is a “sugar daddy” or a “sugar mommy” who can provide financial incentives in exchange for your companionship – simple, right?

When I first read this CNN article over a year and a half ago about the creative ways that students have been making money to pay for college tuition, I was drawn mostly to the idea of sugar daddies/ mommies and sugar babies. At the time, the idea of online-originating arrangements seemed like a fad concept – one that would fade away with the regular tide of social networking websites. But even a quick Google News search today shows that the promotion and criticism of sugar-babies wasn’t new in 2012, and it hasn’t stopped being a short form newsworthy topic a few years later.

On SeekingArrangement.com, one of the most popular sites that has been drawing attention for its promotion of what they call “mutually beneficial relationships,” wealthier men and women (but overwhelmingly men) can find younger and more attractive men and women (but overwhelmingly women) who are looking to make some money. On the site’s general information page*, it claims to have a “solution to the problem of imbalance and broken expectations in dating relationships” by eliminating “awkwardness” and “guessing games.” It writes as fact that “older, wealthier men and younger, more beautiful women have been seeking each other out for… let’s see… THOUSANDS OF YEARS,” and that “it’s a tradition that’s not going to change anytime soon.”

If the patterns of wealthier men looking to find younger women haven’t changed and won’t change, maybe that’s the reason that sugar daddy/baby connection websites are still around. Even now, there continue to be articles written about the growing number of sugar babies at universities including Georgia State University, Miami University, and even at Cambridge University in the UK. And though I do not personally know anyone involved in a sugar daddy/ baby relationship, I generally agree that healthy dating relationships can form when there are clear expectations.

So what makes me uncomfortable about the growing number of sugar daddy/ baby relationships formed by these arrangement websites?

Though sites like SeekingArragement.com claim to set clear expectations for these relationships, these websites seem only to make clear the financial expectations, not the expectations for companionship – and more specifically, sexual intimacy. While sugar babies can clearly state their “lifestyle expectations,” which range from “negotiable,” to “minimal” or less than $1,000 monthly, to “high” or over $10,000 monthly, there are no equivalent metrics for companionship. And how could there be a set of easy-to-list companionship expectations to choose from? What would even come close? The number of nights per week expected to have dinner, or to watch a movie, or to be sexually intimate? And could you even begin to quantify the emotional commitment aspect?

Websites like SeekingArrangement.com advertise relationships that are ambiguous and imbalanced from the beginning. If we evaluate relationships on a gradient from romantic ones to transactional ones, the explicit transfer of money within sugar daddy/ baby relationships seem much more transactional but are marketed as more romantic. A sugar daddy knows exactly how much he will pay for the companionship of a sugar baby, but a potential sugar baby doesn’t know what form her companionship should or will take. When these relationships fail – at least in part – because intimacy expectations are not met, then the sugar baby will always be at higher risk for blame, because the conditions are unfair and unclear to begin with. Arrangement sites bring this type of inequality to a larger scale.

*The site has since updated its general information page and the link provided above directs to an archived version.

Feb 252013
 

I am not the resident expert on sexy, sex, sex, but recently, I stumbled upon a Sports Illustrated cover that caught my eye:

In an effort to be innovative (because the bikinis couldn’t get any skimpier), SI decided to tour all 7 continents for its swimsuit edition. The model on the cover, Kate Upton, had the pleasure of shooting  in Antarctica.

Yes, Antarctica.

For those of us who have ever braved the cold in clubbing attire, we understand the sheer agony of this feat, and we don 40% more coverage (at least I would hope).

Kate Upton modeled outside, in temperatures around -18 degrees Fahrenheit  for 6 days.  According to Upton, as she stood naked on set, she “literally couldn’t move, and the editors had to pick up [her] legs and put [her] into the next outfit.” After Upton’s grueling shoot, she suffered bouts of blindness and deafness, symptoms of hypothermia.

Despite this horrible ordeal, SI remains smug and Upton thankful for her opportunity. In the industry, when a model harms herself on set, she is accountable for taking the job. So instead of filing a lawsuit, Upton is thanking her lucky stars that she has recovered and her frozen beauty has launched her career to meteoric heights.

But, is this fair?  Did Upton freely choose to compromise her health in order  to appear on the cover of SI?

Given the cut-throat nature of the modeling industry, both models and employers understand a fundamental truth: there is little demand for bettering models’ working conditions.  If Kate Upton refused SI’s offer, there would have easily been 10, if not 100 girls who would have jumped at the offer. Models are dispensable. Career-defining opportunities are not.

This psychology has long-fueled the industry’s battle with body image and eating disorders.

In 2006, Brazilian supermodel Ana Carolina died from “complications from anorexia” after being told two years earlier that she needed to lose weight.

In 2007, supermodel sisters Eliana and Luisel Ramos died within weeks of each other from “malnutrition and starvation.” Their agency blamed this on an “obvious” genetic disorder.

In 2010, French model and actress, Isabelle Caro, passed away. Her shocking and emaciated body was shown as a campaign against anorexia.

At some point, we have to ask ourselves, how much is too much?  How edgy is too edgy?  How thin is too thin?  Recently, fashion houses in Spain and Italy imposed a BMI limit on models to discourage anorexia. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it is not the end-all-be-all. We need more productive discussion on  fashion, image, culture, and working conditions for models.

Bethany asked in an earlier post whether we have an ethical obligation to stop watching football. I ask, do you feel the moral obligation to stop subscribing to SI? To stop patronizing fashion brands which project an unhealthy body image?

I wonder, what ethical responsibilities to models have? Recently, some fashion models have banded together to form the Model Alliance and drafted a models’ bill of rights. Should new superstars like Kate Upton leverage their influence to lend solidarity to young models?

Given National Eating Disorder Awareness week at Duke, it is time to examine our collective supply and demand that fuels the industry.

Feb 042013
 
 February 4, 2013  Posted by  Tagged with: , , ,

To prepare themselves for the Super Bowl yesterday, many people are asked themselves some important questions: What kind of dip will I make? How much beer do I need to buy? Will the toss be heads or tails? Which commercial will be the best? Will it be the 49ers or the Ravens? I can certainly relate to most of these concerns (though, I must admit that once the Redskins lost, I was just not invested in the postseason). But, maybe the question that few, if any, are asking themselves is the one that’s the most important: is watching football ethical?

For lifelong football fans, myself included, this might be a shocking question. Perhaps it seems like something only those in high academics would debate. But, with the recent death of Junior Seau, the ethicality of football has been front and center. For those of you who don’t follow the sports world, Junior Seau was a linebacker who played most famously with the San Diego Chargers, becoming a sports icon in the San Diego area. Seau retired in 2010, after playing since high school. In 2012, he committed suicide at age 43. Later, it was revealed that Seau suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a form of chronic brain damage that has been discovered in other NFL players who died, as well. For those who knew Seau, they say the last few months of his life were marked with abnormal behavior. Just this month, the Seau family sued the NFL over the brain injuries he sustained during his career as a linebacker.

My first reaction to hearing about Seau’s tragic suicide was probably similar to many others who followed the story. Though terribly sad, Seau chose to play football and knew the injuries were a risk. Sure, the NFL could have provided more medical and psychological help to its players once they retired, but it doesn’t seem like we can hold them responsible for his death, right? But, then I started reading more and more about the perils of professional football.

In 2010 Malcolm Gladwell penned what has since become a rather famous op-ed in the New Yorker comparing football to dog fighting. Gladwell recounted the story dozens of former NFL and college players who are, or were, suffering from brain injuries. Line players can suffer up to 1,000 hits in the head in just one season. All these head injuries seem to have a real and scary effect on the players. Seau’s suicide wasn’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last. In 2006, Andre Waters, a defensive back, shot himself; Owen Thomas, a defensive end and former UPenn captain, hung himself; retired safety Dave Duerson shot himself in 2011; and former safety Ray Easterling shot himself just a week before Seau did. This is not an isolated incident.

But, football players choose to play football. They are never forced to play, and in fact few who desire to play at the highest levels achieve it. Moreover, they’re getting paid a pretty good sum of money, so that makes up for possible injuries and risk…right? The flip side of this free will argument is that football is, as BuzzFeed writer Kevin Lincoln wrote, “the contemporary equivalent of gladiatorial combat…killing young men slowly…our loyalty condones this and makes it not only acceptable but wildly profitable.”

Do both these arguments have merit? Certainly, no one is ever forced to play, but the cult of adoration surrounding football creates a whirlwind that becomes hard to stop. Perhaps most alarming is that these dangerous hits don’t start at the college level, or even high school. It starts in elementary school with Pop Warner. Moreover, it’s not as if the trauma of multiple hits to the head begins when a player actually makes it into professional football. It begins all the way back in elementary school and slowly builds. College athletes aren’t even paid for the risks they are taking. Should we really let children play a game we know to be dangerous and have potentially life-altering effects? And, football hits have gotten more severe over time as players get faster and bigger. Even President Obama shared some concerns about this in a recent interview, saying that although the NFL players are getting paid, “as we start thinking about the pipeline, Pop Warner, high school, college, I want to make sure we are doing everything we can to make the sport safer.”

Moreover, why isn’t the NFL doing more to help the current players and those entering the game at a young age. Rather than address the physical and psychological traumas of football, the NFL constantly finds ways to obfuscate and ignore the issue. It will be interesting to see what their reaction to the Seau family suit will be

But, even if the NFL were more open with their players about the potentially behavior-altering, traumatic nature of football, what else could they do? Short of banning football or capping how long players can play (which seems unlikely given the extraordinary pay incentives and loyal fanbase), as long as people keep watching football, football will still be played. So, do we have an ethical imperative to stop watching football? Should we demand real change in the NFL’s policies and incentive system in order to protect the players? Are we contributing to the disturbingly long litany of former NFL players who have committed suicide or been seriously affected by brain injuries?

It’s hard for me to address these questions. I have always loved football. I’ve watched games with my dad since I can remember. I have many good memories of Duke Football game days, Super Bowl parties, and Friday night games in high school. It’s not something that’s easy for me to come to terms with—yet, I can’t deny how troubling I find all the evidence mounted up against the NFL. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do know that yesterday I was thinking about a lot more than what kind of wings I should get for my Super Bowl party.  

Apr 012011
 
 April 1, 2011  Posted by  Tagged with: ,

It has become evident that champions of healthy eating are no longer emphasizing teaching proper eating habits: they are getting aggressive and seeking to eliminate many of the harms that plague Americans’ diets before they are even offered for consumption.

My first interaction with this elimination tactic was at my public high school in South Dakota. This is a brutal paraphrasing of what happened, but a mother was concerned that her child had gained weight despite healthy eating habits at home. Therefore, the mother blamed the school, where her child could buy soda and snacks in the vending machines and in the school store. After a tumultuous battle with the school district, the mother’s efforts were successful and no longer could you find ‘unhealthy’ food in school. Gone were the days of buying candy in the school store; gone were the days of purchasing regular chips – not Sun Chips or Chex Mix – with your lunch; and gone were the days of having a soda to get you through that afternoon sleepiness. Instead, we were presented with trail mix, Chex Mix, and sugary sports drinks as our ‘healthy options.’ It’s a far cry to call these alternatives healthy; healthier than before, but still, not truly good for you.

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Feb 102011
 
 February 10, 2011  Posted by  Tagged with: ,

Photo credit: Decafinata via Flickr

Remember when smoking was good for you? Well, not anymore. At least that’s what most people would tell you, and they tend to readily blame Hollywood for glamorizing the act of smoking. Recent studies further reinforce this claim. A recent article published in The Economist discusses the discovery of increased brain activity (in the form of mirror neurons) for smokers when they view a movie in which people are smoking. The article quotes Scott Heuttel, a neuroscientist at Duke, who says, “This study builds on a growing body of evidence showing that addiction may be reinforced not just by the drugs themselves but by images and other experiences associated with those drugs.”  The writer goes on to suggest that people will come out in protest against movies that feature characters who smoke.

Is pretending smoking doesn’t exist really the right answer? First, it’s unreasonable to ask Hollywood to only feature society-approved acts in their films. (And who is “society” anyway?) Movies are often meant to serve as an escape from reality, not as a boring replication of what you can see in your own town for free. Dictating what can and cannot be showed in theatres could seriously hurt the movie-making industry.

But my real issue with removing smoking from films is that it’s an inconsistent request. If people wish to prevent the showing of disagreeable social acts, will they also attempt to ban murder, crime, violence, prostitution, etc.? These acts all add intrigue to the plot, and regardless of whether you approve of the acts themselves, they are often entertaining on the big screen.

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