Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Perfect Body

Dr. David Teplica—plastic surgeon, photographer, and philosopher—is in the business of beauty. He is living the dream, not just because he is pursuing two of his life-long passions (medicine and photography), but also because he is so damned likeable.

Dr. Teplica is unexpectedly tall. He emanates happiness and peace. He is funny. He absolutely does not fulfill the overworked, emotionally-immune doctor stereotype.

His clientele do not fulfill stereotypes, either. Dr. Teplica’s photography business draws in monoygotic twins, who have allowed him to develop a mirroring theory of dermatological development. In his plastic surgery practice, Dr. Teplica welcomes patients who are shunned by other plastic surgeons: HIV-positive clients on whom many surgeons are unwilling to operate, transsexuals seeking acceptance and understanding.

So why do people want to change themselves? Dr. Teplica posits that patients are often driven by a desire to align with their gender identity. Women want to be “smoother, leaner, more feminine.” Men often seek “definition, angular contours; they want to eliminate femininity. Pleasure, gender identity, gender preference all play a role in shape.”

Dr. Teplica also stresses the tremendous power that plastic surgeons possess. “Plastic surgeons are the only people who can cause positive permanent change,” he says in describing people’s post-surgical experiences.  Dr. Teplica’s passion is helping people match minds with bodies. If a transsexual man wants modest breast implants, he makes the effort to give the patient what he wants: “I’m not going to put bigger breasts in him and say ‘revel in breasts!’ My role is to fulfill wishes.”

His views on why people seek plastic surgeon present a gentle alternative to the common perception that those who have plastic surgery procedures have a shallow self-concept or that surgeries are driven by a need to feel desired or loved by others.

Almost all the time, Dr. Teplica’s expertise is employed in “trying to align what’s in [the patient’s] head with [his or her] body.” Plastic surgery seeking, then, is driven by a desire to align a person’s self-image or self-schema with what people see. With plastic surgery you “don’t make the body central; you put the body away so you can focus on other things in your life.”

This desire—to align our internal world with our external world—is a pull that finds parallels in many aspects of our lives. Fashion is an industry driven by our collective desire to present on the outside some small part of who we are. Cognitive dissonance is a much-studied psychological principle denoting our drive to maintain consistency in our mental world. Hypothetical Adam doesn’t want to be a hypocrite, even if the only person who knows Adam is a hypocrite is Adam.

In the computer age, what we are discovering is that we will use, often indiscriminately, platforms for exhibitionism to project an image of our internal world. Vacation photographs, our relationships with others, personal information that was previously closely guarded, are now publicly accessible for the approximately 500 million active users of facebook.com. The popularity of reality television has proved that exhibitionism is accepted, a quality to be tolerated, valued even, in others. If you have nothing to hide, why not disclose indiscriminately?

Many popular news outlets have derided this exhibitionism as low-brow, the lowest common denominator, low. But the exhibitionism continues unabated. Just as research has produced a more forgiving view of plastic surgery, there is a similarly kind explanation for our obsession with beauty and compulsive disclosure.

Aligning our internal and external worlds, matching our private thoughts with what other see, lessens feelings of loneliness and separation. Loneliness goes beyond the absence of romantic relationships and friendships. Our drive to disclose, to be known, is often not fulfilled by presenting our internal world through verbal communication. This drive exists in all of us, whether we were born into the ‘right’ body or not.

Our internal worlds—our minds—are so endlessly complex, that we are ultimately alone.

Beauty is compelling not only because it reflects what is beneath the surface, but because it is, inherently, on the surface. Beauty can be understood and known completely. Other people can appreciate the way we look more fully than they can appreciate anything else about us.

This doesn’t need to be depressing. It excuses our obsession with physical appearances to some degree. It means our appreciation of physical beauty extends beyond base tendencies and small-scale eugenics. Projecting and absorbing beauty closes the gap. And if you weren’t born into the perfect body, you can always go to the experts.

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Filed under Art, Ethics, Psychology, Self-improvement

Careless communications and why Facebook is ruining America

In the age of easy-access-to-information-and-communication, everyone has a perfect platform for sharing thoughts with others, Online communication often cannot be blocked or repelled before reading/thirty-minute-response-writing.

The latter is what really bothers me. I realize most people are not interested in my opinions. That’s why I have a blog: so that people who are interested in the workings of my mind can explore my thoughts.

If someone approaches me on the street and wants to talk about something controversial, I have options. I can walk away. Tout my own dogma until they go away. Same with phone-calls: I can ignore calls, delete voicemails.

Email and facebook, however, are inherently intrusive. I cannot keep you from sending me an email. I have to read it to figure out the content, and because there are no social cues in email, I don’t know if you’re about to recount an important story or start spouting evidence that Jesus has been reborn as a network of mushrooms.

This constant, thoughtless intrusion has started to bother me. I miss the days of intimate phone calls and hand-written letters. Now I write ten text messages (likely with a sad lack of capitalization and correct grammar) in a row to have dinner with a friend and I receive 50 thoughtless emails a day, not including spam. You made a mistake in your email? No problem, shoot me another one 15 seconds later to correct it.

If we took the time to think about our communications with people, including strangers, the world would be a happier place.

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Filed under Ethics, Self-improvement

The Romper

I have been excited by rompers ever since I saw my first one in the window of Urban Outfitters. If Urban had to describe their brand aesthetic, I’m pretty sure it would be something like: clothing for those who enjoy romping in meadows in the 70’s and/or 80’s. So it makes sense that they have a wide selection of rompers.

I have always wanted to try this trend. The romper is adorable: I can look cute in my floral romper while window-shopping for more rompers. The romper is convenient, like shorts: I can sit on the ground with my legs splayed open like a homely buffoon without exposing my underpants. Perfect!

Being frugal, I decided to drop by Plato’s Closet to justify the purchase of more, unneeded, clothing. Plato’s Closet is where shopaholics sell their clothes so that they can afford rent at the end of each month. They back gently-used, trendy clothes and sells them at awesomely-discounted rates. This is where I come in.

I found an adorable (floral!) romper for six dollars. Yes! I remembered that I was taking a road trip the next day. I was so proud of myself at this point: I am so responsible and prepared, I even have clothes picked out for this adventure! A romper will be comfortable and breathable. The perfect outfit for a long drive. WRONG.

I was an hour into my six-hour road-trip to Canada when I realized that I had to pee. I happily pulled into a Starbucks and proceeded to the restroom where I discovered my terrible error.

For those of you who have never worn a romper before, let it be known that if you make the ill-fated decision to wear one, you will have to get completely naked every time you use the restroom. If you are someone who has anxiety about being walked in on in restrooms, this is not a particularly exciting prospect.

I’m not sure who was more uncomfortable: me (naked in a Starbucks far from home) or the lady waiting outside (who had to listen to someone cackle nervously/maniacally in the ladies’ restroom). I got to re-create this scenario 2 more times during my road-trip.

Lesson: rompers + fluids + strange bathrooms –> awkward

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Filed under Humor, Short Stories

Motivation, Knowledge, Convenience, and the Environment

My blog has disappeared! I may be doing some re-posting across the next couple weeks before I start with fresh things.

In the meantime, I’m starting in with a green article I wrote for Yahooo! Associated Content. Hope you enjoy!

Most of us want to feel like we are part of the solution, many of us
are concerned about maintaining public spaces, and we care about
ensuring the preservation of worldwide plant and animal diversity.

So why is green living so hard? Maintaining an environmentally
sustainable lifestyle creates three problems: a problem of motivation
(we don’t ‘remember’ to make green choices), a problem of convenience (we would like to live ethically, but it’s hard), and a problem of knowledge (we don’t—and maybe
can’t—know which choice is the ‘greenest’). Proactive environmentalism
is about overcoming these problems.

1. Find daily reminders to live sustainably. Seeking out constant
reminders of why you should be living an environmentally sound
lifestyle can ameliorate the problems of motivation and convenience.
Find your niche: if you’re concerned about endangered species, a
desktop background featuring polar bears can serve as a salient
reminder of why the environment needs to be protected.

2. Eat less meat. Peter Singer and Jim Mason, in ‘The Way We Eat: Why
Our Food Choices Matter,’ advance daily problems in living an
optimally-ethical green lifestyle. Does eating organic foods really
prevent the use of pesticides? Would eating non-organic, local oranges
result in the burning of less fossil fuels than eating organic oranges
that were shipped from another country? The answers to these questions
can be more complicated than expected. One thing we do know is that
industrial farming of livestock often results in unregulated animal
cruelty, excessive methane production, and waste. Reducing meat
consumption is a big step in the direction of environmental
conservation. If you are still struggling with the problem of
motivation, Goveg.com provides (sometimes graphic) video motivation
for maintaining a lifestyle free of cruelty.

3. Connect yourself to readily-available resources that you can access
when you have a question about ethical and green choices. Even if you
can overcome the seduction of convenience and you keep up your
green-living motivation, educating yourself about environmental ethics can become
a full-time job. Calculators such as the Center for Science in the
Public Interest’s ‘Eating Green Calculator’ can aid in assessing your
environmental impact.

4. Eat locally. You don’t have to become a hermit to eat ‘locally.’
Many cities are now host to local establishments that specialize in
local foods and drinks. Another great resource for those more skilled
in the kitchen: farmer’s markets. Winter markets are held in most
cities, and a list of markets in your area can be found online through
LocalHarvest. Eating locally really means educating yourself about
your community, which can also connect you to people with similar
interests in green living.

5. Cook as many meals at home as possible. Preparing your own meals
helps keep you connected to the ingredients you are using. Touching
plastic and placing it in the trash, for example, is a very salient
reminder that you are putting something non-biodegradable in a
landfill where it will sit for years. You have much more control over
the ingredients when you purchase them yourselves, including choice of
environmentally-friendly vendors.

6. Buy a travel coffee mug. According to ‘The Recycler’s Handbook,’
Americans throw away 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups every year.
Preventing the waste of containers requires a bit of insistence on
your part: starting your order with “I have my own cup,” or asking for
a mug if you plan on an extended coffee-shop stay. Most major coffee
chains, and even independent coffee shops, offer a discount for
bringing your own cup. If you are willing to be really intense, bring
your own containers if you anticipate restaurant leftovers.

7. Exercise outside. There is a new movement among health specialists
touting the benefits of a return to nature, recently represented by
studies touting barefoot running. Exercising outside allows you to
breathe unfiltered air, and also saves on energy that would be spent
pumping heated or cooled air around a gym.

8. Walk. In addition to breathing fresh air, walking allows you to
look around at everything there is to loose if we don’t work together
to slow global climate change.

9. Avoid shipping unnecessarily. There are numerous hidden
environmental costs in online purchasing: the item has likely been
shipped multiple times, the product may be produced overseas, the
materials could be produced in countries with low environmental standards, etc. If at all
possible, buy items locally and choose slower shipping methods (that
often utilize boats and trains, instead of air traffic).

10. Make green friends. Befriending other people who care about the
environment is the first step in building a community of change.
Sharing information and local green establishment finds is mutually
beneficial. And at the very least, a green friend will be able to hold
you accountable to your pro-environmental lifestyle.

Living a sustainable life can lead to exhaustion in self-regulation or
it can lead to a positively reinforcing cycle of self-awareness and
community support. Keep up motivation, learn, make the right choices,
then spread the word.

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Filed under Ethics, Self-improvement, The environment and nonhuman creatures