Saturday, February 25, 2006
A nice little (well, not so little actually) article in the Guardian yesterday on how tanning became popular in Europe.

"...Tanning, according to a widely recounted anecdote, began in 1923, at the moment that Coco Chanel stepped off the Duke of Wellington's yacht at Cannes and into the gaze of the waiting cameras. The designer, the story goes, had spent too long in the sun by accident - but thanks to her status as an arbiter of style, her skin tone was interpreted as a fashion statement. For centuries until then, a pale skin had been the preserve of the moneyed classes; browner shades spoke of outdoor manual labour. It took the development of mass foreign tourism (and, possibly, Chanel's endorsement) before a tanned skin in Britain came to stand for something different: the leisure and wealth to take holidays in sunnier climates. One survey, conducted in 2000, found that almost 50% of Britons holidaying abroad considered coming home with a tan the most important reason for going in the first place..."

I read this with great interest because where I come from face creams (and now, soap) containing bleach or skin whiteners are probably the most popular beauty product for women. One only has to turn on the TV in India or open a magazine and you're literally drowned in skin whitening advertisements. Hindustan Lever Limited's (HLL) "Fair & Lovely" advertisements are a case in point. The advertisements, which clearly associate dark skin with romantic and professional failure, and fair skin with success, had to be taken off air after protests by activists and social groups.

So, what I have to deduce from these phenomenons is that a disatisfaction with one's skin colour can be a universal phenomenon, especially among women. The sad thing is, both tanning and bleaching come with huge health risks. According to the Guardian, In some parts of Britain, skin cancer rates are now higher than in Australia, with Glasgow having the dubious distinction of being the sun bed capital of Great Britain . Tanning is so popular in Britain that some high schools noticed pupils were sneaking out for tanning sessions in their lunchbreaks, so much so, the school authorities started running lessons on how to apply a fake tan instead! But the problem with fake tanning products such as creams, spray-ons etc. is that they end up costing more to use than a regular visit to a sunbed in a tanning salon; they also leave streaks and fade faster and thus not as popular.

The most popular bleaching creams contain 4% hydroquinone, a harsh bleaching agent that can destroy the outer layer of the skin, also because these creams are absorbed by the skin, the toxic products enter the bloodstream, reaching the organs thus creating hormonal disorders and other problems- it's like feeding your body poison.

How much melanoma and skin disfigurement is it going to take before we love the skin we're in?
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
You've come a long way, Baby!

When I lived in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia was a rich but medieval haven in my alien eyes. I could not believe there existed a country in these modern times that would not permit their women to drive or vote and where women had to seek a husband's or father's "permission" for her to travel abroad! I could not comprehend why women couldn't work unless they worked as nurses or teachers in a "women-only" environment. But, most puzzling of all, I couldn't understand why the Saudi women were complicit in their segregation!

I still don't have the answers to any of my questions except to say, that contrary to my expectations, the Saudi women are a happy lot. They don't view their "abayas" or veils as a garment that restricts them, but rather as a garment that protects and shelters them. We as western women think it's an outrage for women to have to be all covered-up in this day and age, but if we are willing to be honest with ourselves, we will admit to having our own "veils", too. Our veils may not be made of chiffon or georgette and worn over the eyes, rather I see them as the pressure to remain a size 6 no matter what, or the pressure to remain a youthful-looking 25 no matter how old we get---this obsession with youth and weight is our veil and there's no denying that we women subjugate ourselves to it.

Anyway, today's Guardian has a more positive article on the status of Saudi women. "Although women still cannot vote or drive, the last few years have brought important changes, even if they stop well short of equality. Women can now officially exist in their own right with their own identity cards, rather than being included on the card of their husband or father. Travel restrictions have been eased, allowing them to get blanket permission from a male relative for travel abroad, rather than needing separate permission for each trip. They can also own businesses instead of having to register them in the name of a wakil, an authorised male representative or proxy."

That's all fine and dandy, but what about sexual apartheid? When will women be able to walk on the streets alone, without a male relative, without incurring the wrath of a mullah or religious police? Again, according to the Guardian, "The kingdom's sexual apartheid is enforced, in a crude fashion, by the religious police, the mutawa. Thuggish, bigoted and with little real training in Islamic law, they are much feared in some areas but also increasingly ridiculed. In Jeddah - a more laid-back city than Riyadh - they are rarely seen nowadays."
Phew that's a relief! And one of the ironies of Saudi Arabia's sexual apartheid is that women's parties are a no-go area for the men of the mutawa. They can't raid a women's party unless they suspect alcohol is present - and they are in serious trouble if their suspicions turn out to be wrong. So in that respect Saudi women's parties are a lot more fun than the male parties.
The Guardian describes them thus: "Men's parties tend to be dull affairs. In Riyadh, male partygoers just sit around. In Jeddah they play cards. In Ha'il (in the north), they may do a bit of sword-dancing. Then they go home, usually by midnight.

Women's parties are a different matter, and often carry on until 4am with dancing, female DJs and sometimes all-woman bands. "Even the most religious women, if it's only drums, they get up and dance," a lady Saudi National says. "In the west it's the young and beautiful who dance. Here, if you're overweight it's OK. The women are not doing it to show off. They're doing it to enjoy themselves."

Sooooo, who's having more fun now???

Friday, February 17, 2006
Is Oprah Winfrey a Zulu?

Well, she claimed in Johannesburg last year that she always had a special connection with people in South Africa, and now that she's done some genetic testing, she knows why - apparently her family hailed from a Zulu tribe in South Africa.

According to the UK Guardian, wealthy African-Americans are using DNA kits to trace their roots - all the way back to Africa. Over the past few years laboratories have begun to amass a database of DNA samples from around the world, including parts of West Africa, the area from which most slaves were caught, sold and shipped to the Americas.

The technology aims either to trace a person's lineage through their genes or compile a statistical breakdown, by geographical region, of their genetic makeup. Alondra Nelson, an assistant professor of sociology and African-American studies at Yale, says results "could stretch from several thousand years to tens of thousands of years in a person's ancestry".

The science, now commercially available, has become something of a boom industry. Growing numbers of relatively wealthy African-Americans have been buying up test kits that can cost up to $350 (£200) a throw.

While other Americans could travel to towns in Ireland, Italy or Germany in search of genealogical sustenance, slavery deprived African-Americans of a clear and precise geographical bond with their own ancestry. Since slave-owners changed people's names, regularly split up families and banned reading and writing, the usual methods of keeping family histories have not been available to African-Americans until relatively recently.

But how accurate is this science? The Guardian reporter says, "I've spoken with African Americans who have tried four or five different genetic genealogy companies because they weren't satisfied with the results.They received different results each time and kept going until they got a result they were happy with."

A result that they were happy with? But how could I be happy with a result that scientifically has a huge potential to be inaccurate?

When the scientific community were asked if Oprah could truly have descended from the Zulu nation of South Africa,Professor Himla Soodyall of South Africa's National Health Laboratory Service, had this to say.

I don't know about you but I don't think I'd be using these DNA tests as the only method of finding out my ancestory.
Thursday, February 16, 2006
Iranians Rename Danish Pastries To “Roses Of The Prophet Muhammad”...

I seem to remember French Fries suddenly being called "Freedom Fries". Zealot patriotism is the same the world over.

postheadericon Why Anthropologist Wannabe?

...because that is what I wanted to be when I grew up and now that I am all grown up and the title of anthropologist still eludes me, I thought I could atleast aspire to being an anthropologist wannabe!

Anyway, this blog is just for collected miscellenea - tidbits on anything I find interesting in the socio-cultural world of anthropology. Basically it's just a refined term for doing what I love most -people watching! I love finding out what makes people (individuals and groups) tick. I love different cultures and the unique behaviors/customs that are associated with those cultures. Some may call it "stereotyping", but I call it "interesting". So get ready for a sometimes serious, sometimes irreverant take on homo sapiens and join in with your observations when you can.