The 10-step antidote to everything

2011-06-01 00:00

“DOES anyone have any questions?” asked my Grade 9 teacher after one of my classmates had completed her speech on pimples. I raised my hand.

“Did cavemen have acne?” I asked. Much to my dismay, the class laughed.

It’s likely that cavemen did have acne. Their faces were probably covered in boils, warts and scars like stereotypical witches. They probably had huge pores clogged with blackheads and white heads that were so neglected they turned green ... and they probably never cared about any of it.

It’s hard living with the media and their minions constantly bombarding you with stories of every­thing that’s wrong with you, how you should be and what to do to fix yourself. There’s a guidebook with a cure for people who are single, people who are married, people who are too nice, people who don’t believe in God, people with thin hair, people who don’t like vegetables ... The daily off-the-shelf prescriptions we receive on how to better ourselves are endless with the perfect self being an unreachable ideal.Among the biggest promulgators of self-betterment are women’s magazines.

Surprisingly, the United States-based women’s magazine Cosmopolitan recently launched a Middle East version which mimics its international “fun, fearless female” counterparts, not swaying from its Western perceptions of sexual freedom, fashion and enpowerment which are largely in conflict with Islamic principles. Cosmo now has 62 international editions, but I couldn’t help but imagine American helicopters dropping Cosmo magazines to the raised arms of helpless women (all in hijab), waiting anxiously for the miracle offering to fall into their hands. Words like development, girl power and freedom seemed to attach themselves to the imagery, in the way that they attach themselves to most of what the U.S. does.

The first issue saw reality TV star Khloé Kardashian as the cover model, in a hot-pink, boob-tube mini dress. Featured articles included: “Drive him crazy”, “Get the life you want” and “Seven things men talk about when you aren’t there”. The issue was apparently nearly sold out in the first week of sale and the Cosmopolitan Middle East Facebook group also gathered more than a 1 000 likes in the first few weeks.

According to websites, the edition is being circulated across the Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf and Lebanon, and will be available at all major retail outlets. My friend, who is currently working in Qatar, was unable to find the magazine in shops there. He said that magazines are heavily censored before hitting the shelves and women showing too much flesh are blacked out. Poor 13-year-old boys.

We live in a world where we are overwhelmed with conflicting information about how we live our lives and what we should prioritise. While our religious principles or cultural customs state one thing, glossy magazines propose another more glamorous option and we yearn to conform to this image regardless of our beliefs.

It’s the globalised hybridised culture that makes us walking contradictions, our identities rooted in so many different facets that we turn to commodities to try to define who we are. In the end, we end up hating ourselves for not fitting into the mould of the perfect person we die striving to be and, to make ourselves feel better, we buy back into the 10-step advice that reassures us that we can be fixed. It’s an incessant cycle.

People may consider Cosmopolitan in the Middle East as a sign of progress and positive development, a move to greater gender equality, but the Cosmo package isn’t a manual on rights and gender empowerment in a way that still respects Islamic principles. Instead it contains the Western antidote to everything, sex.

On a broader scale, the words “develop” and “progress” are saturated with cultural egotism: one culture proposes that it is better than the other and therefore the other should change. In the same way, self-development is a way of changing ourselves to fit into another’s ideal. Maybe this is why people are never truly satisfied with their lives, because they are always trying to be someone else.

It’s not right. But then again, I hate pimples, I want toned arms and I could benefit a lot from knowing the sexual position that would guarantee an orgasm every time. If it only takes 10 easy steps, then why not?

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