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Guys, I made a really dumb mistake last week, and I encouraged you to do the same.

When my Facebook friends began posting pictures of their gorgeous faces sans make up, tagged #nomakeupselfies, I assumed it was to promote a healthy body image. A lot of us did.

Probably because when you think of your bare-face – the one you don’t want your new boyfriend to see, the one you can’t abide for the quick trip to the corner store for tampons – the first thing that comes to mind is insecurity about how you look.

You know what I don’t think of? CANCER – the actual benefactor of this campaign, which I learned about after posting my selfie. The one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. Unless the objective is reminding sick people you look better than we do, even without make up, because that’s what you’re actually doing – even though it’s not your intention.

Take this picture of British Actress Michelle Keegan. She’s gorgeous (even if she’s cheating with drawn on eyebrows), and good on her for it and her wish to raise awareness for an illness her friend suffers from. But unless she’s hooked up to a god damned IV, or showing off her freshly-shaved head, it’s not helping or comforting us sick folk. It hurts more than it helps, and now it’s viral.

Sick is sick….

Do I have cancer? No, but I’ve watched a lot of people die. Literally. I was six when I saw my father die from heart disease. I sat vigil with my twice-widowed mother as my stepfather slipped away from cancer 22 years and two days later. And I was there six months after that when my husband said a heart-breaking goodbye to his mother who hung in just long enough to see him at the end of her 10 year battle with the illness. Her parents both died of cancer, which makes my partner a high risk for developing the disease. I understand the realities.

Personally, I am permanently disabled by Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. By definition, I am in constant pain and look like I haven’t slept…ever. Because I’m sick.

Some of you are undoubtedly thinking, “But you can’t possibly compare cancer and what you have.” Yes. Yes, I can. All sick people have a right to say something on this issue. Cancer is North America’s Sweetheart illness, but it’s not the “worst” one out there.

It’s sexy, though, and personal. It plays to our insecurities because we care about our boobies and we care about our hair. And because it’s often terminal, it trumps all. My illnesses are not fatal in and of themselves, but the leading cause of death for us is suicide.

Why? Because our lives are also agony, pain, stress, side effects, financial ruin, isolation, depression and a woefully terrible body image – with no viable treatments. Yet, when one of us dies, no one says, “Oh, it’s a blessing. She’s not in pain anymore.”

Who cares if we’ll just have to suffer into our eighties, right? At least we’re alive.

The Irony of it All

I became medically disabled at 28 years old – my prime, one might argue. The last six years of my life were torn away by illness. My “pretty” is just barely hanging on. I used to look younger than my actual age, and now I now look older. Can you appreciate that I don’t give a flying fuck what a healthy person looks like sans make up compared to haggard ol’ me? I’m serious. I learned the real meaning behind this campaign and said out loud, “Why the hell do I give a flying fuck about how healthy people look without make up?” (Note: I don’t direct that at Keegan. Her heart is in the right place, and that’s always welcomed.)

NoMakeUpSelfie Here’s my #NoMakeUpSelfie to show you how I feel about this dumb campaign.

When I stopped wearing make up, it was like quitting smoking: Disconcerting torture at first, but then you get used to it and admonish yourself for spending so many years actively giving yourself cancer. But guess what? Beauty products? They give you cancer. And they’re also undoubtedly related to my illness, which is has a ratio of 8:1 women to men afflicted.

Hold on, Tara. You did not just say make up gives us cancer and other illness. Oh, yes I did. The beauty industry is the most unregulated in the world. There is literally lead in your lipstick. There’s even a book by the same title by Gill Deacon.

You know who knows this? The very “research” organizations that received a whopping three million dollars over the weekend as a result of this good intention.

Chemicals cause cancer. That’s a fact. Period. End of story.

So why aren’t these organizations putting significant money into prevention? Why not tell you the products you buy are dangerous? Because it’s more profitable to put a Pink Ribbon on these products to guilt you into buying them, increasing the likelihood that you and those you shop for will get cancer. They want to line the pockets of their executives and the manufacturers they call “partners.”

If you want to raise awareness for illnesses through No Make Up Selfies, the accompanying message should say, “I won’t help myself develop a disease, but I will do what I can to prevent it. I’m not wearing make up this week, and hopefully you won’t either.”

We need to do this because we vote with our dollars, and these “campaigns” clearly raise money and garner media attention. That means they can also cost money and create awareness that might actually force regulatory bodies to do their jobs, not to mention force manufacturers to change their ways. We see it all the time with food manufacturers, but never in beauty.

I’m willing to bet that 90% of the people who give to cancer charities have never actually looked at where the money goes – breast cancer especially. We just feel good because we’ve done our part by buying Pink Ribbon body wash – helping the world while helping ourselves smell prettier.

But here’s the thing: Your intentions are great, but they’re worthless to anyone but the businesses and charities profiting off of these products. And they’re taking advantage of it right now. The Canadian Cancer Society is all over it. I posted this there. They will take it down. Because the sick people don’t matter unless we agree. They’ll blame the middle finger.

If you want to learn more about how little of your money goes to actual research and prevention, and where the rest of it goes, I recommend the documentary Pink Ribbons.

We Are Cancer’s Greatest Consumers

Cancer is a business. A trillion dollar a year industry to support a man-made epidemic born of the industrial revolution’s onslaught of chemicals that no one has done long term testing on. Chemicals no one is monitoring your use of. You can learn more by watching The Disappearing Male.

Cancer: We are Aware of You.

One more thing, gals: You know what never, ever, ever needs awareness? Cancer. If you haven’t lost someone to it, you are in the overwhelming minority. What needs awareness is how little advancement/decline in diagnosis has occurred despite the billions of dollars raised for the cause.

We need to drive awareness of the corruption and unethical realities of those who claim to be fighting wars against disease of any kind. The people who tell you that non-organic food is just as healthy as organic, completely glossing over that pesky pesticides thing.

These are the same people who offer promotions where they’ll give your money to a diabetes charity if you buy an extra large Coke to go with your genetically modified hamburger and fries, or a Pink bucket of not-really-chicken. The illnesses we’re most concerned about are the most profitable – and they’re mostly man-made and perpetuated by the very companies earning money off of them. And by us because we participate.

If You Want to Help Sick People…

Guys, I love that you want to help. I want to help, too. These social media chain letter campaigns wrapped in good intentions prove we’re more powerful than we think.

So, please… Don’t tell me what colour your bra is, or where you put your purse when you walk in the door. It doesn’t help me. And it doesn’t help you. It would, however, be most excellent of you to check out some of the sources provided here and spread the word. Hopefully Keegan’s initial intention will still come to pass, but with far greater reward: Truth.

You can also learn more about the realities of what’s in your make up at the Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep cosmetics database, which will tell you exactly how toxic your beauty products are – even the ones you use on your kids (I recommend you start with Johnson & Johnson baby products).

And….scene.

Cheers,

Tara Reed

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Maria Kang: the barely-if-at-all qualified mother who has taken it upon herself to judge and shame everyone out there who doesn’t have a hard body.

I often think I must be an outlier when it comes to body image and good health. I think the notion we should just be happy with the way we look is bullshit, as great physical appearance and good health are not synonymous. I think if we make healthy lifestyle and dietary choices, then we should be happy with how we look.

Maria Kang’s PR stunt proves the Achilles heel of the wellness/fitness industry: perpetuation of the message that the presence or absence of a sexy six-pack is proof of one’s state of health. Worse, that it’s the ideal of good health; despite the fact many fitness pros get their aesthetically pleasing forms from unhealthy practices.

I know we all make excuses – it’s human nature – but I also know, because I’ve experienced it, that life is rough - much rougher for some than others.

People who aren’t qualified physicians; psychologists or sociologists are walking a dangerously unprofessional line when they make bold statements like, “What’s your excuse (for not looking like me)?”

They’re either ignorant and/or dismissive of the millions who don’t share their physical, human or financial resources. They live by the incredibly shortsighted and egotistical motto of, “If I can do it, so can you.”

But, before I go further, I should pause so people can defend her.

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What’s that you say? She only wants you to be healthy?

Sorry, that’s not true. She claims she doesn’t profit from fitness, but she does. She profits in social currency. A self-stated “social entrepreneur,” she’s proven it by driving millions of people to her website through the flawless execution of viral marketing tactics.

While she admittedly stole the slogan, she figured out that a photo of her scantly clad (in red), shoving her tight tummy and vagina in our faces under such a provocative slogan would make her huge.

Maria’s true goal is stardom, and we’re all giving it to her.

Professor of Marketing, Jonah Berger’s book Contagious: Why Things Catch On outlines his six STEPPS for making content go viral.

It’s an easy way to show you Maria is getting paid – in social currency today and in free goods and cold hard cash tomorrow! I wouldn’t be surprised if she literally took a page out of this book.

Principle 1: Social Currency

“How does it make people look to talk about a product or idea?”

Some people are sharing this story because they can’t believe her audacity and insensitivity. Some, namely health professionals, give her their ringing endorsements, aligning themselves with her to improve their own bottom line.

Principle 2: Triggers

“How do we remind people to talk about our products and ideas?”

Berger uses the example of peanut butter bringing to mind jelly. I think it’s safe to say that while some will associate Maria Kang’s name with inspiration, most will associate it with being a mommy-shaming, egotistical pageant queen who reinforces harmful stereotypes about health and beauty.

Principle 3: Emotion

“When we care, we share….”

Clearly, Kang’s hitting everyone’s hot buttons. She’s converting guilt and shame into anger in order to drive web traffic and put her in front of companies looking for a new spokesmodel or the next MILF of the Month for their magazine.

Don’t be fooled by her insincere surprise at the negative feedback garnered. She was counting on it. She stokes it with every news interview, with every disclaimer on her website where she conveniently remembers that some people have legitimate reasons for not being in shape – actually, she still calls them “excuses.”

How can someone with her stated history of eating disorders not have anticipated this? She should know better than anyone that she’s being cruel. She knows people with such health issues or tenuous self-esteem will not look past her judgmental slogan and visit her website. They’ll be too busy getting back to counting calories and hating themselves. This great mom forgot about how impressionable kids are. Hypocrite much?

Principle 4: Public

“Can people see when others are using our product or engaging in our desired behavior?”

I’d be surprised if there’s anyone who hasn’t heard of Maria Kang by month’s end, whether through Facebook or the media. Definitely through alleged wellness “professionals” riding Maria’s coattails, perpetuating the damage and proving that, in their minds, health is truly about how you look.

Take this tweet from “Dr.” Felicia Stoler R.D., the author of “Living Skinny in Fat Genes.”

 

 

Don’t be fooled by the “Dr.” part. She’s not an MD or ND. The title of her book says it all. “Skinny” and “Fat” are superficial, aesthetic, subjective notions. Why not Living Healthy in Your Genes?

She associated herself with this farce to drive sales. I challenged her for calling naysayers “jealous,” because it proves the superficial foundation of this so-called “motivational” story. Her ironic response was to call me an intolerant bully, tell me to “GROW UP” and then run to her mommy (I mean, Twitter) to tell on me.

I’m 5’7, 125 lbs, blonde and attractive by mainstream standards. What am I jealous of, exactly, Felicia? Maria’s good health?

Sure. I’ve lived with chronic illness (Fibromyalgia, Chronic Fatigue and Adrenal Fatigue) since I was 28, and PTSD since I was six. It’s financially ruined me and put an enormous amount of strain on my loved ones who have to support me in various ways, taking away some of their “me-time” and resources. And that’s just the tip.

I work damn hard at getting my health and life back – with an actual team of professionals, including western and naturopathic physicians and holistic nutritionists, who guide my way safely and without goading or recrimination. I make excuses, sure, but usually when I’m depressed about this pesky illness robbing me of my youth, vitality and livelihood.

But then, this isn’t actually about good health, is it? If it were, Maria would have used a photo of herself, clothed and sitting in a park with her kids while they ate apples. What she posted is sheer, fishing-for-compliments vanity, and vanity isn’t healthy.

Principle 5: Practical Value

“People like to help others, so if we can show them our products or ideals will save time, improve health, or save money, they’ll spread the word. But given how inundated people are with information, we need to make our message stand out.”

Ding, ding, ding! 5/5 Maria!

She isn’t just using her kids as props (John & Kate Plus 8, anyone?), but she’s reinforcing the fact women must use sex to gain traction for their wares – in this case free fitness videos that are a dime a dozen online – while cultivating her rep as the Mother Theresa of Wellness.

Principle 6: Stories.

“What broader narrative can we wrap our idea in? People don’t just share information, they tell stories.”

This one was cake. Woman v. Woman has raged on for decades, but never in history has it been more prominent.  Maria has made herself a part of the problem.

We’re obsessed with ideas of what healthy looks like. There are endless theories as to how to get there, and countless people who fail over and over, growing more discouraged and jaded.

Healthy food is not affordable food. With an ever-disappearing middle class, most people live under the poverty line, denying them truly healthy food and access to verified, qualified health professionals, not some mom who “believes” genetics are responsible for 30% of health, despite no scientific proof to back her theory.

In a world where women shame each other for being heavy and thin, Maria Kang takes the cake. She’s a perfect, sexy, beautiful mom. Why aren’t you? Who cares if you don’t have a husband or your kid has autism – those are your stories, not Maria Kang’s.

Way to Go, Maria Kang! You’ve built your name on the misery of others!

Maria is inspirational, but not for good health. She’s inspirational for concocting strategy that makes her stand out amongst thousands of others online, just by tilting her vagina up a little for the camera.

She’s either a seriously misguided and selfish woman who can’t get enough of hearing how great she looks, or a genius that gamed the system so we’d give her a free ride.

She will find fame and fortune from this.

She’ll be the next Jillian Michaels, only instead of yelling at you, she’ll spout crap like, “Oh, wow. I just wanted to inspire people. I never thought I’d make money from being inspirational, but I’d be silly not to take it now that people see the value of my inspiration. I’m just so glad that I could inspire people to turn their lives around and be better mothers. And world peace.”

The rest of us? We’ll still be going in circles on the merry-go-round, trying to reach whatever the latest standards are of being attractive, I mean healthy.

And Maria Kang won’t care.

Yours,

Tara Reed

 

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Oh, Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail’s very own Rosie DiManno, constantly spewing out sensationalist, uninformed and ignorant garbage for the sake of selling newspaper subscriptions.

It’s not uncommon for me to read your work and feel compelled to throw something at my computer screen. However, your column “Rape on Campus – Is it an Epidemic?” really takes the cake.

I’ll start by saying that, while I undoubtedly share some feminist views, I don’t consider myself a card-carrying feminist. I do, however, possess common sense and some life experience that equip me to write this to you.

Going line by line to point out the flaws in your logic, and the outright ignorance and offensiveness of what you wrote would be a waste of my time, because people like you already have their minds made up. If it didn’t happen to you, it doesn’t happen, right?

I will point out how irresponsible it is for you to use your influence to spread misinformation across Canada, worsening the very real, very prominent rape-culture in today’s society, just a week after yet another story about rape-chants on campuses, and the public outcry over pop culture and media perpetuating such behaviour. A few weeks after a girl at an Eminem concert was shamed for performing consensual sex-acts, while those with the penises were hailed as heroes. Less than a year after a U.S. Presidential election that pretty much came down to the ridiculous, outdated and flat-out wrong depictions and definitions of rape handed out by rich, white men.

Rape may finally be considered an appalling crime by the legal system, by parents, women (apparently not you, though), and many men, but we’ve only seen an increase in the over-sexualization and degradation of women by the public, advertisers, the entertainment industry, and the media.

The Sexual Assault Centre Hamilton Area (SACHA) tells us that “51% of Canadian women report having experienced at least one incident of physical or sexual violence since the age of sixteen.” Right before they start college. Interesting. I say interesting because you – in your ever-present and mind-boggling wisdom – using what you’ve decided are “reliable” American statistics about rape, say it’s on the decline.

Hooray! Let me get a memo out to those 51% or more women, and to the four-out-of-five female undergraduates surveyed at Canadian universities who said they were victims of violence in a dating relationship. And let’s not forget the 1-in-2 girls the Canadian Women’s Foundation says will be physically or sexually abused in their lifetime. It gets better, ladies! Margaret Wente says so!

SHE Infographic - Sexual Assault_0

No, you think rape-culture is a meme. You think it’s a marketing tool. Ironic coming from a woman who once shamed organic consumers for buying hippie-dippy carrots when the American Cancer Society said there was no nutritional difference between organic and non-organic produce. (Psst…You both missed those pesky little things called pesticides, which cause cancer.)

It couldn’t possibly be because cancer is a brand, could it? A business “too many people have too much invested in.” I guess it’s okay for your advertisers to spread misinformation through you. Violence against women, however? It’s just a trend. Like Uggs, it’ll pass, right? It’s an overblown – what was it you called it, oh yes – “notion.” Something frivolous women and bloggers perpetuate because we just like to have something to bitch about.

You write: “Each campus has at least one sexual-assault centre, as well as a hefty apparatus to deal with violence, harassment, discrimination and all the rest. And every administration has a reputation to protect. Which means that any incident, however slight and overblown, invariably results in official promises of investigations, task forces, sensitivity education and new, improved policies.”

Are you saying rape centres are part of a conspiracy to exaggerate the need for their services, and/or that administrations are over-compensating to appease them and avoid bad PR? Do you see the contradiction? In one paragraph, you highlight that administrations have everything to gain from diminishing and hiding the actual number and severity of sexual assaults on campuses – after all, they are brands competing for the most admissions, the best students, and the best placement in Maclean’s annual Guide to Canadian Universities.

Later you say rape/assault statistics published by campuses couldn’t possibly be accurate because “such an astronomical number of serious unreported sex crimes would require a near-universal conspiracy of silence.” Which one is it?

Let me tell you something, lady. There is a universal conspiracy of silence – we live it everyday, inside and outside of college campuses. You admit rapes are under-reported. So you, nor I, have any idea how many actually occur, only that it’s more than we know.

You know, or so one would hope, that women don’t report these crimes out of fear, misplaced guilt, trauma, and being shamed by people like you (who have yet to receive their sensitivity training). We fear we won’t be believed. We fear we’ll be interrogated and made to feel like criminals instead of victims – because we will. This isn’t new.

You know we live in a society where girls (and boys) are overwhelmed with sexualization, with ideas of how we need to look or behave to fit in, of how one should dress or behave to please us (if we have penises, that is). It gets worse every year, and Miley Cyrus’ performance to rapey-smash-hit of the summer, Blurred Lines, only proves that, given all the 11 year-old girls who grew up with Hannah Montana are watching their idol self-destruct in the name of sexual empowerment, just like Britney, and Lindsay and Amanda Bynes, and our kids will likely emulate their behavior.

You go on to say the statistics reported by schools “would mean that university campuses are uniquely dangerous places – far more dangerous than Canada’s most crime-ridden inner cities.”

College and university really is its own little world, though maybe you’ve forgotten. It’s the only place with more pressure than high school to “be” what the media and celebrities tell us to be. Girls and boys are on their own for the first time, overwhelmed by responsibility and high on liberation. More insecure than they’ve ever been, trying to fit in, unsure of what their rights are. They’re testing and learning limits. They don’t have parents to police them. They’re forming new friendships, new romances, and some of them are getting raped. Things are…blurry.

Speaking of which. I wonder how many times Blurred Lines and songs like it – you know, the ones where women are talked about like whores, with analogous semen sprayed in their faces – were played during frosh week. How many times did someone hear Jay-Z talk about how he’s “gotta couple chicks, tryin’ get ‘em to do E” so that “hopefully they’ll menage before they reach his garage?” Clearly, there’s no actual need for sensitivity training, and absolutely no precedent to support the idea of early education for young men about appropriate sexual conduct and respect. No, we should keep up the status quo of teaching girls how not to get raped and how to shut up about it when it happens.

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Here’s a little ditty about me: I’m a graduate of the Public Relations program at Humber College. I started school in 1998 and lived in the campus residence. I was employed at the Student Athletic Centre. Every Friday I opened the gym at 6:00 a.m., but was mostly alone (and isolated) until around 7:30.

That year, I caught the eye of a much older and physically intimidating security guard on campus. He was the head of his staff and had the same Friday morning shift. It wasn’t long before he started shortening the time between his patrols so he could come and flirt with me. He’d sneak glances at my pay-stubs, grab my journal, and, most importantly, he’d casually mention the fact he had a key to my bedroom. One morning, I walked out of the residence to find him waiting in his patrol car to give me a lift to work (a direct violation of policy).

I didn’t encourage his attention. I tried to discourage it, but it didn’t matter. Today, I like to think of myself as fearless and courageous, but at 18, I was terrified because this authority figure (who was trained to restrain someone) made it clear that he had access to me. I started giving away my Friday shifts to male co-workers, which was noticed by my direct employers who realized something was wrong. They told me what was happening was not okay. They tried to help me, they truly did.

It was when things were escalated to the higher ups that my nightmare turned into hell on Earth. I was interrogated, asked the same questions 9 different ways by half a dozen people. I was told repeatedly by school representatives that I was making a serious allegation that could get someone fired; and if the police got involved, it was just going to get more complicated and messy. That the whole process was just going to be very bad for me and the school. Even students told me I was ruining the livelihood of a man with a wife and child. They were all successful. They wore me down. Between them and the fact I couldn’t sleep at night for fear he would enter my bedroom, I agreed to let it go if they reassigned him to another campus – more specifically, to Sheridan College.

You know what I learned? That the next time I was harassed or assaulted (and I was) that I shouldn’t involve the school, nor anyone else, because anyone who believed me would escalate it, and once it was escalated, I would be made to feel like I’d done something wrong. I can’t imagine it’s different today as, while you say rape is on the decline, I only see more reasons as to why women won’t report it. Your “journalism” is one of them.

I think you just want something to bitch about. You want to increase click-throughs on your little bit of space and keep your job, you want to stay relevant. You know what you’re actually doing? You’re reinforcing the code of silence. You’re telling us that we should stay quiet when we’re assaulted, harassed and intimidated – because even women won’t believe us.

I’ve lost count of the number of women I know who have been sexually assaulted and harassed, but thanks to you, I now know that we were all just overreacting. Thank god for you, Ms. Wente. Quite frankly, my compassion for them (and for myself), and my desire to make things better for my young nieces was really starting to cut into my time to read your enlightening column.

So while you’re sitting at home this weekend, smug as a bug in a rug, I hope you know that you have played an active role in perpetuating the cycle of violence. Your column has undone some of what little progress has been made. Your influence will likely lead to at least one more boy or man thinking no really does mean yes, that his unwilling partner is just being dramatic. You’re likely responsible for at least one more vulnerable and traumatized girl or woman who will stay silent after she is violated.

Congratulations, Ms. Wente – you’ve hit a new low. It’s time to turn in your vagina.

Furiously yours,

Tara Reed

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