Three random thoughts by a Hong Kong millennial.
Ever since ranting here about how annoying it is to hear that “I look tired” — which really resonated with my friends, by the way — I’ve been paying more attention to similar comments, and have found that we are obsessed with critiquing how women look and dress.
I was in Kowloon City with my mom today. We walked past a new restaurant, which had an image from a TV show that had featured the restaurant stuck on its walls. In the photo were two male hosts and one female hostess. The first thing my mom said? “Why is she dressed like this? Is she wearing a flower headband? Does she think she’s a Greek goddess?”
I was stunned. She could’ve commented on the restaurant, on the show, or even on the male hosts. Why were the woman’s looks her first target? And why is it when watching Our Little Sister — the Japanese film selected to compete for the highest prize at the Cannes Film Festival — my friend’s first comment was that the female lead was ugly and had really droopy eyes?
But the worst thing is that I do the same. When I saw that photo at the restaurant, my first thought was also about the woman. I’m constantly thinking bout how other women look. My love for Jennifer Lawrence, I’m sure, is partly because of her appearance and flawless skin. On Instagram, I am guilty of sending posts to my friends about her fashion choices or makeup.
I didn’t used to think much about gossiping about people’s looks, but now that I’m noticing it to be a wider social obsession, it’s making me quite uncomfortable. It’s not okay that a woman’s appearance is often our first entry point to understanding her.
But hang on, what exactly is the issue with critiquing women’s looks? Honestly, it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. Most times, it can just seem like harmless comments or silly jokes with your friends.
As I read more deeply about feminism, however, I’ve learned much more about the problem of female objectification. For years, women were seen as objects — inferior to men and treated like belongings. Even though I don’t mean any harm, my habit of critiquing women’s looks could come from society’s longstanding belief that a woman’s value is determined by her looks.
Our readiness to evaluate women’s appearances propagates society’s extra demands on women, pressuring them to look a certain way to be accepted. Once I started seeing that, I haven’t been able to talk about how a woman looks the same way I did before, which is a great thing. Took me ages to get here.
This week I’m reading yet another piece that reminds me to avoid taking “facts” at face value. How the world’s top nutrition scientists got things wrong for so long beats me. Apparently sugar, not oil, is the real enemy!
“In 2008, researchers from Oxford University undertook a Europe-wide study of the causes of heart disease. Its data shows an inverse correlation between saturated fat and heart disease, across the continent. France, the country with the highest intake of saturated fat, has the lowest rate of heart disease; Ukraine, the country with the lowest intake of saturated fat, has the highest. When the British obesity researcher Zoë Harcombe performed an analysis of the data on cholesterol levels for 192 countries around the world, she found that lower cholesterol correlated with higher rates of death from heart disease.
When obesity started to become recognized as a problem in western societies, it too was blamed on saturated fats. It was not difficult to persuade the public that if we eat fat, we will be fat (this is a trick of the language: we call an overweight person “fat”; we don’t describe a person with a muscular body as “proteiny”). The scientific rationale was also pleasingly simple: a gram of fat has twice as many calories as a gram of protein or carbohydrate, and we can all grasp the idea that if a person takes in more calories than she expends in physical activity, the surplus ends up as fat.”