“Do You Even Lift?” The invisible issue that we’re not addressing

Sexual objectification of women. How many times so far this year have you heard that issue get raised? Infinite? Me too.

So much of current social awareness seems to be focused on the relentless objectification of women, and the measures we can take to prevent this. While I am all for the removal of this objectification, I can’t help but feel that there might be another side of this issue that we’re overlooking.
Every. Single. Day.

Sexual objectification of men. I said it. We’re living in a society where “do you even lift” and gym culture are the norm. Many issues are raised about the need for more realistic representations of women in the public eye, but don’t we see that this should work both ways?

If we look at the image of something as trivial as children’s toys, the difference is so blindingly obvious. Barbie. Side-stepping the hilarious fact that the inspiration for this iconic ‘50s doll was actually based on a German doll designed for adult men – not children, the toy has has been resized, ditching the “implausible proportions” of their previous dolls, to “better reflect the diversity of the product’s audience”. Barbie is now complete with “solid thighs, a waist able to accommodate vital internal organs and biceps meaty enough to beat Ken at arm-wrestling”, with the thigh gap “officially gone”. While this is undeniably great for the image of women, show me the resizing of the Ken Doll, or show me any man doll without ripped abs and bulging biceps. We’re so worried about presenting unrealistic bodies for women, but what about the pressures of body expectations that young, growing, and adult men face too?

This is the era of Marvel films. It’s the era of superhero bombardment into our media left, right and centre. And it’s not just superheroes; male protagonists on the screen and in the public eye are expected to be ripped. Little boys and girls are flooded with images of men who have spent months preparing for a role. There is an oversaturation every day of shirtless men whose bodies consume all their time. The recognisable, lanky physique of SpongeBob has made a comeback in the new movie, but now features huge muscles. Being on the low end of the muscle spectrum just isn’t represented in the media, but that doesn’t seem to be as ludicrous as it is about women. Curves are in for us. Kim Kardashian’s glorious behind is celebrated, plus-size models are endorsed, but what’s the equivalent? Where’s the “embrace your figure” attitude towards men who don’t fit a mould?

We need to address this. Too often it’s brushed off as a joke. Women seem to be able to share how they’re feeling about these issues – full support at the ready, but we still appear to have the “man up” attitude when it comes to how men are actually feeling. The number of times I’ve opened up about how I feel about this to my male friends is countless, and the number of times I’ve heard them open up about body image to me, or other dudes, is approaching zero. And what would be said anyway? “Feeling low about your body image? Why don’t you just go to the gym then?”

When you find out a woman has been suffering from body dysmorphia or an eating disorder, it’s such a delicate and supported issue – and rightly so. But these obsessive, overly disciplined, and often exceptionally unhealthy behaviours are paralleled so frequently in the gym-junkie lifestyle, without the same concern, but rather with expectation and encouragement. It is expected that men go to the gym. It is expected that men work out – often for over four hours a day, and at the expense of friends, family, work and commitments because of the standards of what’s “attractive”. “Buff” is now the standard, and extreme is commended.

Surely it’s this unhealthy mindset filled with pressures and expectations of a possibly unachievable standard that we’re trying so hard to fight. The movement towards a more diverse selection of female models is ever present, yet male models are almost exclusively shredded. Where is their diversity? I saw a billboard last week displaying a male underwear model with no ridiculously chiselled form.

This shouldn’t be novelty. This shouldn’t make my jaw drop through the floor.

Too often I hear women in the street discussing how hot some guy is across the road. Of course he’s ripped etc. How are men affected when they hear women saying these things about someone who’s just spent their entire afternoon in the gym?

We’re so hyperaware of how women are affected by objectification, but it’s time to extend that respect and sensitivity towards our men.

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My Most 007 Trip Yet

If, like me, you are an avid James Bond devotee, you may be aware of a little visit Sir Roger Moore makes to a glamorous Indian land to take on Octopussy. While my own adventures in this Rajasthani city – christened Udaipur – did not include any battles on top of planes mid-flight, classy crocodile submarine disguises, or yoyo blade throwing, it did turn out to be the most undoubtably beautiful city I experienced in India, leaving me awestruck repeatedly.

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The contrast from Mumbai was shocking. There was grass here. There was shimmery water here, space to think, room to breathe. Trailing around the winding, intimate stoned streets instantly took me back to Venice and the dreamy parallels didn’t end there. I’m talking beautiful bridges overlooking stunning historical architecture, wandering lovers, sparkly rooftop dinners, and the perhaps obvious factor that Udaipur is known as “the Venice of the East”.

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Grass > Pollution
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Hard to find a bad view
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Feeling familiar?
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That archway love

For a start, our hostel was unimaginably gorgeous. After stumbling around the cobblestones in the heat with too many bottles of sunscreen weighing down my backpack, arriving at a palace was out of this world. It was fit for a king. Bunkyard was exquisite with exceptional service and an amazing vibe, making the short time in Udaipur extra sensational.

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I was actually so obsessed with taking photos of this stunning stairwell that most of my Udaipur photos are of it…
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Unparalleled luxury

The diary entry of the day read:

“I’m sitting by our window, looking out across mirrored lights on the lake. I can see hundreds of archways. It feels baroque and Muslim and Balinese and Islamic and Arabian. Many mountains. Rooftop chai bliss as the sun sets. Amazing. Why were we in Mumbai when this exists…”

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Room with a view?
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At 6:10 every night, there was a “chai bell”. This is at 6:15.
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Night strolls around the City Palace and City Temple

So it was quite a treat. Getting lost in the streets and culture of “The City of Lakes” was a highlight of its own, but if you’re a fellow view-hunter, this place is heaven. Climb above two floors and it’s eye ecstasy. The merchants in this character-rich city have a solid, unofficial competition for the highest restaurant. As you can imagine then, there were a lot of stairs to be climbed. Though the “high” buildings only reach five or six floors, when one is expected to climb to the top before being able to assess the suitability of each menu, believe me there was much quad work. It has got to the absurd but equally brilliant point where many buildings have fashioned several somewhat dodgy extensions to their rooftops to achieve an extra few metres with which to brag. Despite this though, almost every restaurant we came across boasted “highest restaurant in Udaipur!” The other brag point, is obviously the Octopussy card. And yes even though it’s been over thirty years since the film hit screens, locals honestly milk it at every possible moment: the restaurants around us had nightly screenings of the spy movie. Nightly.

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Exhibit A
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Exhibit B
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“Best view in Udaipur” ft. more arches

When we weren’t trying to avoid being run over by rickshaws speeding around corners, or getting told by palm readers that I am emotionally weak, we were watching women dance while balancing mountains of pots on their heads, bargaining clothes vendors to their most “happy price”, getting lost in the maze of colourful streets, staring in amazement at puppeteers manipulating their dancing puppets, and learning the secrets of Indian cuisine from the Indian cooking greats themselves: the locals.

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Findings: emotionally weak, two kids, strong creative force, not ambitious enough.
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The blur of colours at the Rajasthani Cultural Show

One particular morning I woke to the normal blare of repetitive but joyful singing somewhere in the city. This was the day to visit the City Palace and cruise over the lake to Jagmandir Island for some prime Bond-location-hunting. Whilst waiting for the boats to start running, we hovered around the entrance to the majestic City Palace and decided to get some street food for breakfast. This is a big deal for me as allergy is high and Australian to Indian communication is often poor.

Once back in Sydney, I discovered that Bond has a car chase past the stall we stopped at. With that Hollywood value in mind, you’d think this street vendor would be quite civilised right? Not quite. After clarifying numerous times “no mungfally (peanuts)”, I cautiously bit into my first 30c meal – kachori. This spicy snack is basically a deep-fried pocket of flour stuffed with curry. Once the anxiety that I wasn’t going to die from it had passed, I started getting up to get the attention of the teenager who had served us initially, to ask for another one. It was at this moment that I felt a significant cultural difference. Here in the doorway of the tiny seating area, sat the teenage waiter on his phone with his back to us. The seating area was so small we could see everything on his phone with minimal effort. This young man was unashamedly invested in an unmentionable video. After several days of witnessing the different culture India had to offer, it hadn’t occurred to me that the people here might watch porn too. What was most surprising though, was his ability to switch so intermittently between serving customers, and returning to his phone. In fact, I was somewhat impressed at his diligence to return after each customer and find the spot he was up to so he could resume his absorbed and curious stare.

I was less impressed when he then served me my second kacholi with his bare hands…

 

Several “Namaste”s later, we were zooming around the majestic Lake Pichola Bond-style (it was much more of a slow chug on one of the tourist boats), till we got to Jagmandir Palace. This exquisite island is everything I imagined a romantic Indian city to be: elephant statues, breathtaking views, archways looking out to historical cities…

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007 island – check; stunning architecture – check; view over crystal waters – check

And then there was Monsoon Palace. If you too are on a quest for sights that make your eyes leap out of their sockets, this is the place. If brave enough to venture up the twisting mountain side in a rover that’s managed to squeeze upwards of 12 people in, without falling on the driver as he swings round the corners, then you’ll find yourself face to face with the glorious Aravalli Hills that envelope the city (complimentary monkeys swinging around the stunning architecture).

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Scarf about to escape
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Locals at the Monsoon Palace
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Some pretty stellar views from the highest point

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In terms of sheer beauty, cultural immersion, and “that one place on the trip you’d go back to”, Udaipur has smashed out first place 110%.

Cue Bond theme.

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Hard to deny
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I fell in love with Udaipur’s cheeky charm
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Truly spectacular

Sand, Stars and the Space In-between

Have you ever seen one of those cliché coming of age movies? You know, the ones where a mellow song comes on just as the protagonist is staring out of the car window questioning life pensively? Well, much of my three-week bus trip from Zambia to Cape Town was a constant priceless movie moment. The wild, African roadside was the setting, and I was the stargazing traveller.

Days after days of watching country-sized game parks fly by the window, and observing giraffes gently grazing by the side of the road led me to fall head over heels in love with Africa. About a week into the trip, I entered Namibia – a golden, duney land of desert that is home to ‘Mad Max Fury Road’, and a sizeable segment of my heart.

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While preparing for the impending heat, we were warned about the necessity of hats and sunscreen, and most importantly, water. Lots and lots of water. Every two days or so, we would stop at a store and have to buy at least one five-litre water container each. Hydration was even more vital in the desert (three hours was the ballpark given to us for survival time without this precious liquid).

During the briefing at our campsite one night, our fellow travellers enquired as to how much shade there would be, the quality of hand-dug latrines, and tactical escape plans from encounters with deadly scorpions (eternally grateful for tent zippers). It was thrilling to say the least. Camping at its finest.

Now imagine that scene from Jaws where the townspeople are discussing their plans to deal with the shark, and the eerie but experienced bad guy from the back forewarns them of the tragedies that may ensue. It was like that as one of the Dutch girls in our trip spoke up to caution us about the desert.

“Some people lose themselves in the desert… They go insane… They just can’t take all that raw, open space, and it drives them to madness…”

If I’d had a mouthful, I would have gulped. It was terrifying.

But despite the warnings, the next leg of our trip proved to be the most exhilarating travel I’ve experienced yet. The endless hours of watching the glare bounce off uninhabited, illuminated, sun-scorched, red earth in every direction for as far as my eyes could see.

Key expectations from an African adventure:

  • Layers of sand on top of sweat on top of bug spray on top of sunscreen on top of more sweat.
  • Getting stage fright when trying to pee behind the truck when on the road.
  • Sunrise and sunset yoga in bikinis atop wildlife viewing towers while your washing dries in seconds from the intense dryness of the air.
  • Watching out for scorpions when you need to relieve yourself during the night
  • A canvas of stars so vivid and unaffected by light pollution that Van Gogh himself would surely trek to the desert with paintbrush and easel at the ready
  • Crossing the Tropic of Capricorn in upwards of 40 degree heat
  • Sunbathing on mattresses in the middle of the desert at sunset (with ample supply of ‘Savannah’ beer)
  • Learning how to make fire with natives
  • Trudging aimlessly (and slightly deliriously) across the desert with no guide, map or water supply, but merely the directional gesture of a local driver

 

It was somewhat frustrating on the drive to and from Spitzkoppe (that magical word still gives me chills). My tent buddy and I were unfortunately at the back of the bus as we drove along the very bumpy and long dirt road between the main road and the towering dunes. The frequent and painful lurches of the bus kept causing my earphones to dislodge themselves, disrupting my movie-moment-window-gazing bliss (and the stomach contents of one of the poor Germans). Once the pure-hearted had proved their worthiness by managing to endure the hour-long road hurdle, they would find themselves in the middle of the Namib desert, surrounded by Mad Max-style splendour like no other. It was surprising that I found such bewildering beauty in this place that was so bare and expansive. Hello insights! The peaks were surprisingly easy to climb, and we took full advantage of this by perching ourselves high above the sparse trees to behold a flawless sunset. Incomprehensible distance existed at every angle: our vision only hindered by the natural curvature of the planet.

 

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Cue epiphinal moment #846 from this trip. You know how people argue over whether it’s black with white stripes or white with black stripes? What we witnessed in the sky this particular night would no doubt be considered a white backdrop with fleeting moments of darkness, as the celestial glow that lit up the Sossusvlei as we sat (wide-eyed, stunned, and possibly being nibbled by scorpions) outshone every inch of empty night space. Stargazing in silent awe, we literally tilted our heads from side to side, trying to take in the sheer number of stars that was spread across 180 degrees of African sky.

 

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We continued to be exposed to this splendour long into the night where, in our sand-infested tents, our unobstructed stargazing blurred into existential questioning. Somewhere amidst all the sleepy “what is life” moments and shooting star anticipation, I fell into the most restful sleep in this magical, star-kissed land.

 

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Untouched and unforgettable

‘Lion’ – How much can we take for granted

Like many other film buffs out there, I was giving my refresh button a solid workout on  January 24th to find out the Academy Award nominations for 2017.

As a film in the running for six nominations, the recent drama ‘Lion’ has absolutely stolen a piece of my heart. Actually, forget ‘stolen’, I got down on my knees, not-so-dry-eyed and offered up my whole heart as the credits rolled.

Sitting down in my favourite local arthouse “picture palace”, I was somewhat aware of the potential this film had to blow me away, thanks to my fellow Oscar-loving friends, two hours of Dev Patel’s charisma (and because Slumdog Millionaire blew me away). However, this poignant true story about family and nostalgia had me lying awake at night not just marvelling at the exceptional standard of acting, screenplay and music that just collaborated to form this exquisite film, but at the realities of third-world nations.

It can often be assumed that Hollywood depicts an actuality that isn’t quite as authentic as what exists behind the doors of your local cinema, but this particular night I was questioning how we should shape our attitudes to harsh situations that we haven’t experienced first hand.

As a twenty-something, I’m naturally going through the ‘wanting to change the world’ phase (as mum refers to it). However I would expect I fall into a small minority of those who want desperately to be exposed to the truths of the rest of the world and who would prefer to trek through subsaharan desert and play with orphanage kids than lie on a beach in Fiji drinking cocktails. It is generally agreed that Australians have it well. It is also generally agreed that we take a lot for granted and that we should be appreciative of everything we have.

I want to know how we’re meant to know what we’re taking advantage of without venturing out of our well-constructed houses and experiencing things for ourselves. Am I the only one who is restless to close my laptop, box up my National Geographics and go and see how other people live for myself, in the three-dimensional world? Or should we just stick to watching the discovery channel, being worldly in the news we read, donating to appropriate charities, and then shutting it back out of our minds?

Along with reigniting my obsession with Indian culture, this film highlighted the timeless significance of relationships and what family means. The cinematography captured the urban and maybe unconventional beauty of Indian slums and has undoubtedly catalysed my decision to travel to India this year. Other than being one Bollywood movie away from growing my own bindi, I’m feeling curiously drawn to culture whose second biggest city has the same population as the entirety of Australia.

So pack your lonely planet books, India is coming.

What are the first 5 words you associate with “health”?

Today as I was driving home through Sydney’s Northern Beaches, I was considering what the first five words are that I associate with ‘Health’. Using common sense and my own life wisdom so far, I usually consider “healthy” to be synonymous with “happy”, the five words I would normally list as follows:

  1. Mindfulness
  2. Energy
  3. Nourishment
  4. Stability
  5. Self-awareness.

However, after a morning of wandering round various health food stores and conversing with a bestie over the current craze – acai bowls – I landed at the following five:

Organic. Vegan. Antioxidants. Juice. Raw.

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Wandering around my favourite Sydney town, Manly

This morning I brunched at Bare Naked Bowls in Manly – a trendy, local hotspot for beachy health-lovers (so much so it needed recent renovations to triple the kitchen size). Sitting in this beloved café of mine, it dawned on me that young, white women dominated the demographic of customers. We had all paid our $15 for our organised arrangement of fruit and were chatting away in plant-based indulgence.

As a vegan and passionate member of the yogi tribe, cafes like this get me jumping, but are we all just making a delightful fuss about a smoothie in a bowl? Have we got so carried away overthinking what should be organic to our bodies that we’ve forgotten to listen to our bodies? What does “organic” mean to consumers these days anyway? Do acai bowl devotees know what antioxidants do and why they are considered valuable? I’ve begun to realise that the current social attitude towards health often seems to be based on buzzwords that people may or may not understand.

Health-food aisles are stocked with words like “paleo”, “whole” and “clean”. Is the rest of the food out there unclean? Am I going to drop dead if my soy has been genetically modified? The vegan staple of coconut oil is now worth its weight in gold, even though it is 94% saturated fat (that fat we’ve been taught to avoid like the plague – the same fat the vegan diet boasts about avoiding due to no nasty animal fats). Do customers see an “insert word here – free” product and instantly assume it is going to be beneficial to their bodies? It’s similar to the “ancient grain” movement, or virtually any food that originated in South America thousands of years ago. Since the uprise of these “superfoods”, it seems impossible now to walk through a health-conscious community without being ambushed by the sound of cutlery scraping through quinoa salad or food smothered in avocado, chia, or the latest rediscovered Incan berry.

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Organising my “superfoods” into the other great trend at the moment… jars

As a medical science graduate, I am well aware that the physical aspects of health are largely based on factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol level, metabolism, vitamin concentration and a general absence of disease, and while fruits and seeds are hardly bad for you in a conventional sense, current café culture and social media seem to have a different focus.

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#health

When did health become a hashtag on Instagram? When did it stop becoming about eating and doing what you felt like, and turn into eating and moving in accordance with what works for someone else, or to a set of circumstances that applied to generations long before us? We are told of the way our ancestors moved and ate, and that we should follow that. If it’s all about descendants and evolution, then my descendants will surely evolve to be toothless, as so much of the “health” food I’m exposed to is blended and sipped through a straw, requiring zero chewing.

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Acai bowls have even made their way into my home…

I’ve done the juice cleanses. I’ve eliminated all animal products. I’ve lived with a wheat allergy for three years (so am all too familiar with the gluten-free cult), and taken a stab at the raw food movement. Sure there is ample evidence of beneficial results when cutting out added sugar completely, but maybe such restrictive approaches to food aren’t setting up a good or realistic mindset for what “being healthy” actually means. It certainly feels like a first-world luxury to choose to ditch so many universal staples, and instead reach for an acai bowl, cold-pressed juice, or on-tap kombucha.

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Yes, there is kombucha on tap

Perhaps health extends further than the degree of genetic modification that’s on our plates. Perhaps it needs to be considered more how we feel. Inside and out. Holistically. Maybe we should be making equal fuss about the quality of our sleep, social support system, and, maybe more importantly, the way we value ourselves.