Damned Heretics

Condemned by the established, but very often right

I am Nicolaus Copernicus, and I approve of this blog

I am Richard Feynman and I approve of this blog

Qualified outsiders and maverick insiders are often right about the need to replace received wisdom in science and society, as the history of the Nobel prize shows. This blog exists to back the best of them in their uphill assault on the massively entrenched edifice of resistance to and prejudice against reviewing, let alone revising, ruling ideas. In support of such qualified dissenters and courageous heretics we search for scientific paradigms and other established beliefs which may be maintained only by the power and politics of the status quo, comparing them with academic research and the published experimental and investigative record.

We especially defend and support the funding of honest, accomplished, independent minded and often heroic scientists, inventors and other original thinkers and their right to free speech and publication against the censorship, mudslinging, false arguments, ad hominem propaganda, overwhelming crowd prejudice and internal science politics of the paradigm wars of cancer, AIDS, evolution, global warming, cosmology, particle physics, macroeconomics, health and medicine, diet and nutrition.

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Henry Bauer, Peter Breggin , Harvey Bialy, Giordano Bruno, Erwin Chargaff, Nicolaus Copernicus, Francis Crick, Paul Crutzen, Marie Curie, Rebecca Culshaw, Freeman Dyson, Peter Duesberg, Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, John Fewster, Galileo Galilei, Alec Gordon, James Hansen, Edward Jenner, Benjamin Jesty, Michio Kaku, Adrian Kent, Ernst Krebs, Thomas Kuhn, Serge Lang, John Lauritsen, Mark Leggett, Richard Lindzen, Lynn Margulis, Barbara McClintock, George Miklos, Marco Mamone Capria, Peter Medawar, Kary Mullis, Linus Pauling, Eric Penrose, Max Planck, Rainer Plaga, David Rasnick, Sherwood Rowland, Carl Sagan, Otto Rossler, Fred Singer, Thomas Szasz, Alfred Wegener, Edward O. Wilson, James Watson.
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Many people would die rather than think – in fact, they do so. – Bertrand Russell.

Skepticism is dangerous. That’s exactly its function, in my view. It is the business of skepticism to be dangerous. And that’s why there is a great reluctance to teach it in schools. That’s why you don’t find a general fluency in skepticism in the media. On the other hand, how will we negotiate a very perilous future if we don’t have the elementary intellectual tools to ask searching questions of those nominally in charge, especially in a democracy? – Carl Sagan (The Burden of Skepticism, keynote address to CSICOP Annual Conference, Pasadena, April 3/4, 1982).

It is really important to underscore that everything we’re talking about tonight could be utter nonsense. – Brian Greene (NYU panel on Hidden Dimensions June 5 2010, World Science Festival)

I am Albert Einstein, and I heartily approve of this blog, insofar as it seems to believe both in science and the importance of intellectual imagination, uncompromised by out of date emotions such as the impulse toward conventional religious beliefs, national aggression as a part of patriotism, and so on.   As I once remarked, the further the spiritual evolution of mankind advances, the more certain it seems to me that the path to genuine religiosity does not lie through the fear of life, and the fear of death, and blind faith, but through striving after rational knowledge.   Certainly the application of the impulse toward blind faith in science whereby authority is treated as some kind of church is to be deplored.  As I have also said, the only thing ever interfered with my learning was my education. My name as you already perceive without a doubt is George Bernard Shaw, and I certainly approve of this blog, in that its guiding spirit appears to be blasphemous in regard to the High Church doctrines of science, and it flouts the censorship of the powers that be, and as I have famously remarked, all great truths begin as blasphemy, and the first duty of the truthteller is to fight censorship, and while I notice that its seriousness of purpose is often alleviated by a satirical irony which sometimes borders on the facetious, this is all to the good, for as I have also famously remarked, if you wish to be a dissenter, make certain that you frame your ideas in jest, otherwise they will seek to kill you.  My own method was always to take the utmost trouble to find the right thing to say, and then to say it with the utmost levity. (Photo by Alfred Eisenstaedt for Life magazine) One should as a rule respect public opinion in so far as is necessary to avoid starvation and to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny, and is likely to interfere with happiness in all kinds of ways. – Bertrand Russell, Conquest of Happiness (1930) ch. 9

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Mind over matter – unto death?


Anorexia in Brazil show power of mental disturbance to wreck health

Similar mind-body phenomenon likely helps kill in HIV∫AIDS, but gay liberation may extinguish it

Anyone who has visited Brazil might be surprised to hear that there is an anorexia epidemic in that body-worshipping country of hot flesh and vibrant samba rhythms. Half of Rio seems to spend its life at the beach, and its sensual culture, rich array of exotic foods, and sea and rain forest environment would seem to rule out the unnatural insanity of self-starvation.

But the fashion industry is taking action after Ana Carolina Reston, a 5′ 8″ beauty and model, died at age 21 weighing 80 lbs, and three other young women starved themselves to death in the last two months following the same strange ritual of self destruction, where distorted body image and fear of weight gain translates into skeletal physique and death, the victim all the while convinced that she is overweight .

In the latest incident, Beatriz Cristina Ferraz Bastos, a 23-year-old student and office worker, died on Christmas Eve, weighing just 75 pounds. On her home page at Orkut, a popular Web site for young Brazilians, she described herself as —œthin—? after having been —œ110 pounds overweight—? as a teenager, and included before and after photographs to prove her point.

The first death, in mid-November, was that of Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old model, and it was initially regarded as an aberration. At the time of her death, Ms. Reston stood 5 feet 8 inches tall but weighed just over 80 pounds and was undergoing medical treatment after having collapsed at a fashion shoot in Japan.

A few days later, though, a 21-year-old fashion student also died of anorexia. At the beginning of this month, her death was followed by that of a 23-year-old manicurist, and a full-fledged media frenzy was on, with articles and television programs speculating that Brazil—™s obsession with physical beauty was getting out of hand….

At the same time, though, more than 11 million families, mostly in the impoverished northeast region of the country, benefit from a government program that pays a small monthly stipend to those who do not have enough to eat. According to the national statistical office, at least 8 percent of Brazil—™s 185 million people are underweight, a vast majority because they are too poor to afford a proper diet.

All four of the deaths from anorexia, in contrast, have occurred in the state of Ṣo Paulo, the countryѪs most populous, prosperous and modern. It is also the center of BrazilѪs booming fashion industry, which has come under pressure to take steps to protect working models and discourage ordinary girls from starving themselves in order to conform to designersѪ and booking agentsѪ idea of feminine beauty.

Concern over dangerously thin models has also led to action in Spain and Italy where fashion show organizers have restricted models to a weight at or above a floor. Madrid imposed a height to weight ratio in September, and guidelines have been announced for the New York fall fashion show starting in four weeks. Working out what the rules should be is proving difficult, however.
The New York Times

January 6, 2007
Health Guidelines Suggested for Models
By Eric Wilson

The fashion industry sells modish trapeze dresses and $800 platform ankle boots. But it also sells women an ideal of beauty embodied by the models who walk the runways and appear in fashion magazines.

And since the fall, American designers have been under increasing pressure to respond to a wave of dangerously thin models who have set the aesthetic standards of global fashion.

Now the industry has decided to issue guidelines to designers, aimed at promoting healthier behavior among its highly paid clothes hangers.

The guidelines, which fall short of modeling restrictions announced in recent months by fashion show organizers in Madrid and Milan, were introduced yesterday at a meeting of the Council of Fashion Designers of America in Manhattan. But the group—™s recommendations, which will be sent to designers next week in anticipation of the fall fashion shows that begin in New York on Feb. 2, seem unlikely to satisfy many critics of fashion—™s embrace of ultra-thinness.

According to participants at the meeting, the recommendations are likely to include scheduling fashion-show fittings with younger models during daylight hours, rather than late at night, to help them get more sleep; urging designers to identify models with eating disorders; and introducing more nutritious backstage catering, where a diet of Champagne and cigarettes is the norm.

There are no plans to require models to achieve an objective measure of health like a height-to-weight ratio, which was imposed by Madrid in September, a move that brought much public attention to the issue. It was further highlighted by the death of Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old Brazilian model, from complications of anorexia in November.

More than two-thirds of respondents to a questionnaire on Elle magazine—™s Web site last month said they wished that American designers would follow the recent examples of fashion show organizers in Milan and Madrid in banning overly skinny models.

But the American designers rejected that option as unworkable.

—œIt is important as a fashion industry to show our interest and see what we can do because we are in a business of image,—? said Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the designers—™ council, the industry trade group. —œBut I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules.—?

The group that tackled the issue also included Anna Wintour, the influential editor of Vogue; several members of her staff; health professionals including a nutritionist, a psychiatrist and a physical trainer; a representative of a modeling agency; and a producer of fashion shows.

Designers and fashion magazine editors, who hire models, and executives for agencies that represent the young women, are skeptical that the profession can be regulated or monitored.

—œIt—™s nothing that we don—™t do already,—? said David Bonnouvrier, the chief executive of DNA Model Management, speaking of the guidelines. His colleague Louis Chabat, an agent at DNA, attended the fashion council meeting yesterday.

—œI hope it will be successful,—? Mr. Bonnouvrier said. —œIt is a serious enough issue that people will pay attention, but we cannot dictate the designers—™ choices. There will be a conscious effort for a while to address this, but whether that will last is another issue.—?

Madrid—™s banning of models who have a body mass index less than 18, a normal body standard according to the guidelines of the World Health Organization, did not initially draw much support among the organizers of shows in the major fashion capitals, until last month, when the Italian group issued what it described as a manifesto.

The new rules in Italy are meant to be applied at fashion shows in Rome this month, although they are not binding and in many cases not entirely understood.

The Chamber of Fashion, based in Milan, is asking that models hold a license issued by a committee of city officials and a panel of doctors, nutritionists, psychologists and other experts. But when proposing that models, who must be 16 to work there, also achieve a minimum body mass index of 18.5, the organizers added that geographical and ethnic considerations should also be considered, which industry professionals found confusing.

—œCan you think of another job you would have to talk to a nutritionist, a psychology expert and a doctor to get certified?—? asked Roberta Myers, the editor of Elle. —œMaybe the C.I.A.?—? Ms. Myers did not attend the American council meeting, but said she supported the idea of guidelines and educational programs because they would raise consciousness of the issue.

—œI see this as a good-faith effort on all of our parts,—? she said.

Abigail Walch, Vogue—™s health editor, who attended the fashion industry meeting, said the group conceived its recommendations independently of Milan and Madrid.

Vogue identified several experts to help educate models on health and fitness. They include a nutritionist, Joy Bauer; a fitness trainer, David Kirsch; and Dr. Susan Ice, a psychiatrist at the Renfrew Center in Philadelphia, which treats eating disorders.

—œYou cannot say one factor contributes to eating disorders or that one factor resolves them,—? Ms. Walch said. —œWe should have different avenues for dealing with this issue. We realize there are problems and we want to do everything possible to have resources available to these young girls.—?

Restricting models because they do not meet the specific height and weight standards of Madrid, which requires them to have a body mass index higher than 18, would not solve the problem, she said.

—œWe see models who are thin and getting thinner,—? said Ms. Bauer, who contributes nutrition advice to —œThe Today Show—? and Yahoo in addition to her Manhattan and Westchester County practices. Some models who have been referred to Ms. Bauer—™s offices are genetically thin, some come seeking healthy ways to lose five pounds, and some have genuine eating disorders.

—œI get this pressure,—? Ms. Bauer said. —œThe reality is that your entire career is somewhat based on being thin. It—™s a tricky thing.—?

Ms. Bauer said a goal of the fashion industry recommendations was to encourage healthy behavior among models, but also to educate designers on how to recognize disorders. Ms. Bauer, Mr. Kirsch and Dr. Ice will appear on a panel discussion of the issue during Fashion Week in New York.

She said that the body mass index would not give a fair indication of the healthfulness of models because of their height and age.

—œIt—™s not so much about whether they can be 18 or higher and still look fabulous,—? she said. —œI—™m not for mandating certain B.M.I.—™s because I don—™t think that is fair.—?

Patrick O—™Connell, a spokesman for Ms. Wintour, said: —œThe feeling is that it is not realistic to dictate or impose rules on a huge fashion industry. However, we do believe raising awareness and consciousness will go the furthest toward increasing people—™s sensitivities to the problem.—?
Is fear and shame fatal in HIV∫AIDS?

That such a deadly phenomenon has reached Brazil proves how powerfully the misguided mind can take over health in any culture, and suggests how likely it is that the phenomenon is central to HIV∫AIDS, where the shame and guilt some gays feel at their rejection by the mainstream, and even by their families, is often spoken of as leading to similar unconscious self-destruction, and was powerfully evoked by recent comments here. The point is not that it happens. The ability of the mind to control the body is a given. The issue is the extent to which the roots of gay death in the US from AIDS are or were in the culture.

The topic was raised recently in the Andrew Sullivan sideswipes Harpers thread by Michael Geiger, a leader of the chapter of Health Education Aids Liaison or HEAL in San Diego, who wrote:

what about the extremely toxic emotions that are concurrent with the belief that one has HIV and will sicken and die? Do you Mark, believe that emotions can be toxic, even to the point of death?

Certainly most people given the diagnosis of HIV or AIDS hold or have held on to such a belief, and those taking the drugs hold to the belief that the drugs will keep them alive, otherwise they would not be taking them.

(It is) my own, and as far as I can see, scientifically “unprovable”, belief, that belief itself plays the major defining role.

My evidence: As the overwhelming “belief” of HIV causing AIDS progressed after the 1984 Gallo’s pronouncement, so did the death rate in those who “believed” they had it or “believed” they would get it, and they certainly mostly “believed” they would die from it. As the common belief shifted in 1995 to a belief that one could “live” with HIV, this too became the reality for the masses.

Mark, Is there some reason that “belief” itself should not be strongly considered, and probably investigated, albeit currently scientifically difficult to do, as a, if not even perhaps the, leading causative factor of progression to AIDS, and should it not be a major scientific pursuit or personal investigation as well?

The problem with that time line is that the rise in death rate also reflected the arrival of immunity damaging, high dose (up to 1800 mg) daily AZT as the main prescription for a major immune deficiency disorder already owed to high (recreational) drug intake.

But “Wilyretrovirus” offered an impressive personal anecdote:

I knew a gay couple who were in absolutely normal health. When one of them was told the word “positive” by the clinician, he physically collapsed on the spot, sobbing hysterically, curling up into the fetal position. He had been fine the entire time I’d known him, but within a couple weeks after having the rattle shaken at him (the “test” “result”), he became very ill. There was nothing I could do to help him. I felt so powerless.

His lover though, was fine until he started taking AZT. Their attitudes were quite different from each other, and it showed in the time it took for them to sicken and die. The friend who collapsed died within a year, his lover would hang on for another year.

“MacDonald” added this post emphasizing the group fantasy reinforcing individual fear and recommending the early seminal paper in the Journal of Psychohistory Summer 1984, on AIDS as a cultural hysteria by the prescient Caspar Schmidt:

The positive HIV test is a shaman’s rattle, but to get past the truism that any diagnosis can produce illness, I suggest that in this case it’s the whole culture of hysteria created around HIV/AIDS that’s the rattle and we all, media, politicians, activists, risk groups, docs, general population to a greater or lesser extent the witch hunters (I prefer witch hunters to shamans, since a shaman’s function is quite different)

This view is in line with Casper Schmidt’s The Group-Fantasy Origins of AIDS

Here is Schmidt’s introdution:

I propose an alternative hypothesis for the etiology of AIDS, based on the second of these two mechanisms of contagion in man. This will posit a psychosocial origin of epidemic AIDS, which will lie on the cusp between immunology, pathology and psychology (the latter including the psychology of both individuals and groups). I will do so in twin papers meant to be read in tandem: this one, which will deal mostly with the group psychology, and a second paper for the medical press. In the medical paper, which is entitled, “The Pathogenesis of Epidemic AIDS”, I account for the “biological” end of the disorder. It will trace the physiological effects of the group-psychological factors outlined in this paper on the individual patient, with the resultant epidemic of severe, mostly masked, reactive depression in the at-risk groups, of which the immune deficiency is one facet. It will outline the pathway and the mechanism by which the cell-mediated immunity may be suppressed, and will provide an animal model for AIDS, as I discuss below.

Even if you find Schmidt’s analysis somewhat overwrought as we do – fantasy replacing fantasy, as it were – there is no denying that fear of AIDS – AFRAIDS as some label it – has to be a most powerful superstition in its own right, given the effective invisibility of the “cunning” agent at every turn (even to the scientists who warn us with such certainty of its as yet unexplained and unproven action), and its supposed ability to strike otherwise healthy victims down without warning at any point over a period of 24 years (ie double the average 12 years latency period).

In fact, when one contemplates the attributes of the Virus one has to say that it is the most fearful virus ever conceived of, though luckily for some as yet unexplained reason no threat to white heterosexuals in the USA, though deadly if you are gay or if you are black, African and living in dire poverty or starving, in which latter case you are likely to be rated as suffering from AIDS by any visiting American celebrity or medical worker who catches sight of you if you have so much as a sniffle or are undernourished.

Yet obviously the individual fantasy is fed by group fantasy on every level. Thus “MacDonald” added the witty analogy that

In fact, in an exact parallel to the modern Christian missionaries, the AIDS church has largely given up on improving its numbers at home and now chooses to concentrate on Africa for new converts.

The thread is worth reading to the end of that section, since as several wise commentators point out its boundaries are cultural rather than scientific, and extend far beyond science, perhaps even starting there. Like Schmidt they also point out that by its nature this kind of deeply rooted group fantasy will resist with hostility those who try to pop the bubble, treating them as outcasts rather than saviors.

The ruling AIDS paradox is that those most in need of enlightenment in the US may try to kill the messenger. But it also seems that with gay liberation, as gays more and more take their rightful place in society, free of prejudice and other-induced guilt and shame, they may finally free themselves of HIV∫AIDS think too.

If this is true then gay liberation may be one route to the liberation of true science in HIV∫AIDS.

UPDATE (Jan 14 Sun)

Two more Brazilian beauties die

In In the Land of Bold Beauty, a Trusted Mirror Cracks, an update for the Week in Review, Larry Rohter notes that two more women died from anorexia in the last two weeks, and speculates why Brazil’s female body image is narrowing.

The death that followed Ms. Reston—™s was of a 21-year-old fashion student. There was also a 23-year-old student and office worker who had a home page on the Web and gave English lessons….

Even the famous —œgirl from Ipanema,—? immortalized in the bossa nova song written in 1962, illustrated the cultural differences that prevailed then: only in the English lyrics is she —œtall and tan and young and lovely.—? In the original Portuguese version, the emphasis is on —œthe sweet swing—? of her hips and backside as she walks, a sway described as —œmore than a poem, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.—?

Today, in sharp contrast, the epitome of beauty is Gisele Bündchen, the top model whose enormous international success has inspired the thousands of Brazilian girls who dream of emulating her to enroll in modeling schools and competitions. But very little about Ms. Bündchen—™s body —” tall and blond, rangy yet busty —” connects her to her homeland and its traditional self-image….

According to the survey, the percentage of the population taking appetite-suppressants more than doubled between 2001 and 2005, making Brazil the world champion in the consumption of diet pills.

—œThe reasons are purely aesthetic, not medical, especially for women,—? who account for at least 80 percent of the market, said Dr. Elisaldo de Araújo Carlini, a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo who is the author of the study. —œThey want to get thin no matter what, all because of images from north of the Equator. It is a cruel cultural imposition on the Brazilian woman.—?

Women in countries around the world are subject to such pressures, of course. But Brazilians argue that the situation here is more extreme: this is, after all, a tropical country in which, much more than the United States, Europe or Japan, people live their lives outdoors, often, for comfort—™s sake, in skimpy clothes showcasing the body—™s glories or defects.

A result is a culture of vanity that seems to know no boundaries. This summer, the newest rage, according to local news reports, is liposuction on the toes, and there have also been accounts of a boom in plastic surgery among women 80 and older.

Men are not immune. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is reported to have recently had cosmetic work done on his teeth, and even the chief of an Indian tribe in the Amazon had plastic surgery because, as he guilelessly put it, —œI was finding myself ugly and I wanted to be good-looking again.—?…

—œThis abrupt shift is a feminine decision that reflects changing roles—? as women move out of the home and into the workplace, she said. —œMen are still resisting and clearly prefer the rounder, fleshier type. But women want to be free and powerful, and one way to reject submission is to adopt these international standards that have nothing to do with Brazilian society.—?

The bottom line (speaking metaphorically here) seems to be that cultural forces can take a perfectly reasonable individual response based on vanity and magnify it into a killer.

The New York Times
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January 14, 2007
In the Land of Bold Beauty, a Trusted Mirror Cracks
By LARRY ROHTER

RIO DE JANEIRO

AS king of carnival, the corpulent Rei Momo is supposed to embody all the jollity, carnality and excess associated with that most Brazilian of bacchanals. So when the event—™s reigning monarch has gastric bypass surgery, sheds 150 pounds and starts an exercise program, you begin to wonder what—™s going on.

And when six young women die of anorexia in quick succession —” two in the last two weeks —” the wonder turns to bewilderment. Brazil may well be the most body-conscious society in the world, but that body has always been Brazil—™s confident own —” not a North American or European one.

For women here that has meant having a little more flesh, distributed differently to emphasize the bottom over the top, the contours of a guitar rather than an hourglass, and most certainly not a twig. Anorexia, though long associated with wealthier industrialized countries, was an affliction all but unheard-of here.

But that was before the incursions of the Barbie aesthetic, celebrity models, satellite television and medical makeovers made it clear just how far some imported notions of beauty, desirability and health have encroached on Brazilian ideals once considered inviolate.

By —œ —˜upgrading—™ to international standards of beauty,—? said Mary del Priore, a historian and co-author of —œThe History of Private Life in Brazil,—? the country is abandoning its traditional belief that —œplumpness is a sign of beauty and thinness is to be dreaded.—? The contradictory result, she added, is that —œtoday it—™s the rich in Brazil who are thin and the poor who are fat.—?

A generation ago, the ideal type here was Martha Rocha, a Miss Brazil from the mid-1950s. She finished second in the Miss Universe competition supposedly because her body was a bit too generous in the hips, buttocks and thighs, but since those characteristics were so highly valued here, as suggested by cartoons and the popularity of the semi-pornographic drawings of Carlos Zéfiro that circulated, it was the rest of the world whose taste was questioned.

Even the famous —œgirl from Ipanema,—? immortalized in the bossa nova song written in 1962, illustrated the cultural differences that prevailed then: only in the English lyrics is she —œtall and tan and young and lovely.—? In the original Portuguese version, the emphasis is on —œthe sweet swing—? of her hips and backside as she walks, a sway described as —œmore than a poem, the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.—?

Today, in sharp contrast, the epitome of beauty is Gisele Bündchen, the top model whose enormous international success has inspired the thousands of Brazilian girls who dream of emulating her to enroll in modeling schools and competitions. But very little about Ms. Bündchen—™s body —” tall and blond, rangy yet busty —” connects her to her homeland and its traditional self-image.

—œHers is a globalized beauty that has nothing to do with the Brazilian biotype,—? said Joana de Vilhena Novaes, author of —œThe Intolerable Weight of Ugliness: On Women and Their Bodies—? and a psychologist here. —œShe has very little in the way of hips, thighs or fanny. She—™s a Barbie,—? one whose parents are of German descent.

Dr. Novaes and others have noted that during the 1960s and 70s, Brazilian girls played with a locally made doll named Susi, who, reflecting the national aesthetic, was darker and fleshier than her counterparts abroad. But in the 1970s, Barbie arrived, and by the mid-1980s, production of Susi dolls had ceased, though it has resumed in recent years in a sort of backlash.

Yet until recently no one here would ever have talked with admiration about having an hourglass figure like Barbie—™s, let alone the coat-hanger physiques of the international runways. Instead, the ideal was what is known as —œum corpo de violão,—? or —œguitar-shaped body—?; that is, like Susi—™s, thicker in the waist, hips and fanny.

One indication of how rapidly values are changing can be gleaned from a government study released in November, just after the first in the cluster of anorexia deaths, that of Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old model. According to the survey, the percentage of the population taking appetite-suppressants more than doubled between 2001 and 2005, making Brazil the world champion in the consumption of diet pills.

—œThe reasons are purely aesthetic, not medical, especially for women,—? who account for at least 80 percent of the market, said Dr. Elisaldo de Araújo Carlini, a professor at the Federal University of São Paulo who is the author of the study. —œThey want to get thin no matter what, all because of images from north of the Equator. It is a cruel cultural imposition on the Brazilian woman.—?

Women in countries around the world are subject to such pressures, of course. But Brazilians argue that the situation here is more extreme: this is, after all, a tropical country in which, much more than the United States, Europe or Japan, people live their lives outdoors, often, for comfort—™s sake, in skimpy clothes showcasing the body—™s glories or defects.

A result is a culture of vanity that seems to know no boundaries. This summer, the newest rage, according to local news reports, is liposuction on the toes, and there have also been accounts of a boom in plastic surgery among women 80 and older.

Men are not immune. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is reported to have recently had cosmetic work done on his teeth, and even the chief of an Indian tribe in the Amazon had plastic surgery because, as he guilelessly put it, —œI was finding myself ugly and I wanted to be good-looking again.—?

But most of the complaints about the tyranny of the culture of beauty here come from women. Each year follows the same pattern: Enrollment at gyms, here called —œacademies,—? declines as cool weather arrives and then rises in the final quarter of the year, as women try to prepare their bodies to look good on the beaches during the Southern Hemisphere summer vacation season, which runs from just before Christmas until carnival, about two months later.

But Brazilian eating habits don—™t make the process easy. If the emblematic American meal consists of fried chicken, corn on the cob and apple pie, its Brazilian equivalent is more like this: rice and beans, potatoes, pasta, bread, salad and a slice of meat sprinkled with farofa, or ground and toasted yucca flour.

The Brazilian diet is much higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein than is recommended, said Claudia Carahyba, a nutritionist in São Paulo whose clients include modeling agencies that want to break their girls of such bad habits. —œThat is especially true of the poor,—? she said. —œSince protein costs more, they trade that for more carbohydrates like yucca, which are cheaper and make you feel full.—?

In fact, the new paradigm has been slower to penetrate poorer regions like the Amazon and the northeast, where hunger is still widespread and the idea of —œfartura,—? or cornucopian abundance, is especially valued. There, men in particular are proud to show off wives and children whose bodies are more rounded, as a sign that they are good providers.

—œTo be fat used to be considered wonderful in Brazil, because it showed that you eat very well, which is important to Brazilians,—? said Roberto da Matta, an anthropologist and newspaper columnist who is a leading social commentator. —œThat you have three meals a day and eat meat and beans, calmly, at a table with friends and relatives, means that someone is taking good care of you.—?

Experts also agree that Brazilian men, whatever their class or race, have been much slower to accept slenderness as a gauge of feminine beauty. When they are looking for a sexual partner, Brazilian men are consistent and clear in saying that they prefer women who are fleshy in the rear —” —œpopozuda—? is the wonderfully euphonious slang term used here —” and have pronounced curves.

In the past, that standard was so firmly established that some Brazilian women resorted to breast reduction or buttock augmentation surgery, sometimes even transferring their own tissue from top to bottom.

But as the international standard has taken hold, tastes are changing.

—œThose huge breasts you see in the United States, like in Playboy, were always considered ridiculous in Brazil,—? said Ivo Pitanguy, the country—™s most renowned plastic surgeon. —œBut there is now more of a tendency than before to want breasts that are a bit larger —” not to make them huge, mind you, but more proportional as part of a body that is more svelte and more athletic.—?

Though such globalized standards of beauty originated in rich, mostly white neighborhoods, they are gradually being spread to the rest of Brazil and across racial lines by the actresses and models who live here and perform in popular telenovelas. Exercise academies can be found in slum areas, and newspapers noted that the most recent anorexia victim was a dark-skinned teenager from a working-class suburb of Rio who dreamed of becoming a model.

In fact, all six women who died of anorexia lived either in Rio de Janeiro or in Ṣo Paulo, the countryѪs most cosmopolitan states and centers of the Brazilian fashion industry. The death that followed Ms. RestonѪs was of a 21-year-old fashion student. There was also a 23-year-old student and office worker who had a home page on the Web and gave English lessons.

Ms. del Priore, the historian, pointed to other fundamental changes, which she said have led to a rebellion against machismo and the patriarchal structure that she believes persists here.

—œThis abrupt shift is a feminine decision that reflects changing roles—? as women move out of the home and into the workplace, she said. —œMen are still resisting and clearly prefer the rounder, fleshier type. But women want to be free and powerful, and one way to reject submission is to adopt these international standards that have nothing to do with Brazilian society.—?


The New York Times

December 30, 2006
Burst of High-Profile Anorexia Deaths Unsettles Brazil
By Larry Rohter

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec. 29 —” In less than two months, four young women have died in widely publicized cases of anorexia in Brazil, causing a national debate about body image and eating disorders.

The problem is a new one here, and it clearly puzzles and shocks Brazilians. In this country, eliminating hunger among the millions of the poor has traditionally been an important political cause, so the notion that people would voluntarily starve themselves is hard for most Brazilians to comprehend.

In the latest incident, Beatriz Cristina Ferraz Bastos, a 23-year-old student and office worker, died on Christmas Eve, weighing just 75 pounds. On her home page at Orkut, a popular Web site for young Brazilians, she described herself as —œthin—? after having been —œ110 pounds overweight—? as a teenager, and included before and after photographs to prove her point.

The first death, in mid-November, was that of Ana Carolina Reston, a 21-year-old model, and it was initially regarded as an aberration. At the time of her death, Ms. Reston stood 5 feet 8 inches tall but weighed just over 80 pounds and was undergoing medical treatment after having collapsed at a fashion shoot in Japan.

A few days later, though, a 21-year-old fashion student also died of anorexia. At the beginning of this month, her death was followed by that of a 23-year-old manicurist, and a full-fledged media frenzy was on, with articles and television programs speculating that Brazil—™s obsession with physical beauty was getting out of hand.

In the clearest sign that the issue has reached public awareness, a popular television soap opera, —œPages of Life,—? includes a character who is a teenage ballerina suffering from bulimia. In addition, a weekly newsmagazine published a cover story last month that featured a photograph of Ms. Reston alongside a headline that read, —œInside the Mind of an Anorexic.—?

At the same time, though, more than 11 million families, mostly in the impoverished northeast region of the country, benefit from a government program that pays a small monthly stipend to those who do not have enough to eat. According to the national statistical office, at least 8 percent of Brazil—™s 185 million people are underweight, a vast majority because they are too poor to afford a proper diet.

All four of the deaths from anorexia, in contrast, have occurred in the state of Ṣo Paulo, the countryѪs most populous, prosperous and modern. It is also the center of BrazilѪs booming fashion industry, which has come under pressure to take steps to protect working models and discourage ordinary girls from starving themselves in order to conform to designersѪ and booking agentsѪ idea of feminine beauty.

Gisele Bündchen, a model who in recent years has been among the best known and most successful in the world, is Brazilian. Her fame and wealth are widely admired here and have prompted thousands of other young women to enroll in modeling schools and competitions, whose number has proliferated.

Last month, after Ms. Reston died, Ms. Bündchen agreed to an interview with Folha de São Paulo, a leading daily newspaper. She criticized the international obsession with thinness and urged girls who hoped to emulate her not to fall into that trap.

—œUnfortunately, with the competition that exists in our milieu, a lot of girls attach more importance to work and certain notions of beauty than to their health,—? she said. —œTo go hungry in order to copy a certain standard is a big mistake and is not going to guarantee anyone—™s success.—?

The annual São Paulo Fashion Week is scheduled to be held again late next month, and organizers have said they will require proof that all participating models are at least 16 years old and that they have supplied a health certificate. They have also announced a health and anorexia awareness campaign that includes print, broadcast and Internet announcements, the distribution of fliers and talks at schools.

20 Responses to “Mind over matter – unto death?”

  1. Martin Kessler Says:

    Anorexia Nervosa (like just about every unwanted behavior listed in the DSM) is a metaphorical disease. It is nothing more than an extreme form of fasting. Biblically, women were considered congenitally polluted, and had to purify themselves. Why is it that women are more concerned with being a few pounds overweight than men? So fasting is an act of purification and feasting is an act of pollution. (Note: Bullemia, Anorexica’s twin sister where the actor “feasts”, then vomits is all out, is not much different.) Psychiatry has transubstantiated unwanted behavior into disease – behavioral change is not a cure any more than a political campaign influencing your voting choice or a salesperson selling you on something different from what you wanted (or just reafirming your choice).

    Since the gullible public (evidenced by its popular acceptance) does not want to take responsibility for their choices, psychiatry stepped in. As priests would absolve people of their sins, psychiatry would “absolve” people of their unwanted behavior, and the consolation prize (not offered for the most part by priests) would be a diagnosis and a prescription for a mind altering drug and possibly imprisonment (in a building called a hospital).

  2. Glider Says:

    Though it—™s not perfectly on topic, I thought a recent essay—”found here—”in the NY Times pointing out the tendency these days of doctors to overdiagnose and medicalize everyday problems was unusually insightful.

  3. Wilyretrovirus Says:

    Anorexia in Brazil show power of mental disturbance to wreck health

    Similar mind-body phenomenon likely helps kill in HIV∫AIDS, but gay liberation may extinguish it

    As I’ve stated under my former incarnation here, the larger gay community has an incredible opportunity for growing and living if we allow ourselves to let go of this horrible fantasy and understand why we’ve chosen to believe in it so deeply.

    Unfortunately, there are those who don’t want to let go, and actively battle those of us who have already let go. I encounter it here, in hysterical threads, and in my regular life, talking to gay men about the issue.

    I see gay men like Michael Geiger on the forefront of positive change for the gay community. But he and others may only be able to snap us out of our trance when the rest of us begin to show signs of tiring of the nightmare.

  4. noreen martin Says:

    The times sure are a changing. Now the Paris Hilton’s and other bony models are considered sexy, who can figure? I remember when Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield and other shapely women were considered sex symbols.

    As far as the witch doctor of AIDS waving his or her magic wand over the empowerless, well get a grip on reality. No one can make you believe you are sick or going to die unless you let them. I believe that one’s personal viewpoint in the matter is what is going to determine if one lives or dies.

    Incidentally, I’m proud of my poundage and vivacious curves and would not want to look like Twiggy.

  5. Wilyretrovirus Says:

    As far as the witch doctor of AIDS waving his or her magic wand over the empowerless, well get a grip on reality. No one can make you believe you are sick or going to die unless you let them.

    I agree. Nobody can make you believe. Belief is your choice.

    What some of us are saying is that the doctor or clinician is playing a necessary role in this belief system.

    In the example of my friend, he was fine until he got the “test result”. That doesn’t mean that the clinician made him believe he would get “AIDS” and die. His reaction showed that he already had an incredibly powerful belief, and that the “test result” was a integral part of the belief system.

  6. noreen martin Says:

    That’s most unfortunate but undestandable. This is why this and other rethinker sites are so important and the sharing of knowledge among those who have to live with this diagnosis. When others come out of the woodwork so to speak, many see that there is life after HIV and AIDS and neither don’t necessary mean a death sentence. Now days there are wonderful support groups/people out here and no one has to face this alone.

  7. Glider Says:

    Noreen,

    Good to see you on here again. You’ve been keeping a low profile lately. (But I have too because of all the recent silly squabbles which I find unnecessary and discouraging.)

    By the way, do you or anyone else ever hear from Linda/Moonchild who used to post with some regularity?

  8. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    Martin Kessler is both right and wrong. Read “Fasting Girls,” a prize-winning history of eating problems in women, by historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg. It’s true that women have always used control of body weight to express other issues — like others use alcohol, or sex, or many other behaviors to attempt to obtain a sense of control.

    Anorexia and Bulimia are most definitely psychiatric disorders. That’s not to say that the culture’s pressures do not contribute — they contribute greatly. But when the brain becomes starved (literally), it does not function correctly, and permanent damage can result. Approximately 20% of girls/women with severe eating disorders will die as a result. The percentage of men now presenting with eating disorders has been on the rise for the last decade. Brain imaging techniques, like fMRI and positron emission tomography indicate functional and structural deficits in the brains of those suffering from eating disorders. Treatment does not center on changing behaviors. Perceptual tests indicate that those suffering actually do see themselves as overweight — perceptual problems concerning the body (not just being too thin, but other misperceptions) fall under a general classification called Body Dysmorphia. It is the perceptual deficits that are treated — and most of the time this treatment is not fully successful. Most women with eating disorders never make a full recovery. I’ve worked closely with eating disorder patients. The most common problem they all share is an intense perfectionism that is so far and away worse than any we could imagine, and serious familial problems. Whole family treatment is recommended, but most families are resistant to believing that they may have contributed. Most women with severe eating disorders score well above average on intelligence tests.

    The eating disorders are not a good parallel for what is, and has always been, happening to gay men — which is internalized homophobia and its associated effects (Williamson, 2000 for an excellent review). Although both phenomena involved a distorted view of the self, the origins of this distortion, and the effects are different. Internalized homophobia results in feelings of guilt, shame, depression, anxiety, risk-taking behaviors, impulsivity — and can contribute to the development of other psychiatric conditions. The eating disorders to not involve guilt and shame — they generally involve intense anger and righteousness.

    WR is right that “belief” is very important. Most individuals who hold significant internalized homophobia are unaware of this — it is unconscious, but exerts profound effects on their beliefs and behaviors. Why protect your body from the ravages of drugs and partying if you don’t really believe you have a right to be the way you are? AIDS plays perfectly into existing cultural and internalized homophobia — the patient might unconsciously believe that they “deserve” a diagnosis and that they “deserve” to suffer debilitating side effects from prescribed medications. The diagnosis, for some, only reinforces what the unconscious believes. “AIDS and It’s Metaphors” by Susan Sontag provides an excellent description of how AIDS stands in metaphorically for the hatred the larger culture has for homosexuality, and for the same hatred that many gay men carry with them regarding their homosexuality.

    WR and Noreen are also right that some people can “choose not to believe.” When I was diagnosed and told I would live perhaps 10-12 years with medication, I didn’t believe that for one second. I told my doctor that I was on the “40 year plan.” He just smiled like I was crazy.

  9. Martin Kessler Says:

    Mark Biernbaum:

    Read chapter 8 in Thomas Szasz’s Ceremonial Chemistry: Food Abuse and Foodaholoism: From Soul Watching to Weight Watching.

    Also, Body Dysmorphia is another in the list of metaphorical diseases that can only be “treated” metaphorically. Pretend disease, pretend treatment. I don’t deny that many choices that people as agents make will result in literal harm to their bodies. The behavior (bad habit, poor choice etc) like smoking, drinking, eating too much food, eating too little food, drinking too much water, will harm the body – that it also affects the brain (as in the case of extreme fasting (anorexia nervosa)) does not make the behavior that led to it a disease (I know lots of people who have a big investment in the idea that such behaviors are diseases will no doubt protest). Treating the literal brain damage resulting from not eating may or may not change the actor’s opinion of themselves. Before smoking was prohibited in hospitals, Emphysema patients would continue to smoke (in their hospital bed) even though their emphysema was the cause of their illness.

  10. Mark Biernbaum Says:

    Thanks, Martin, but anyone with an advanced degree in psychology has read Szasz. In fact, he does not fully support your hypothesis at all. He argues quite convincingly in some writings that the family/environment is the “disease loci” not the patient (I think I mentioned serious family problems and family therapy above, if I’m not mistaken). In any case, anyone who has a beef with psychology or psychiatry rattles out Szasz. Or Tom Cruise. Either way, it doesn’t fly. It is no more a question of what you’d like to believe than whether or not the moon is made of green cheese. The illnesses are real. Read all the Szasz you want. Then go and meet some of the girls at your local inpatient mental health facility who are purposely starving themselves to death and tell me whether or not they have a disease. Or try telling their parents, after they die, that they weren’t ill after all.

  11. Truthseeker Says:

    The Club is featuring The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders by John Sarno today, so we will roll up to hear what he has to say. The first Amazon review of his book says this:

    A casual look at Dr. Sarno’s books leads some people to dismiss them because they know that their pain is real and are turned off by a psychosomatic diagnosis. It is important to realize, however, that just because your pain or illness is psychosomatic doesn’t mean that isn’t truly painful or doesn’t really exist. The key is to realize that your brain has a relatively simple method for causing chronic pain, specifically the ability to restrict the flow of oxygen to your tissues. This ability can be used to help bury subconscious rage that is the product of daily stress, a traumatic childhood, or a perfectionist mentality.

    Perhaps this has some relation to the above apparent dispute, which we are too reductionist to take seriously, assuming we understand it fully, which we are not sure we do.

    As far as we are concerned, mind and body are one, and beliefs of any kind are liable to affect health and bodily functions, as well as the operating efficiency of the mind (eg classroom experiments which show that if you tell any group they are better at some mental task then most people are, they do better.)

    This is why it is vitally important to bring beliefs into line with reality as far as possible, which is the whole purpose of this resolutely unimaginative blog.

  12. Martin Kessler Says:

    Mark Biernbaum: That’s exactly what I’d expect an MD (I believe that you are a medical doctor) say. I have read just about everything Szasz has written and your interpretation of his writings is not supported by Szasz. It’s funny that the most educated critics who have read and commented on Szasz’s writings, which are very clearly written, are usually misinterpreted by them, and the criticism is based on the misinterpretation instead of what Szasz had actually written.

    As far as those with psychology degrees having read Szasz, that’s also not true. When I majored in psychology in the early 70’s, that’s when Szasz would have been best known, having relatively published several important works, his name never got mentioned in any class I had. The reason is, Szasz considers psychology a pseudo-science. B. F. Skinner was the “god” of psychology when I studied it, Szasz had a low opinion of him – which wasn’t exactly in line with the current (at that time) view.

    For your enjoyment, here are a few quotes about psychology from Szasz’s book, The Second Sin:

    There is no psychology; there is only biography and autobiography.

    Before the bar of justice, ignorance of the law is no excuse. Before the bar of psychology, ignorance of history is not only an excuse but a requirement for recognition.

    (Several books and articles by other psychologists I have read took credit for ideas that Szasz had written years before – Szasz was never mentioned once in those publications – what a surprise!)

    Intelligence tests: hocus-pocus used by psychologists to prove that they are brilliant, and their clients stupid. The general acceptance of these tests suggests that this claim may not be without foundation.

    Projective tests: hocus-pocus used by psychologists to prove that they are normal and that their clients are crazy. The popular acceptance of these tests suggests that this claim, too, may not be without foundation.

    Personality theory: familial and social policies disguised as empirical observations and promoted as scientific laws.

    Note: Szasz was not particulary popular with most clinical psychologists especially the ones who were dependent on psychiatric nosology.

  13. Martin Kessler Says:

    As a little addendum, both Peter Duesberg and Thomas Szasz are interesting characters in how they had been treated academically. Both had flaunted the current hegemony in favor of truth. Szasz like Duesberg was not permitted to have any graduate students, because of his ideas about the myth of mental illness. They are both modern Gallileos.

  14. Wilyretrovirus Says:

    Projective tests: hocus-pocus used by psychologists to prove that they are normal and that their clients are crazy. The popular acceptance of these tests suggests that this claim, too, may not be without foundation

    Martin,

    about 15 years ago, I took a job at a halfway house for mentally ill and retarded adults (I was the cook). That’s where I met my friend, Carlos, the person I mention that went fetal when told that he was “positive”.

    He was one of the counselors at this place.

    I have to say that I learned an incredible amount in a short space of time there. I went in with eyes wide open, feeling that I was “helping” (they wanted wholesome, organic and vegetarian food).

    It quickly became apparent to me that the clients and the counselors were far more alike than different. The things that separated them were education, money and “meds”.

    I think psychology has run amok along with the help of the pharmaceutical companies. It’s a happy little symbiotic relationship. I know so few people who aren’t taking antidepressants or some other drug prescribed for their “mental illness”. Although, as I write this, I feel my intermittent explosive disorder coming on. Too bad there isn’t appropriate medication for it yet. Or is there?

    We’re a culture of victims. We seem to have a need to be labeled with some “disorder” of one kind or another so we don’t have to step up to the plate and learn how to live.

  15. YossariansGhostbuster Says:

    Martin Kessler (mail):



    Mark Biernbaum: That’s exactly what I’d expect an MD (I believe that you are a medical doctor) say. I have read just about everything Szasz has written and your interpretation of his writings is not supported by Szasz

    Yikes, Martin, surely you cannot be that ignorant if you have bothered to actually read the posts.

    Congrads on the green border.

    And as well Wily lost more than a few points on a prior post as well.

  16. Wilyretrovirus Says:

    Well, I suppose better late than never.

    Although, I would have preferred TS “clean house” a long time ago…maybe back in the days where I was repeatedly being called a homophobe, or recently called an “it” (same poster for both insults).

  17. MacDonald Says:

    McK, why don’t you help the rest of us in our ignorance by offering us your reading of Szasz? Or if primary sources are beyond you, perhaps just your reading of Mark Biernbaum MD.

    Somebody your age must surely have something really important to contribute – that is if anything could be more important than your reading of the scoreboard.

  18. noreen martin Says:

    “We’re a culture of victims. We seem to have a need to be labeled with some “disorder” of one kind or another so we don’t have to step up to the plate and learn how to live”.

    Talk about hitting the nail on the head! We are a society who no longer takes personal responsibility no matter what arena of life we are referring too. Never mind that drugs, improper health habits, diets and wrong- thinking enter into the equation of AIDS. It’s much easier to be a “victim” of an illusive virus or having an incurable disease; this gets one off the hook.

    Some of the blame is the drug industry with their commercals and invention of more and more diseases. Does the doctor need these tv commericals to know what to prescribe, I think not. These are for the benefit of the consumer so that they will request these drugs from their doctor. We are lead to believe that a “pill” will solve all of our problems in life, which it does not. Unfortunately for us, most doctors believe this to be true too.

  19. patrick moore Says:

    I would like to add something to this discussion about “mental illness”. It is right to suspect that there is an ever mounting tendency to diagnose new diseases and syndromes in order to sell more and more drugs; it is wrong on the otherhand to reject it all out of hand. I suspect that language for one has much to do with it but also let us not forget society as a whole as a trigger for most of it. I have been diagnosed with ADD recently. I am still not sure exactly what this means, even after having read as much as I can about it. ADD is an all-encompassing clinical term which doesn’t really explain anything to me as to my situation so I tried to boil it down to something that is relevant to me. My “ADD” can be explained by simply saying: I have poor memory and concentration. It is really quite simple: my synapses are poorly contected. Society oversimplifies this by trying to argue things like “you’re simply stupid or too lazy and science overstates it with terms like ADD and “disease”. I have neither a “disease” nor am I “too stupid” although perhaps a bit lazy. But thankfully I now know better than to listen to either and content in the fact that no two brains are the same.

  20. Wilyretrovirus Says:

    Patrick,

    I think one of the problems I have with all the “diagnosing” going are the unanswered questions.

    For example, where does Bipolar disorder come from? Are you born with it? If not, how do you get it? Is it curable? Is it temporary? Is it a life-long condition that requires pharmaceutical treatment (a red flag as far as I’m concerned if the answer is “yes”)? Can it be alleviated by good diet, physical and mental exercise? Is it really a problem? Are there natural supplements that help? Or is there really an “it” there? What are the benefits both on a personal level and a societal level by creating this disorder? How easy is it to diagnose somebody with Bipolar disorder? How flexible is the definition?

    One of the things I learned by working at the halfway house is that I was being “diagnosed” with various disorders behind my back. The counselors didn’t agree with each other on their various “diagnoses”, so I didn’t take them seriously. It’s all so very subjective. It’s honestly scary how much power these people have. And they could easily ruin your life if you’re not able to fend for yourself.

    But…we’ve gotten off track here from the post. I’m hoping Michael Geiger will chime in and add some of his insights.

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