“Twenty-five percent of young American women would rather win America’s Next Top Model than the Nobel Peace Prize. Twenty-three percent would rather lose their ability to read than their figures”
So begins Think – Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, in which Lisa Bloom explores the paradox of modern women and girls in the US: excelling in education at all levels, yet more knowledgeable about celebrity culture and reality TV than politics and world news; outperforming their male counterparts in employment in urban areas, yet obsessed by trying to attain the beauty ‘ideal’ and resorting to dangerous cosmetic surgeries in order to do so.
The first half of the book focusses on the problem and if the first paragraph wasn’t a depressing enough statistic for you, how about:
“One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. “
“Eighty percent of American families did not buy or read a book last year” 80 percent! I could have cried.
“51 percent of eighteen-to-twenty-five-year-olds said that becoming famous was their most important or second most important life goal”
“Half of young women would rather get hit by a truck than get fat”
Now Lisa may be writing from an American perspective but it didn’t take too much of a leap for me, as a British woman, to find common ground with the issues raised in the book. It would be a mistake to think “Oh sure America has a problem with the dumbing down of society, not us” (whoever that ‘us’ might be) I am sure that there exist equally damning studies about how much more time British women spend watching inane ‘reality’ TV shows over reading the latest news about the conflict in Syria. I live in New Zealand and whilst impressed by the numbers of women here who play competitive team sports, concerned more with sporting achievement than exercising for the sake of losing weight, the newsagents are still full of gossip magazines detailing the weight loss and gain of celebrities.
One Australian magazine (most magazines in New Zealand are Australian) is simply called ‘Famous’, and proudly boasts that reading it is “the closest you’ll get to the stars without stalking” Great(!) I can cancel my flight to Los Angeles, and my order of binoculars and a map of the stars homes; instead I’ll just read this magazine. This week’s front cover screams “Fat or Fab” and details the ongoing saga of an Australian model called Lara Bingle who has allegedly been told to lose weight or face cancellation of her TV show. Now besides from the impact this must have on Lara Bingle herself when she is faced with unflattering pictures of her ass on magazine covers, what impact does this have on young girls and women?
Lisa details how women are more obsessed with their bodies than ever, with one study showing that adolescent girls who were more frequent readers of women’s magazines were more likely to report being influenced to think about the perfect body, to be dissatisfied with their own body, to want to lose weight, and to diet. This isn’t something that girls easily grow out of. Tabloid magazine ‘US Weekly’ has a circulation of around 2 million weekly, and it certainly isn’t just adolescent girls lapping this stuff up.
Now I devour a lot of books and have done since I first learnt to read; I stay somewhat updated with world news and politics; but could I name the Kardashians even though I have never watched a full episode of their ‘reality’ show? Yes. Do I have gossip websites saved as favourites on my computer? Yes. Do I frequent these sites multiple times per week? Yes. Do I spend more time blow-drying and straightening my hair than reading a newspaper? Yes. In a recent after-hours quiz at work did I struggle to name what countries border Switzerland, but instantly recognised the name of Miley Cyrus’ latest album? Embarrassingly enough, yes. Now I don’t, as an intelligent, well-travelled woman admit those things very easily, but I do know I’m not alone; I do know that it’s not good for me; and I do want to change.
I’m sure some of you are asking whether it really matters? Don’t we deserve a little escapism after stressful days at work? After all, what harm can it really do? Lisa convincingly argues that our failure to think has profound consequences for ourselves, our community and the world. When we’re pouring over tabloid magazines, and prioritising our beauty regimes above all else, what we’re not learning about, and not doing is devastating. We are tuning out of what is really happening in our countries and the world, and leaving our leaders unchecked in their actions. We’re ignoring genocide, famine, environmental crises, and poverty. Lisa refers to ‘garbage in, garbage out’ where the crap we feed our brains is lowering our IQs and damaging our mental health. We’re escaping into this world of titillating gossip and superficiality at the expense of a real connection with humankind.
It’s easy to blame the media, but Lisa asks whether it’s the producer or the consumer who is to blame. After all, she points out, all of the research she did for the book came from the media: the serious news sources that do report on hard-hitting international stories. The information and the resources are there, but so many of us are not making use of them. If we truly analyse what we are doing, what we are consuming and what impact that is having on our lives and the lives of those around us, we can choose to act differently. We can choose to think. In talking to news directors, Lisa was told that they have to broadcast stories about celebrity scandals, fashion, and cosmetic surgery in order to capture the female market. This should truly shame us. The more we lap this stuff up, the more they will feed it to us. Is that really what we want?
As Lisa points out, women’s accomplishments are rarely celebrated in our media unless the “accomplishment” is in one of 5 areas: appearance, romance, marriage, pregnancy, or babies. She clearly illustrates this in a discussion about Angelina Jolie, whose true accomplishments are a far cry from her relationship, children and appearance. The truth will surprise a lot of people, but this information is available to the public, if you choose to find it. Several years ago I read Angelina Jolie’s “Notes from my travels” detailing her early work with refugees, a book which has an average 5 star review on Amazon. I highly recommend it as an introductory insight into the work of the UN and the plight of refugees throughout the world. It is this aspect of Jolie’s work that we should be celebrating and discussing.
Lisa believes, and I would agree, that women don’t actually want to be ignorant. We want to be smart; we want to spend less time on our appearances and more time doing things that matter. When we are informed about devastating occurrences like earthquakes and tsunamis, we dig deep in our pockets and freely donate what we can.
After setting out the problem and the fallout, the second half of the book is all about how we can make the necessary changes and reclaim our brains and consequently our lives. Lisa’s plan is sensible, practical and smart. I won’t reveal all of the answers; you need to read the book 🙂 but Lisa will first help you to reclaim your time. If you follow her advice, whether you are a single girl at university, a busy working mom, or anything in between, not only will you be less tired and stressed, but you will also be able to find better use for your time than surfing social networking sites and doing mind-numbing housework. Lisa, as a successful smart working mom, proves that you can have it all, and she is happy to give you the advice and tools that you need to attain this for yourself.
Lisa is a great advocate of reading books, and her advice on how to get smart is this: “Read. Read until your eyes are sore. Then read some more” Unsurprisingly, as someone who has created a blog dedicated to the joys of reading, I am behind this statement one hundred percent. A few months ago I had a psychometric test as part of a job application. When the tester went through my result for the verbal reasoning test (I scored in the 98th percentile) the first thing she asked was “Do you read a lot of books? We find that people who score highly in this test are avid readers” A lot of books? Yeah, you could say that! 🙂 One of the appendices to Lisa’s book contains some recommended reading, some of which I have read and others I have added to my ‘To read’ list. The list will continue to be updated on the excellent accompanying website to Think – http://think.tv/ Lisa’s passionate promotion of books is a delight to read, and made me feel connected to her, much in the same way reading books connects us to the author and people we may never meet in real life. These experiences in print truly do shape our lives and fill our minds with knowledge, wonder, compassion and understanding. You can’t say that about a tabloid magazine.
Although Lisa also promotes electronic and audio books, one thing I would add as a piece of advice for people wishing to expand their horizons and learn, it to make use of podcasts. I don’t listen to audio books, but I do love podcasts for those times reading isn’t possible (I have seen the odd person walking down the street reading a book but this is unfortunately a skill I don’t think my un-coordinated clumsy self will ever manage to perfect!) or practical (when drying & straightening my hair) One podcast that has changed my life, helping me make the transition from vegetarian to vegan, is Vegetarian Food for Thought by Colleen Patrick Goudreau; and I am currently listening my way through the very interesting British History Podcast, which is teaching me all about the complete history of my home country in a more effective and in-depth way than school ever did. Whatever your interest may be, you will be able to find a podcast to suit. And, they are FREE. Free learning for life: now that is something to swoon over.
Another part of Lisa’s action plan is to give up the tabloid media for 30 days, and after that to only partake as often as you would eat cake, say once a month. Cake is actually my dietary weakness, so I may have to pick something else, but in any event I know that she is right. My downfall has always been procrastination, and since the availability of the internet, the easiest distraction for a procrastinator is to look at rubbish online. That is how I find myself, 4 hours after coming home from work, still surfing the net having gained nothing but a feeling that this is doing me no good at all, and a wish that I could have that time back to start my evening again. So here is my public declaration that I will no longer spend my time catching up with the lives of people I don’t know, don’t actually care about, and in some cases probably wouldn’t even like in real life anyway. My time is more important to me and I have so many things I would rather use that time for. For one, think of how many more blog posts this site would have if I wasn’t so distracted with trivialities!
The solutions I have outlined above just scratch the surface of the content of this book. Please buy it, or borrow it from the library, and find out for yourself. Think is a book that has literally changed my thoughts and woken me up to the dire consequences of some of my actions and inaction. Lisa’s style of writing is passionate, smart, and quite frankly: ass-kicking. Her wake-up call to women is timely, compassionate and inspirational. I couldn’t thank her enough for this work, and will do whatever I can to not only promote her work to friends and family but also by my actions be a good role model to younger girls around me. After all: what we think……..we become.
The Literary Owl rating: 5/5
Read with: a cocktail, vegan cookies, no distractions, and your feet up. Oh, and a notebook to write down inspiring paragraphs, and recommended reading.