A couple of months ago, Jezebel posted an article detailing the narcissism of modern women. While this article is, to some extent, tongue-in-cheek, it also addresses a very real concern: our bodies have changed considerably in the last fifty years, causing the way we view and express ourselves to change, and this isn't necessarily a good thing. It works the other way around, too: the way we view ourselves has changed, causing our bodies to change along with our new found confidence.
One of the biggest contradictions I come across as a health writer is the body image vs. obesity epidemic issue. On the one hand, it's wonderful that women are embracing their bodies and I strongly support the importance of feeling comfortable with who we are. On the other hand, we most certainly should not lie to ourselves: if we struggle with obesity or are at risk for health problems related to being overweight and unfit, then we should be working towards doing something about those problems.
The modern woman is taught to be proud of her achievements, to hold her head up with confidence and praise herself instead of depending on praise from someone else. The modern woman is taught that she is incredibly important and that no one has any right to judge. The modern woman is taught to worship her body and to not change for anyone or anything.
This is all very well as a guideline to follow for boosting self esteem and to live an independent lifestyle. However, too often we misinterpret what exactly all of that means. This is where the modern woman runs into difficulties.
Being proud of your achievements does not mean being proud of eating yourself silly every night and lying to yourself by chalking it up to a "once in a while" indulgence. Being proud of your achievements does mean being proud of incorporating healthier choices into your everyday lifestyle and enjoying a treat every once in a while when it really is "every once in a while".
We definitely should praise ourselves- when we have done something worth praising. No one has any right to judge us- but we all have a responsibility to live our lives as healthfully as we can and to set a good example for others. We certainly ought to love our bodies- but also acknowledge that no one is perfect, that there is always room for improvement, and that we can protect our health by making small changes.
The language that we use to describe ourselves can drastically alter the way we perceive ourselves. Using negative language is not the answer, but being honest with ourselves can go a long way to protecting our health. Combining constructive criticism with a positive attitude when we address our potential personal health problems as individuals is an ideal mix to use language to our advantage: the modern woman really can have it all.
One of my most recent experiments as a health blogger was to challenge myself to eat a strictly vegan diet for one month. There were a number of motives for why I did this, the main one being that I was interested to learn from first-hand experience if this could be a healthy way to eat.
During the challenge, I had a few temptations to go off of my vegan diet. These temptations weren't very strong and I fended them off without straying from my prescribed diet, but nonetheless they did arise. The question of why the temptations were there has to do with the phenomenon of want.
Anyone who has cut themselves off from anything or "deprived" themselves- of a relationship, of a drug, of food, of entertainment, of shopping- for whatever reason- will come across the want factor. The main premise of want is that as soon as we deny ourselves something, even if it's something we wouldn't have much desired anyways, we suddenly can't think of anything except for it. We want it, for the sole reason that it is unattainable.
Seeing other people eating non-vegan foods during my month of veganism was a typical trigger for want. It didn't matter so much what it was; the fact remained that I had to eat a specially-prepared meal different from everyone else at the table.
I didn't eat anything non-vegan on my first day after completing the challenge.
The next day, I ate a poached egg on toast. But I didn't eat it because I really wanted it: I ate it because I thought that I wanted it, and because I could eat it.
It didn't take me long to figure out that I really don't care for many non-vegan foods. I can easily do without them. I don't actually want them, they are simply foods that we are trained to think we want. This is key in the phenomenon of want.
Ice cream is the most stereotypical comfort food for women. It's almost assumed that if a woman is stressed, she will dig a spoon into that pint of ice cream to feel better. But do we really want it?
There have been many times when I have indulged in food or drink because I "would be crazy not to want it". But when I really listen to my body, it turns out that no, I don't want it.
I don't feel jealous, now that the Vegan Challenge is over, if I see people eating meat or cheese when I'm not eating it. This is because it's a choice. I don't really care so much for eating those things regularly. If I find myself really wanting to have it, then I will- but if I only want it because everyone else has it, then I know that I need to stop following the herd, and start listening to my body.
Magazines are a highly competitive industry. Women's magazines, in particular, are very competitive because of the number of top-selling magazines. Most of them have a focus on fashion, beauty, celebrity gossip, and health/wellbeing. They'll also include recipes, relationship advice, "real life" stories, and weight-loss advice.
Magazines rely a lot on the look and feel of the cover as a key selling point. They are situated near the check-out counter in most stores, so there has to be that visual appeal to capture the interest of roving eyes.
Best Health Magazine takes advantage of the rhetorical appeal of visual and touch in their design. It is the same length as your typical magazine, but it is about half an inch wider. The larger size increases the likelihood that you will see it. Although "trashy" magazines full of celebrity gossip, "drop 1 size in 2 weeks!" programs, and narcissistic "me"-focused articles are greedily gobbled up by most of us, Best Health's motives are a little different. This is evident in their headlines. We still see the usual headlines about quick exercises and how-to's for applying make up, but the difference with Best Health is that these are all clean, useful tips and tools for women of all ages.
The magazine also tries to be well-rounded in the content that they provide. They promote themselves as having "four magazines in one", with sections for Look Great, Get Healthy, Eat Well, and Embrace Life. You won't find pictures taken by the paparazzi or angry rants about "How to get your man to commit!". Best Health also seeks to back up their articles with some semblance of research, and includes statistical information and cites sources so that the reader can learn more about various health concerns, if they are interested.
As with all magazines, Best Health has advertisements peppered throughout, but they aren't on every second page, the way it sometimes feels with other magazines. Because the magazine is ever so slightly bigger than the prototype, there is more room for a neat, organized design on the inside pages. It has a very clean, professional look to it. As a Canadian magazine, it takes advantage of discussing Canadian issues and cities in Canada, which will be more relevant than an American magazine in this country.
One of the most fascinating rhetorical choices that Best Health has chosen to use is the feel of the paper. Magazines typically have a glossy finish and a slippery feel to their pages. Best Health, on the other hand, has a matte cover and more of a thick, "paper" feel to it. It gives the illusion that what we're reading is more of an academic article or a book than a magazine.
Of course, sometimes, what we really want is just a trashy magazine to indulge in. But if that's the case, we don't care much about citing sources or having a nice matte finish or a really well-put-together magazine. Best Health recognizes that sometimes, we do want something a little classier, with a little bit more information applicable to the real world and everyday concerns. They have the rhetorical strategies to prove it.
As a health blogger, I receive a lot of food products from companies that wish to promote their products. Over the past year, different food companies have generously given me pomegranate juice, chocolate, applesauce, gum, peanut butter, tea, iced tea, soup, and more chocolate (the last three have yet to be reviewed).
The reason why all of these generous food companies send me their products is, of course, so that I will write about their products and thus help with promotion. Many foodie and nutrition bloggers receive all kinds of goodies from an array of different "healthy" food companies. I am in no way complaining; I am only too happy to get these products and review them. These companies are well aware that if, as a consumer, I dislike their product, I will be stating my disapproval in my review. It is also my philosophy to always clearly state when I receive a product to review so that my readers are aware that the company has sent me the product.
There are only two assumptions being made in the company/blogger relationship:
1) They send me a product, free of charge;
2) I write whatever I want about their product.
But there are clever ways that these companies can improve their chances of getting a good review. Some companies send you a small sample of their product, just enough for a taste, with little extra information about their company. Others have amazing standards of public relations. Take, for example, the soup that I received just a couple of days ago. The company had contacted me via email to tell me about their product and asked if I'd be interested. I said that I was very much interested, and in less than a week a gigantic box arrived for me in the mail. It included not only nine of their 18oz cartons of soups (of a wide variety of flavours), but they also included a place mat, a large dinner plate, and a napkin in a napkin holder. Several information sheets regarding their products were also included.
I have not even tasted their soups, but I am already incredibly impressed with their service. The speediness of delivery, the friendliness of the PR people, the sheer amount of products to taste-test, and the thought that went in to the details (with sending the place mat/plate/napkin) are all admirable.
Studies have shown that when we read a restaurant menu that uses high-end phrasing ("caviar" instead of "fish eggs", "Succulent Italian seafood filet" instead of "fishstick"), we are more likely to respond favourably to the food that we're eating, regardless of if it actually tastes any better.* There's no doubt in my mind that marketing with food products works very similarly. If one carton of soup had been sent to me a month after the company had contacted me, I'm sure that my expectations would not be as high and I would perhaps not think as highly of the product to begin with, before I've even tasted it.
FitNutz powdered peanut butter was a company that I approached, offering to review their peanut butter for them if they sent me their product. More often, it is the company that approaches me; this was a rare circumstance. But I was delighted with the enthusiasm that FitNutz responded with. Not only did they send me a sizeable amount of peanut butter, but they also agreed to let me host a giveaway, and after they had sent the winner the peanut butter, the company sent me more peanut butter, just because. It was completely unexpected and not something that I will forget.
The pomegranate juice company POM has a PR system that most food companies can't even compare to. Their rhetorical strategies are as effective as it gets: not only are their PR reps friendly, but they also give an abundant supply of juice (and iced tea!) when they send it. They have also invited me and 14 other health bloggers to their orchards next week to learn more about the company. Recruiting 15 health bloggers from across North America to pick pomegranates and view the POM plant in an all-expenses-paid trip is marketing genius.
The marketing strategies that food companies use are highly rhetorical and can have a positive or negative impact on how well their products are received, depending on how they approach consumers with their products. Regardless of who sends the product or how they send it, I will always be honest in my review of it and if I dislike it, I will not hesitate to say so. But the companies definitely get points for thoughtfulness and for making the extra effort to get to know the people reviewing their products. Those are the kinds of rhetorical strategies that can be adopted for everyday communications.
*To read more about this study and many others, check out Brian Wansink's excellent book Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.
A misplaced comma. A forgotten exclamation mark. Too many smiley faces. Poor sentence structure. Any of the above can spell disaster when it comes to relationships which revolve around texting.
Today's fast-paced world means that nearly everyone relies on text messaging to communicate. But because it is so impersonal, it's easy to come off as cold, detached, flippant, or overly-earnest. You can't see the other person's reaction to your text, and they can't see yours. If the text message isn't responded to immediately, it could be because the other person has no time to text back, or they didn't see the message, or they simply do not want to return the text. It could be any of those reasons, but you do not know which one it is. It's easy to both jump to conclusions and to lie to ourselves about why we aren't receiving any response.
It's amazing how much of day to day life is built around texting. Go out to dinner, to the bar, even to work or class or, God forbid, behind the wheel of a car, and you see cell phones. They're either sitting on the table, waiting for a text message from someone else, or they're in the hands of their owners as they text madly away, smiling and nodding distractedly to the conversation of the people they're face to face with. We stop living in the present. We don't appreciate what is going on around us, right now, because making plans with other people or chatting idly via text message is more interesting.
Texting has the ability to make or break the day. For the texting generation, when you meet someone, you're likely to "add them on Facebook" afterward. Exchanging phone numbers has become a novelty, but if you do somehow reach that point during initial introductions, the notion of either of you calling the other person to hear a voice on the other end of the line is almost unheard of. An exchange of phone numbers is the assumption that texting conversations will ensue.
Even then, what happens to the text? Facetiousness, for example, cannot be transmitted well via text. The edge of your jibes can be offset by an emoticon to convey that you are joking rather than serious, but too many smiley faces are irritatingly juvenile. Words are frequently misspelled, and whether that's due to laziness or thumbs flickering too quickly over the keypad or to an atrocious inability to spell, we'll never know. But it is certainly unappealing when words are so poorly spelled that you aren't entirely sure what the other person is trying to say.
Missing punctuation conveys a surprising amount in the text message. A one-word response or a lack of punctuation at the end of the text suggests disinterest on the other end of the conversation. It can be enough to stop you from continuing to text back and forth. Similarly, an overabundance of exclamation marks or other forms of punctuation seems almost too over-eager and can cause the conversation to stagger to a halt.
Perhaps some day we'll get back to talking to one another the old fashioned way, face to face, but for now, it helps to at least think about the text before we send it, and to consider how it will be read by someone when they receive it without the expression and tone of voice that conveys extra meaning when we carry out a conversation in person.
Visual aids are a powerful rhetorical strategy for giving presentations. Like any kind of rhetoric, it is how we use it, rather than what we use, that dictates how effective or ineffective it is likely to be.
PowerPoint is an especially tricky option. Most people love PowerPoint: it's easy to learn how to use, it can be helpful for the presenter as memory cues while they're giving their lecture or speech, and it can be flashy enough to capture the audience's attention. Presentations using PowerPoint distract from the speaker, making them feel more comfortable if they are ill at ease with public speaking. PowerPoint slides can be thrown together fairly quickly once you've figured out the software, and it can thus create a polished, professional piece of work.
There are dangers to PowerPoint, though. When using these slides, we run the risk of putting up too much information. PowerPoint slides should supplement your presentation; they should not be your presentation. Having slide after slide of full sentences in lengthy paragraphs will detract from the presentation. PowerPoint slides should be used to illustrate key points or to add imagery in the form of a relevant graph or table.
Too often PowerPoint is added to presentations to benefit the speaker rather than the audience. This is inadvisable: in any lecture or speech, you want to have as much goodwill as possible between yourself and the audience. Therefore, any visual aids you use should be ones that will help your cause by being useful for the audience. If you need PowerPoint to keep yourself on track, you don't know your topic well enough.
Sometimes, technology breaks down, or doesn't work quite as we hoped or expected. If you're relying too much on PowerPoint in these situations, the result can be humiliating and can completely destroy your presentation, taking away from any credibility you might already have established. If you need some kind of point form notes to prevent yourself from going of topic, bring a cue card along as a reference.
PowerPoint might be helpful to steady nerves because it deflects attention from the speaker to the slides, but because it does this, it also creates a gap between speaker and audience. You might find yourself spending too long reading from the PowerPoint slides so that you don't engage with the audience (for example, you stop making eye contact and speaking to the people in front of you).
The ease of putting together a PowerPoint presentation means that there's potential for it to get sloppy. You might not do as much research or pay as much attention to simple professional features such as correct spelling.
PowerPoint has its benefits, but most of the time we run the risk of it appearing as a very poorly presented speech/lecture. Depending on how we use it, PowerPoint slides can be a highly effective or a highly ineffective rhetorical strategy as a visual aid.
The rhetoric of self-presentation speaks louder about us, in many cases, than our voices ever can. What we wear and how we wear it is associated with certain assumptions. First impressions are made before we even open our mouths.
In Mimi Spencer's 101 Things to Do Before You Diet, she discusses this very issue. Getting to know both our personal strengths and weaknesses is helpful so that we can emphasize our strengths and play down our weaknesses. Her book encourages readers to get comfortable with who they are. By accepting ourselves, we can see room for improvement and build upon good character traits so that we grow into the people that we want to be.
The type of clothes and how we wear them can be beneficial or detrimental to our cause, whatever it may be. Following the latest trends might seem like a fashionable move to make, but more often that not, a) the trend doesn't suit our body type, and b) we feel uncomfortable in trendy clothes and make them look even worse than they already do.
Dressing for the appropriate occasion is important here as well. Showing up in our finest at a coffee shop is unlikely to make us feel at ease, and it will almost certainly draw strange looks from the other patrons who will then be less likely to take us seriously. Similarly, if we throw on a ripped or stained t-shirt before giving a presentation in front of an audience, it will probably have the effect of the audience being appalled, unimpressed and dissuaded from agreeing with our position.
The key here is to figure out what we feel comfortable and confident with and to work with it. If jeans and a t-shirt are truly the only clothes that you feel comfortable in, you might need to step it up a notch. Examine why you feel uncomfortable wearing anything else, and take it slowly- try wearing a slightly more formal shirt, or different pants than jeans, or wear nicer shoes. Even slipping on a couple of accessories- jewelry or a scarf- can be a good bridge between what you're comfortable and uncomfortable with.
It's important to get out of our comfort zones because we never know when we will be thrust outside of those zones without warning. It pays to be prepared for any such circumstance. Above all, if we wear what we feel confident in- and if we can try to expand our comfort zone so that we feel confident in a wider variety of outfits suitable to different occasions- it will create a better sense of goodwill between ourselves and the people around us.
The style of dress that we use speaks volumes about who we are. We can breed confidence with the clothes that we wear and the familiarity and comfort of how we wear it. All of this can be used as a rhetorical strategy to convey our personal values and beliefs to others without the necessity of vocalizing it (or as a way to reinforce what we do vocalize). What does your personal style say about you?
I talk a lot about my philosophy of eating real food and avoiding processed "food". I think that the majority of the time I do a fairly good job of living this philosophy, as well. But every now and then I come up against food which I have a tough time defining.
Some foods are obvious. A Lean Cuisine frozen meal is processed. A fresh and juicy tomato is real.
Then we have the in-between foods. The Larabar. The tetra pack of 100% fruit juice. Are these real or processed?
Larabars consist of only a few ingredients; for example, the Cherry Pie Larabar has only date, almonds, and unsweetened cherries. A box of 100% fruit juice only contains filtered water and fruit. Still, I can't help but view these items as processed.
In this sense of the word, I am taking the production and manufacturing into account. Larabars are described on the website as "unprocessed", and in a sense it isn't really processed. Except that it goes through a manufacturing process, gets packaged up and shipped around the world. If I piled some dried fruit and nuts into a food processor and formed them into bars, it would be "real". When it goes through a factory and is neatly, uniformly packaged, then it is "processed".
The difficulty lies in just how much of our food goes through some kind of manufacturing system. Bananas are sprayed with pesticides and shipped to us. Do they then get lumped in the same category as the Larabar? Where is the boundary between the real and the altered?
In The End of Nature, Bill McKibben writes about how the meaning of what is natural has changed. In the past, nature was an all-powerful force, but now that we have discovered that we can control it, is is "a problem we must work out. This in itself changes its meaning completely, and changes our reaction to it" (179). Essentially, very little is "real", and our definition of real is changing to accommodate for the new meanings we have attached to "the natural".
For now, I'm considering food definitions in terms of degree. A Larabar or a juice box aren''t quite as "real" as a tomato plucked straight from the garden, but they are both a far cry from that frozen Lean Cuisine. The best we can do, then, is to choose foods that are the most "real" as we can get- and try to redefine our understanding of the way we eat.