Thursday, 30 March 2017

Gendering Adderall: Weight Loss, Work, and Cat Marnell's Memoir

Augmenting the Body: Disability, Care and the Posthuman is an interdisciplinary research project that explores practices of bodily augmentation, from caring robots to prosthetic limbs, across the fields of English, Engineering, Healthcare, Philosophy, and Robotics. The project, led by Professor Stuart Murray and funded by a Wellcome Trust Seed Award, involves collaborators from the University of Leeds, the University of Exeter, and Sheffield Robotics.

In this post, Dr Sophie A. Jones (Leeds) reflects on the way contemporary writing figures the relationship between bodily extensions and beauty demands.

How do practices of cognitive augmentation intersect with the gendered labour of beauty management? As part of my contribution to the Augmenting the Body project I have been exploring cultural representations of so-called “smart drugs”—psychostimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, often prescribed for ADHD but also taken off-label to increase stamina and concentration. A particular stereotype of the millenial worker haunts media engagements with psychostimulants: the ambitious worker or student who views contemporary demands for ever-increasing productivity not as an exploitative set of working conditions but as a mode of self-actualization. The figure is epitomized by Bradley Cooper’s protagonist in the 2011 film (and subsequent TV show) Limitless, which follows our protagonist as he discovers, becomes addicted to, and finally makes his fortune from a fictional nootropic drug. This capitalist discourse of productivity enhancement, often tied to an ideal of white masculine professionalism, is pervasive across film, television, and news media. It is only rarely linked to an antecedent stereotype of the stimulant user: the woman for whom “diet pills” are a means not only of surviving the “double day” of waged work and housework, but of meeting a relentless pressure to be thin.
Tape, Pills, Medicine, Tablet, Diet, Fat                I am wrong, of course, to distinguish the pressure to be thin from the demands of the working day: appearance maintenance has long been a significant dimension of feminized labour. Despite this, the appetite-suppressing qualities of ADHD drugs, and their relation to gendered working practices, have themselves been suppressed in contemporary narratives of stimulant use. Enter Cat Marnell, the notorious former beauty editor for Lucky magazine and, whose memoir How To Murder Your Life (2017) narrates her rise and fall in the world of beauty journalism through the lens of her addiction to Adderall. Marnell recounts receiving her first Ritalin prescription from her psychiatrist father as a teenage student at a prestigious boarding school on the US east coast. Graduating to Adderall as she climbs the ranks at Condé Nast Publishing, she ultimately quits her “dream job” as Lucky’s beauty editor due to her drug use. She is hired as an “unhealthy health writer” at the fledgling, then let go for the drug addiction that made her such a hot commodity in the first place on a site renowned for mining women’s personal lives for content. She winds up as the author of a column at Vice titled Amphetamine Logic, and her columns grow more and more infrequent until they fade out completely. Her final submissions to the column are in rhyming prose, in what Marnell describes as an attempt to record the habits of thought that attend speed highs.

Marnell has been pitched as a female Hunter S. Thompson, but the freewheeling Gonzo lifestyle feels a long way away: this, instead, is the drug addiction narrative as CV. Marnell structures her personal story as a series of employment opportunities, and the “life” of the title often seems a synonym for “career”. Far from a recovery memoir—“There’s a bottle of Adderall right next to me” (359), the author tells us at the book’s conclusion—How To Murder Your Life still strikes a note of caution for those looking to self-actualize through meaningful work and a stimulant prescription. Drugs helped Marnell both get and lose her shining career. At the same time, she is coy about the extent to which she views staying thin as one of the workplace norms that Adderall helped her meet during her periods of employment. Discussing the early days of her stimulant use as a teen at boarding school, Marnell writes:

I began getting As on math tests. And on essays.
I never felt sleepy sitting at a desk ever again. I was always wired—hopped up. It was great. I never had an appetite. I’d already been skinny, but I got really skinny. (49)

Here, skinniness is framed as just another dimension of Ritalin’s performance-enhancing qualities. The concentration and thinness bestowed by the drug are coded as efficient forms of self-management. Later on, though, as Marnell reveals her bulimia, a new language of mental illness emerges to contend with this productivist rhetoric: terms like “addiction” and “eating disorder” displace the image of the “bright-eyed and chatty” student whose thinness is simply an expression of self control. Discussing her return to New York after a spell at the expensive Silver Hill rehab facility, Marnell writes:

Being clean had felt really great in Connecticut. But back in Manhattan, not being on stimulants just felt . . . wrong. My energy didn’t match the city’s energy anymore. I felt very fuzzy around the edges, and just . . . weird and lazy. And I was always hungry! So hungry. I’d gained fifteen pounds since I’d stopped taking Adderall. (177)

In addressing the relationship between Adderall and weight loss, however obliquely and sporadically, How To Murder Your Life draws attention to a dimension of stimulant use that is often pushed to one side as the twenty-first century stereotype of the keen, wired employee displaces the twentieth-century stereotype of the diet pill addicted housewife. Marnell’s decision to structure her addiction memoir around the peaks and troughs of her CV, in line with this new discourse, means that references to appetite suppression and weight management are hushed as soon as they rear up, left at the margin of Marnell’s central tale of jobs gained and lost. What happens if we pause at these references, where Marnell rushes on, and ask how ADHD drugs mediate the collision of employment demands and beauty demands? Why, indeed, are contemporary cultural forms so reluctant to dwell at this intersection, where the gendered labour of appearance maintenance appears so stark and violent? 

Sophie A. Jones is a postdoctoral researcher in the School of English at the University of Leeds, and the Research Assistant on the Wellcome-funded Augmenting the Body project. She is currently writing her first monograph, The Reproductive Politics of American Literature and Film, 1959-1973, and conducting research for a second project on contemporary literature and the medicalisation of attention. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

Racialised Beauty - Skin Colour & Skin-lightening for British South Asian women: Socio-Historical Nuances Matter

Images taken of ads for clothing and/or jewellery, and advertising by make-up artist in South Asian shops in Birmingham

Across South Asia and the South Asian diaspora, the symbolic value of fair skin remains a contour of social reality, particularly for women (Jah, 2016; Malik, 2007; Shankar and Subish, 2007) – both perpetuating, and facilitated by the continued; veneration of fair skin as best, and the proliferation of skin-lightening products. Consequently, in my PhD project I am investigating cross-culturally British South Asian (BSA) women’s lived experiences of racialised beauty, with a specific focus on skin-lightening and skin colour. By doing so it has become increasingly apparent that there are nuanced differences in histories and socio-cultural mores and practices, across but also within large arbitrary categories like South Asian, which mean how the preference for fair skin as an aesthetic ideal and norm manifests and is enacted, can diverge. Thus, greater deliberation of nuances in both the socio-historical framework of racialised beauty, and the contemporary materiality and enactment of issues encompassing race, needs to be considered when examining South Asian groups – the former shall be the focus of this post.

A dominant assertion by scholars is that colonialism is a critical historical conjuncture when we consider issues of race for those whose ancestry can be traced to for instance India and the West Indies. I agree, but what can be underemphasised is that firstly, colonialism and the mechanisms through which racialisation occurred and fair skin as best reified was not homogenous across groups; secondly, colonialism is not untangled from what came prior to nor after it. Thus, in the context of BSAs the history of pre-colonial India matters, as does the history of postcolonialism. Combined with the legacies of colonialism they helped partly mould the present as lived and experienced by BSA women, and must be viewed as having left entangled, subjective and multi-dimensional legacies, which remain components of social reality. 

Skin colour biases can be found across pre-colonial societies like India and Britain, and were principally being class based – darker skin was linked to the lower-classes who toiled in the sun, whilst fair skin was associated with the sheltered nobility (Jablonski, 2012; Russell et al., 1993). Consider the painting below of Queen Elizabeth 1st, fairness was a staple of beauty standards in the 16th century, with British courtly beauty regimes involving the application of whitening products like ceruse to attain ivory complexions (Downing, 2016):

Fair skin has been a component of beauty ideals and normative standards for centuries - its symbolic association with health, wealth, goodness and beauty is an age-old association. Indeed, the feminist sociologist Meeta Rani Jha (2016) asserts that skin colour biases and colourism have been ‘an integral part of Indian culture’ pre-dating Mughal rule and colonialism (Jha, 2016:66). Others situate responsibility for racism and colourism at the feet of the Brahman upper caste and later the British, arguing that their practice in India today, is pre-colonial, originating in the mythical Aryan race theory propagated by the upper castes and later the British (Ayyar and Khandare, 2013).

It was during 18th century colonialism that skin colour gained significant racial connotations – with the production of racialised whiteness as an aesthetic norm produced as much in the British colonies as in the West. During colonialism, phenotypes - external markers like skin colour were used to mark the distinctions between the colonisers’ superiority and the inferiority of the colonised (Malik, 2007). However, something underemphasised is that what the colonisers were able to build on was subjective to the colonised nation considered – the colonisers did not have the same framework to manipulate and mould as they did in India, in for example African communities– this is one reason why examination of nuances matter. 

The British in India exploited old myths and built on pre- established biases, reinforcing whiteness as symbolic of ‘beauty, power and superior breeding’ (Johnson, 2002:217). For example, the British co-opted and reconstructed the Brahman headed model society (the caste system) - a gori (fair) complexion was associated with the higher castes, and a kali (black) complexion with the lower castes (Samarendra, 2011; Malik, 2007). Accordingly, skin colour and caste become further entrenched as the basis of difference and legitimate differentiation between groups. The growing racial connotations around skin colour thus intersected with its class and gendered dimensions. 

Furthermore, during colonialism through the usage of the camera ‘Western knowledge and Western authority became synonymous with the real’ (McClintock, 1995:123). Thus, the White European traveller and coloniser was able to circulate the differences created as truth - reinforcing and perpetuating the ideological binaries of Black and White, and the aesthetic dominance of whiteness. 

Indeed, with early cinema we see the amalgamation of the ‘scientific imagination with the popular’ (Rony, 1994 cited in Kaplan, 1997:63), which helped shape notions of race and beauty by unifying beauty with idealised images of White women, and heightened sexuality with the ‘exotic’ - non-white women. 

However, whilst whiteness become a dominant fascination, beauty ideals were not passively consumed. Natasha Eaton (2013) in her examination of art cites the colonial painting on the right, as an illustration of ‘imperial desire[s] for whiteness’, but also as an example of ‘a sly critique […] on the colonial norms of beauty (Eaton, 2013.:81) that existed in certain sects, as Indian artists ‘experimented with their own parody on [the] colonial fascination with whiteness’ (ibid.:79). 

Now, as I have said previously when looking at historical developments pertinent to understanding the contemporary lived experiences and practices of BSA women it is important to stress that the (Indian) colonial legacy is not stagnant, and it intertwines with other historical periods, both of which are somewhat subjective to the geographical locale of those one is scrutinising.                                                                               
The 20th century (particularly post-1945) is an important historical conjuncture - its consequences entangling with the legacies of colonialism. I refer here specifically to the Partition of India and Post-WW2 migration to Britain, whilst the former matters for all South Asians, the latter is of note when looking specifically at diasporic South Asians in Britain like my interviewees. These histories impacted conceptualisations and discourses around; gender, race, ethnicity and class, through for instance identity politics and beauty norms and practices. 

The Indian Partition (1947) led to the further entrenchment of more nuanced explicit differentiation. Polarisation became an endemic and rooted component of identity formation, as the overarching identity category of South Asian, whilst used, obscured now embedded and naturalised differences. Whilst differentiation had previously existed, during colonialism and the partition differentiation became more; entrenched and visible. These shifts affected socio-economic structures and relationships (Ballard, 2002), and had an impact (minute and large) on discursive constructs, practices and the enactment and embodiment of race, ethnicity and class.

I make this postulation as I consider comparatively the scholarly material I have read and the information my interviewees have provided. For instance, the Brahman headed caste system ideologically and symbolically has a clear hierarchical framework when considering skin colour, and yet the same is not true of Pakistani qualms, whilst particular qualms are associated with fair-skinned individuals, qualms do not have the same influence on the everyday, nor do they have the same perceived hierarchal skin colour structure. 

In turn, post-WW2 migration by South Asian’s to Britain is important as geographical movements affect social structures and relationships – impacting discursive constructs and practices around the enactment and embodiment of race, gender, class and beauty. The political dissonance that emerged in the context of post-WW2 migration enabled the appearance of different types of identity politics that helped highlight the fragmentation of binaries of White and Other, and overarching categories like South Asian. Indeed, this micro politics can be expressed in the politics of beauty, consider that in my fieldwork British; Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Indian are emerging as strong modes of identification and differentiation rather than the usage of just South Asian. 

Furthermore, talking to my interviewees highlights that whilst the maintenance of norms, ideals and practices around skin colour and skin-lightening, that emerged out of colonialism are still being reinforced, they are also being transformed in the post-migration experience. Beauty as something we do and how we do beauty is not monolithic nor stagnant - as my interview data continues to suggest, we need to recognise there were and are shifts in: skills, access to products and community sources of knowledge. 

These movements are one of the reasons why we need to talk beyond just binaries of black and white, and discuss the fact that in lived experience, how skin colour is seen is fragmented into numerous shades that fall in, and between these two binaries. Thus, allowing for potential negotiation and flexibility of ideals in lived experience. What’s more, the ideals and practices that travelled to Britain sit beside and/or intermingle directly with Western European ideas of how to be and look. Thus, the conflicts and negotiations of identities that BSA women face comparably may differ to those South Asian women residing in for instance Asia or America, my interviewees thus far have made a distinction between their BSA conceptualisation of skin colour and beauty and those ‘back home’. 
In our postcolonial world the tensions between choice, flexibility, and the entrenchment of norms and ideals, can be seen compellingly through the lens of beauty. Whilst dominant aesthetic standards remain the product of Western European Eurocentric ideals, which are circulated transnationally via representations in for instance the beauty industry and popular culture (Blay, 2011; Robinson-Moore, 2008; Malik, 2007), one cannot forget agency or the plurality of lived experiences. 

Indeed, whilst many of my interviewees assert that Western White beauty ideals and norms are transmitted across forums like ‘Bollywood’, Hollywood and Asian culture and thus dominate, some of my interviewees are simultaneously suggesting that standards of beauty within women’s lives and the perceptions of others beauty can be more flexible than the ideal. Consider Fahida Zaman a 24-year-old Bangladeshi, who over the years has been deemed very fair ‘for a Bengali’ by friends, and simultaneously viewed as not fair enough by relatives, when compared to her parents:

‘[…] an ideal in Bollywood it’s… it would be someone who’s tallish, very slim and erm super stylish, always experimentative with their style; hair, make-up, clothing, and you know fair obviously although like I said deeper tones are being more accepted […] and you know how I said before about beauty for an Asian female is being slim, fair and tall well tallish – I do think in real life like for me and people like me it’s not that you need to be all of it or you’re in huh shit – you know it does not mean you are not attractive. I completely do think our generation has become slightly more open to different skin colours along as its not Black, or whatever, really dark-skinned. And if you’re not fair, being slim and tall is good. And it’s not like Michael Jackson white is what is wanted, it’s fair so you’re still Asian you know and if not, tanned and deeper tones are I think ok. But with our parents’ generation I do think they are more picky about skin colour […] with me being the darkest I think for them that would be the most acceptable (laughs as she says these 12 words) like, or perhaps very slightly more tanned than me just by a shade –  That’s it no more than that […]’

Fahida’s words highlight that in the everyday, beauty ideals are not rigidly entrenched or embodied, although there is a suggestion that this may differ generationally, a theme emerging across my interviews, and one I shall be considering in the broader scope of my research. It is also clear that firstly, skin colour should not be considered in isolation but in unison with other bodily characteristics and practices, and secondly skin colour and its value can potentially be negotiated with other attributes like height and weight. Indeed, this potential for negotiation is emerging as many of my interviewees discuss the significance of women’s beauty/physical attributes in marriage talks, another matter that will be delved into in the broader scope of my research.

What I have attempted to illustrate in this post is that the histories that frame the cultivation and naturalisation of racialised beauty and skin colour norms and practices, for BSAs are plural and intertwined. Recognising nuances can do nothing but help gain a richer comprehension of postcolonial, contemporary lived experiences and their subjectivity and multifaceted contours, as whilst, history does not explain everything, the legacies of the past are a strand in the tangled weave of contemporary lived experiences - legacies evolve and alter but remain a contour of social reality.

By Somia R Bibi

Somia Bibi Is a third year PhD student within the Sociology department at the University of Warwick. Her project involves a cross-cultural analysis of British South Asian women's lived experiences of race and racism through the lens of racialised beauty - with a specific focus on skin colour and skin-lightening. In an attempt to move away from just looking at binaries and to focus on and highlight, for instance, nuances in the socio-historical framework of racialised beauty, and the contemporary lived experiences of British South Asian women she is focusing on 3 groups: 1) Pakistani women whose family migrated from Mirpur; 2) Bangladeshi women who migrated from Sylhet; and Gujarati women whose family twice migrated: Gujrat (India) – Africa - Britain.


Ayyar, V and Khandare, L (2013) Mapping Skin Color and Caste Discrimination in Indian Society. From: Hall, R (ed.) The Melanin Millennium: Skin Color as 21st Century International Discourse. Dordrecht: Springer. Pp. 71-95.

Ballard, R (2002) The South Asian Presence in Britain and its Transnational connections. From: Singh, H and Vertovec, S (eds.) Culture and Economy in the Indian Diaspora. London: Routledge. 

Blay, A.Y (2011) ‘Skin Bleaching and the Global White Supremacy By Way of Introduction’. The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.4, no. 4, pp.4-46.
Downing, J.S (2016) Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950.  Oxford: Shire Publications. 

Eaton, N (2013) Mimesis across Empire: Artworks and Networks in India 1765-1860. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hunter, L.M (2011) ‘Buying Racial Capital: Skin-Bleaching and Cosmetic Surgery in a Globalized World’. The Journal of Pan African Studies, Vol.4, No.4, pp. 142-164.

Jablonski, G.N (2012) Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jha, R.J (2016) The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body. London: Routledge. 

Jha, S and Adelman, M (2009) ‘Looking for Love in All the White Places: A Study of Skin Color Preferences on Indian Matrimonial and Mate-Seeking Websites.’ Studies in South Asian Film and Media, Volume 1 Number 1, pp. 65-83.

Johnson, E.S (2002) ‘The Pot Calling the Kettle Black? Gender-specific Health Dimensions of Color Prejudice in India.’ Journal of Health Management, 4, 2, pp. 215-227.

Johnson, E.S (2002) ‘The Pot Calling the Kettle Black? Gender-specific Health Dimensions of Color Prejudice in India.’ Journal of Health Management, 4, 2, pp. 215-227.

Kaplan, A.E (1997) Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze. London: Routledge Inc.

Malik, S (2007) The Domination of Fair Skin: Skin Whitening, Indian Women and Public Health. From:  [Accessed 28th February 2016].

McClintock, A (1995) Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest. New York: Routledge.

Robinson-Moore, L.C (2008) ‘Beauty Standards Reflect Eurocentric Paradigms - So What? Skin Color, Identity, and Black Female Beauty.’ Journal of Race & Policy, Vol.4, Issue 1, pp.66-85.
Russell, K, Wilson, M and Hall, R (1993) Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color Among African Americans. New York: Anchor Books.

Samarendra, P (2011) ‘Census in Colonial India and the Birth of Caste.’ Economic & Political WEEKLY, Vol. XLVI, No. 33, pp.51-58. Available from: [Accessed 1st March 2016].

Shankar, P.R and Subish, P (2007) ‘Fair skin in South Asia: an obsession?’ Journal of Pakistan Association of Dermatologists, 17, pp. 100-104.

Shaw, A (2000) Kinship and Continuity: Pakistani Families in Britain. London: Routledge. 

End Notes:

 1. With the progression of research, my focus has narrowed to 3 specific groups of BSA women: 1) Pakistani women whose family migrated from Mirpur; 2) Bangladeshi women who migrated from Sylhet; and Gujarati women whose family twice migrated: Gujrat (India) – Africa - Britain. 
2.  When referring to pre-colonial and colonial India this is inclusive of what is today known as Bangladeshi and Pakistan. 
3.  A mixture of finely ground white lead powder, mixed with vinegar – a highly popular for several centuries with one drawback it was poisonous. 
4. The 1947 Partition lead to India and Pakistan emerging as two distinct nations – with the emergence of East and West Pakistan, and then in 1971 East Pakistan became Bangladesh.
5.   Highly contested term often said to refer to the tribe and/or village and thus family one is from, and was linked/influenced by the Brahman caste system. Qualms are also known as zāts (Shaw, 2000) and can be referred to as castes.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Body Dissatisfaction in Women Smokers

In spite of public health campaigns highlighting the risks of smoking, many men and women experience difficulties with smoking cessation.  In the UK, the highest incidence for women is amongst 25-34 year olds, where 19.8% of women are regular smokers (Cancer Research UK, 2015).  Nicotine is usually identified as the key substance responsible for addition to cigarette smoking. However, psychological factors also play a vital part in smoking initiation and maintenance. Smoking in women may be linked to perceptions of body image and weight concern where fear of gaining weight may discourage smoking cessation.
Women smokers tend to have a smaller waist circumference and lower body mass index than those who have never smoked (Kaufman, Augustson and Patrick., 2012). As smoking reduces the palatability of food through reductions in taste and smell, nicotine has a tendency to supress appetite and leads to a distraction from eating (Mineur et al., 2011).  On quitting smoking, appetite and metabolic rate revert to pre-smoking levels and food becomes more palatable again. Consequently, most people gain weight as smoking is no longer a distraction from food.
Both qualitative and quantitative research has demonstrated that women smokers report initiating smoking to reduce appetite and aid with weight loss (Grogan et al., 2009), as well as to assist with maintaining current weight (Potter et al.,2004). Unsafe weight loss practices such as fasting and diet pills are utilised more by women smokers than non-smoking women (Stice & Shaw., 2003).  Women who are concerned with weight gain adopt smoking as a mechanism to reduce appetite and support weight loss.  As concern with gaining weight is an important factor for women smokers, it poses difficulties for those who have body image concerns and want to stop smoking.
Appearance concerns and body dissatisfaction have been reliably linked to smoking.  Cross sectional studies measuring body satisfaction in both women smokers and non-smokers found that women smokers were less satisfied with their bodies that non-smoking women (Grogan et al., 2010: Grogan., 2012).  A thinner ideal body was also found to be endorsed by women smokers than non-smokers (Pomerleau & Saules., 2007). Body dissatisfaction and perception of body size were identified as important predictors of smoking outcomes at the end of a 3 month randomised smoking cessation trial.  A greater discrepancy was found between actual size and ideal size in women smokers than non-smokers and the most difficulties experienced in quitting smoking were found in those who over estimated their body size (King et al., 2005). This implies that women who perceive themselves as overweight may use smoking to reduce their appetite and control eating habits in order to reduce weight, which suggests that body dissatisfaction precedes smoking.
Interventions designed to address weight concerns may aid women with smoking cessation.  A US smoking cessation program targeted women with weight gain concerns and provided information on the amount of weight most women gain when quitting smoking, and the benefits of weight gain to health, as oppose to the negative effects of continuing smoking. Women were discouraged to diet and advised on healthy eating, as well as advised on strategies to promote a positive body image. This intervention lead to higher smoking abstinence rates than a condition where non weight related issues were discussed (Perkins et al., 2001). This suggests interventions designed to reduce weight concerns can aid smoking cessation in women who are concerned with weight gain after quitting smoking.
Women smokers experience lower levels of body satisfaction and have higher levels of concern with weight gain than non-smoking women.  Research suggests that interventions tackling women smokers concerns with weight gain are more effective in promoting smoking cessation. Addressing body image concerns in smoking cessation interventions aids smoking cessation and promotes higher levels of body satisfaction in women smokers.  
As smoking is linked to weight concerns for women, interventions focusing on reducing these concerns may be effective in promoting body satisfaction and enabling women smokers to quit.  However, it is also important that these interventions are delivered by trained health care professionals who are sensitive to women smokers concerns and promote smoking cessation without increasing appearance dissatisfaction in those who already have concerns with body image and weight gain.

By Naheed Hanif

Naheed Hanif is a PhD researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her primary research area is behavioural interventions in health psychology.  She also has a background in providing equitable health care for BME communities.

Cancer Research UK (2015). Tobacco Statistics. Retrieved 5th March 2015 from   
Grogan, S., Fry, G., Gough, B., & Connor, M. (2009). Smoking to stay thin or giving up to save face.  Young men and women talk about appearance concerns and smoking.  British Journal of Health Psychology, 14, 175-186
Grogan, S., Hartley, L., Fry, G., Connor, M., Gough, B. (2010).  Appearance concerns and smoking in young men and women: going beyond weight control.  Drugs: Education, Prevention and Policy, 17, 261-269
Grogan, (2012). Smoking and body image. In T. Cash (ed). Encyclopaedia of Body Image and Human Appearance (pp. 745-750).  London: Elsevier
Kaufman, A., Augustson, E.M., & Patrick, H. (2012). Unravelling the Relationship between Smoking and Weight: The Role of Sedentary Behaviour. Journal of Obesity, 2012,735465
King, T.K., Matacin, M., White, K.S., & Marcus, B.H. (2005). A prospective examination of body image and smoking in women. Body Image: An International Journal of Research, 2, 19-28
Mineur, Y.S., Abizaid, A., Rao, Y., Salas, R., DiLeone, R.J., Gundisch, D., Diano, S., De Biasi, M., Horvath, T.L., Gao, X. B. & Picciotto, M. R. (2011). Nicotine decreases food intake through activation of POMC neurons. Science, 332, 1330-2
Perkins, K.A., Marcus, M.D., Levine, M.D. et al. (2001).  Cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce weight concerns improves smoking cessation outcome in weight-concerned women. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 69, 604-613.
Pomerleau, C.S., & Saules, K. (2007). Body image, body satisfaction, and eating patterns in normal-weight and overweight/obese women current smokers and never-smokers. Addictive Behaviours, 32, 2329-2334
Potter, B., Pederson, L.L., Chan, S.S.H., Aubut, J.L & Koval, J.J. (2004).  Does a relationship exist between body weight, concerns about weight, and smoking amongst adolescents? An integration of the literature with the emphasis on gender. Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 6, 397-425
Stice, E. & Shaw, H. (2003).  Prospective relations of body image, eating and affective disturbances to smoking onset in adolescent girls: how Virginia Slims.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 129-135.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Teenagers and appearance: concerns amongst girls, boys, bullies and victims

The latest figures from the Good Childhood Report suggest that 34% of girls and 20% of boys are unhappy with their appearance; the report also suggests that bullying is likely a key contributing factor.

In the scientific literature, it is well documented that appearance concerns are higher amongst teenagers who have been teased about some body or facial feature, and those who are repeatedly teased in a nasty way, i.e., verbally bullied, are at higher risk of body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. New evidence suggests that it is not only appearance bullying that is damaging to appearance satisfaction, but that any type of victimisation by peers can be detrimental. Bullying typically includes behaviours such as hitting, kicking, name calling, social exclusion and/or the spreading of nasty rumours or lies (either in person or online), which are repeated over time. Receiving this type of abuse from peers can have profound effects on the psychological wellbeing of the victim. 

Working with researchers from the University of Warwick, I have just completed my PhD thesis, which investigated body concerns and self-promotion tactics amongst bullies and victims aged 11-16 years old.  Our results suggests that bullied teens are at high risk of desiring cosmetic surgery and are preoccupied with losing weight (despite being of an average body mass index). This desire to alter appearance seems to partly stem from the psychological distress that results from being victimised. What’s more, although data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and The British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons tell us that the majority (over 90%) of cosmetic procedures are performed on females, and it is typical that females desire to lose weight, this new study found no sex differences; teenage boys who are victimised by peers are just as likely to want to change their appearance through cosmetic surgery, and are as fixated on weight loss, as teenage girls. 

But what about the teenagers who bully their peers? Are they immune from being concerned about their appearance? There is a long held misconception that bullies have a fragile self-esteem and hurt others in order to make themselves feel better. Psychological research shows that this is just not the case. Pure bullies (i.e., those who never get victimised themselves) tend to be psychologically healthy, and are well-known and popular amongst their peers. Surprisingly then, our evidence suggests that, like their victims, bullies are similarly interested in cosmetic surgery and preoccupied with losing weight. The caveat is that unlike bullied teens, this has little to do with psychological distress. In other words, bullies are driven to improve their appearance, despite already feeling good about themselves. This actually makes sense if we think about the reasons why bullies harm others in the first place. From an evolutionary perspective, bullying others is one way to obtain resources and is a mechanism to get to climb the social hierarchy. In addition though, possessing characteristics that are deemed to be desirable, such attractiveness and fitness, can likewise bestow social prestige and desirability upon the beholder. It seems then that bullies are multi-strategic in their quest for dominance – they bully and derogate others, and also attempt to enhance their own attractiveness.

So, although concerns about appearance are widespread amongst teenagers, those who are repeatedly harmed by their peers, and are thus functioning at a sub-optimal level, appear to be at the greatest risk of appearance concerns and appearance change efforts. Perhaps focusing on improving peer relationships may be one successful strategy to improve appearance concerns amongst teens - for victims, at least. 

Kirsty Lee has recently submitted a PhD thesis on Adolescent Bullying and Intrasexual Competition in the Department of Psychology, University of Warwick. The research discussed in this blog is soon to be published; please contact the author at  if you would like to know more.