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The Girlfriend's Guide to Health will be updated every Tuesday.... Stay tuned dear readers and let me rock your world.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Real Deal

Is anything real anymore my dear girlfriends? Have we witnessed the loss of all authenticity? From hair extensions, to breast enhancements, from cheeks and teeth and chin implants. From highlights to brow lifts and everything in between. There are the “chicken cutlets” in my bra at this very moment and the colouring I have “touched up” every 6 weeks to cover all things grey.

If I want 100% natural these days, I had best find it at an organic food market.

And just when I thought I had seen it all I found out that yes, even eyelashes can be extended! Is there nothing in the world of beauty we can’t learn to live with? My hair is curly…. I can get a Brazilian blow out. My hair is graying… bring on the dye. My bottom lip does not exist. Should I decide to forgo my “lip-plumping lipstick” I could have my pucker permanently plumped with a collagen injection every 8-10 weeks.

And now my eyelashes can be treated with fuzzy little caterpillar made of chinchilla hair that can be semi-permanently glued on for about a month. I know I sound like I am raging against the beauty machine.

I am not.

I am a fan of my lip plumping lipstick. I like that after sitting in my colourist’s chair every six weeks affords me the opportunity to look five years younger.

I am a huge fan of said chicken cutlets nestling comfortably in my push up at this very moment. The only time I liked being an “A" was in academics. In all matters of the bra, I am happy as a “C-student”.

That being said, I now have to ask people if their eyelashes are real. Before such questions could be relegated to breasts and hair colour. Now we have broadened the field….

I was at a dinner party last week and was seated across from a lovely woman with equally lovely brown eyes…. This was a girl crush waiting to happen. I remarked that she had beautiful eyes and the longest eyelashes I had ever seen when she took a sip of her Sauvignon Blanc and said quite matter-of-factly, “They’re fake.”

“Really?” I said between bites…. I mean what do you say? My girl crush had just told me her eyelashes were fake. What is the polite response?

“Yes,” she remarked, “I have eyelash extensions put on every 8 weeks.”


Bad news was nothing was real anymore. Good news…. I had a subject for my next blog. Every bleak life realization has a silver lining. If beauty is an artificial illusion, the least I can do is investigate.

Unlike false eyelashes, where synthetic lashes are applied to the eyelid and then removed after usage, eyelash extensions are applied directly to the natural eyelash with a bonding agent and can last up to six weeks. These bonding agents and glues are irritants and can cause discomfort and potential eye damage in severe cases.

Repeated use of eyelash extensions can cause Traction Alopecia, a condition where the hair falls out due to excessive tension placed on the hair shaft. As a result this can damage the hair follicle, which can slow down and even cease production of hair.

The risk of this from patent application papers appears to be about 1% of patients.

In other words…. For every 100 sisters with beautiful doe eyes…. There’s one unfortunate soul with a bald set peepers….

I’ve noticed lately on my way to fourty that my eyelashes are not as robust as they used to be. Actually what really happened is that I arrived home from that dinner party and studied my eyelashes, as only a truly neurotic woman can, in one of those awfully judgmental magnifying bathroom mirror.

The judgment is in…. my lashes are definitely thinner than in years past…. But I will not succumb to extensions. Firstly I will need two hours every 8 weeks in which I must sit still and pay $200 for the experience. Secondly… this will be a permanent time commitment that I will need to repeat every 8 weeks for the rest of my life.

I suck at sitting still. Hell, I’m on holidays right now and trying not to lose my mind from the veritable thrill of relaxation. Sitting still without pharmaceuticals is a chore best left to the lazy and the infirmed.

There is another option. A drug known as bimatoprost ophthalmic solution 0.03% or Latisse (it’s trade name) has been developed and shown in randomized trials to provide effective and significant eyelash growth.

Back in 2001, a pharmaceutical company called Allergan developed a medicated eye drop used to treat ocular hypertension. In addition to successfully lowering eye pressure (the only treatable risk factor for glaucoma), many patients using this medication experienced a side effect — they began to grow longer, fuller and darker lashes.

One woman’s glaucoma is another woman’s Max Factor.

This led Allergan to begin its study of this medication’s active ingredient, bimatoprost, for the sole purpose of generating lash growth. After conducting a clinical trial on safety and efficacy for 4 months on 278 patients, LATISSE® earned its FDA approval in December 2008.

The drug is due to launch in Canada in September, 2010.

And so another week ends with another realization. Nothing lasts forever and much of what we see is a manufactured illusion. I can accept that. Hell, I can even be a part of the wave…. WE can make our hair darker and longer, our breasts larger and higher and our eyelashes thicker and fuller.

Designer clothes for designer body parts… Before you judge too harshly, make sure you check on the inside. As with all luxury items you’ll be sure to find a label that confirms said item is in fact the real deal.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Eat. Pray. Love. Rant

It was only just the other day that I first realized I might be becoming a cynic. I can recall the warnings some years ago when I was basking in the glow of my twenties that once a woman hits forty she can easily lose the optimism. This seems like an empty threat to me. After all I AM an eternal optimist.

I do believe in happy endings. I am quite certain that “love will find a way”. And I would bet my “bottom dollar that tomorrow there’ll be sun”.

I am equally a huge fan of self-reflection. Hell, I think we could all use a little time in each day to sit and ponder our place in the world. I call these moments “Existential Inventory”. I go up stairs to my closet, close the door, light a candle, turn on a DVD and the world falls away. I play dress up, I dream and hope and make plans that may never come to fruition. It is truly one of the best parts of my week.

I emerge feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and centred. I have connected to a part of me that only I can appreciate and it’s all good.

So you can imagine, given this philosophy how freakin’ disappointed nay I say pissed off I was at the book then the movie and now the movement known “Eat, Pray, Love”.

For those of my girlfriends not familiar with the concept….a quick tutorial. “Eat, Pray, Love” is a book written by Elizabeth Gilbert back in 2006. It’s the author’s nonfiction account of her own year of travels through Italy, India and Bali after the dissolution of her marriage. It is an “estrogen vision quest” if you will and one woman’s self search for meaning in her life.

Yah, I read it. It was recommended to me by so many who gushed that I would no be able to put it down…. Three chapters in and I wanted to throw the piece of self-indulgent shit clear across a cafĂ©.

Firstly, the writing is substandard. Who am I to judge? Excellent point. That being said I am judgmental, that’s who I am. And I paid $20 for the book…. Thus I have a financial entitlement to critique.

Secondly, I am a relatively intelligent member of the female sisterhood. Thus I feel a sense of personal, nay familial obligation to call one of my girls out when she is being a whiney, self-pitying, petulant child masquerading as modern day feminist’s response to Khalil Gibran.

Thirdly, this book/movie/movement is NOT what the women’s movement had in mind when it encouraged my generation to empower itself and search for, claim and reclaim autonomy.

The book is shit. Read it. Don’t read it. You are better off with a good trashy chick lit novel…. At least it’s honest. It does not pretend to be anything it’s not.

The movie… well… why did I see it? If I did not like the book, why subject myself? IN my defense… I did not realize the thing was well over two hours. I was also secretly wooed into thinking I might actually like the damn thing. Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem? How could it suck? It did. All two hours and 25 minutes of it.

It was not a shitty movie per se. The cinematography was great. I left wanting to travel to Bali more than ever. Julia Roberts wears a thin Italian belt with a sundress in one scene and I went out afterwards and bought a belt for the very same look. Lessons were leanred. However, the message of the movie was to teach women to LIVE. And I could not help but think, “if you have to go to Italy to learn to eat, India to learn to pray and Bali to check in with a medicine man in order to make sure you’ve don it all right…. Then sweetie… you aren’t empty, you’re just an idiot who was too vapid to begin with.

If the world needs to FILL you up, then you have seriously got it all wrong and perhaps you’d best put the book down and begin psychotherapy. I could not help but wonder when it became so much about what the world has to offer. When did this EGO BOOM explode to such a point that it was all about what experiences give us? How did it become so one sided?

Is there not a balance about what we also GIVE to the world? Does not our own contribution matter? Are we no longer defined by what we PROVIDE as much as with what we TAKE?

This book/movie was becoming less about self-reflection and more the manifesto for selfish chicks the world over.

Let me break it down for you…. First comes EAT…. A journey through Italy….
This part of the book/movie is really about how the author, “Liz” needs to leave New York in order to eat without guilt. Liz feels the world imposes its perfection upon her and thus you must escape to Italy in order to enjoy a pizza without counting calories. IN the movie we see Julia Roberts shoving pizza down her throat in a triumphant “screw skinny” moment praising the need for a larger pair of jeans. Yes, Julia gained ten pounds filming the movie. I am sure; she has since taken it off.

The NHANES study showed that women who gain 10 pounds increase their risk of developing hypertension (high blood pressure) by 56%. I love the pizza in Naples as much as Julia, but I’m not willing to increase my stroke risk by 40% for it.

What’s the message? Screw the world, pass the Parmigianino? Is this what we want our daughters to learn? Eat shamelessly? Abandon all conventions? Given the epidemic of Obesity in North America, I would safely say the message has been received and well distorted enough.

In India, we find Liz learning how to meditate. I will give her this. An article published in 1995 in the Journal of General Hospital Psychiatry shows a significant benefit at 3 months and after 3 years of follow up in 22 patients with anxiety that were enrolled in a supervised meditation program. Ongoing compliance with the meditation practice was also demonstrated in the majority of subjects at 3 years. Please note- these people meditated for at least 90 minutes 5 days a week.

I am too shallow to spend an hour and a half alone with my thoughts. I like my neuroses just fine, thank you very much.

Finally we come to LOVE.

I’m a fan of love. But I don’t need to go to Bali to do it. Hell I love Bali. It has always been on my “To Go To” list. That being said…. This whole love chapter lost complete credibility for me when Liz cites that she’ll never marry and 3 years later publishes a new book on her marriage.

To make matters worse, I recently saw an advertisement for “Eat, Pray, Love” merchandise. YES…. Thanks to our friends at the home shopping network you can buy everything from “Eat, Pray, Love” bath towels and jewelry to “Eat, Pray, Love” prayer mats and lotions. This to me is proof that the author really did leave her soul somewhere in the South Pacific.

But perhaps I’ve been mistaken. Perhaps this Gilbert lady was in fact a visionary and I was in fact in error. I mean who am I to speak? She WROTE the book; I just read it. I am merely another blogger with a bone to pick. Elizabeth Gilbert has had international acclaim. She has had thousands of book signings and the afformentioned “stint” on the Home Shopping Network as well as appearances on Oprah and Good Morning America.

My book signing was 5 years ago at the Chapters in Lethbridge, Alberta; A modest event but there WAS cake and coffee. Oprah has yet to respond to any of my emails and the last time I had any contact with the Home Shopping Network was to return a strand of pearls I wore on my wedding day 13 years ago (something borrowed, you know).

So there it is my cyber sisters…. The medical evidence for the latest ovarian cultural zeitgeist. Eat and get hypertension, Pray if you have anxiety. Love you can find anywhere. I’ve saved you hours of reading and a $12 movie ticket.

WHO AM I to judge Elizabeth Gilbert? This book/movie made a generation of woman could thousands, nay millions of women be wrong?

Well the answer is quite plain. YES they could.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I Did for my Summer Vacation

I have recently made a discovery. This is not a landmark finding and I am quite sure that I am rather “late to the party”, so to speak. Bolstered by a new and fabulous friendship, I have begun watching MTV’s rather infamous reality television series “The Jersey Shores”. It began innocently enough. My girlfriend assured me that I am both smart enough AND deep enough to entertain myself with this kind of cultural journey. I was intrigued and always on the lookout for a new way to escape from reality (hence my shoe closet). I decided to take an entertaining leap into the down the social looking glass that is MTV.

So I downloaded, legally of course, (even God has an I-Tunes account) season one. Like a giddy schoolgirl with her new school supplies, I excitedly transferred the entire season to my IPad and let my journey begin.

The Jersey Shores is a reality television series which takes place in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. This, I understand is New Jersey’s answer to a summer beach community. Filming also took place in Atlantic City, Toms River and Neptune; all small seaside communities in New Jersey.

The show follows the “lives” of eight cast members living in a summery beach house together for a summer in Seaside Heights. In exchange for room, board, tequila and cheap fame, the cast members are required to work shifts at their landloard/employers t-shirt shop.

I have not gotten to know each cast member well as I am just finishing the first episode. However, in the limited 30 minutes I have spent with “J-Wow”, “Snookie” and “the Situation”, I have formed several clear conclusions.

The series premiered in 2009 and has stereotyped Italian American more than any Scorsese film could ever hope to do. Within the first five minutes of episode one, I was being lulled into a cultural offensive bath where using slang words were now acceptable terminology.

Cast members openly refer to themselves affectionately as “Guidos and Guidettes” and this is not just acceptable but complementary. My left wing now bruised and broken ten minutes into my “Jersey Shorathon” as I searched desperately for the moral imperative.

A word about the stereotyping and the language. UNICO is an American organization of Italian Americans established in the 1920’s to promote higher education and patriotism among Italian Americans.

In a letter to the network, UNICO called the show a ", deliberate and disgraceful attack on Italian Americans...". UNICO National President Andre DiMino said in a statement "MTV has festooned the 'bordello-like' house set with Italian flags and red, white and green maps of New Jersey while every other cutaway shot is of Italian signs and symbols. They are blatantly as well as subliminally bashing Italian-Americans with every technique possible..." Around this time, other Italian organizations joined the fight, including the Order Sons of Italy in America and the Internet watch-dog ItalianAware.

I am a BIG supporter of Italy. Hell my closet is as much of a monument to the country as the Trevvi Fountain. I am also a big fan of LANGUAGE…. Any language.
Was it too much to ask to have my Shorathon with a side of Politically Correctness? Could we not save the cultural insults and prejudices for Fox network?

And then it happened. The veil of conscientious dirty guilt washed off me as quickly as Pauly-D’s spray tan regimen. This show had lessons to teach, principles to convey. There was as much of a moral imperative to this seaside summer raunch as there was to a Girlfriend’s Guide. Perhaps the two could even meet on a higher ground… say somewhere outside upstate Connecticut for a Cross-Cultural Camp David that would appeal to self-tanners and non-self tanners alike?

If life truly is the best educational system available then here is what GGTH has to teach my new young flock of Jersey gulls….
1. Nicknames:

Everyone on this show has a nickname. Mike is called “the Situation” because his abdominal muscles are said to be “a Situation”. There is Jennifer, aka “J-Wow”, Angelina is “Jolie” (obviously) and Nicole is “Snooki”. Paul is of course a DJ and hence the “Pauly D” (the J is silent) and Sammi is “Sweetheart” and true to her name and I quote, “The sweetest bitch you will ever meet”. I will hold my call on this one until I have seen a few more episodes but check back my cyber sisters…. I will let you know.

All nicknames have been chosen by the individual. Nicknames first began in the 12th century in England when people were given “Nick Names” based on their parents occupation or even skills.

American use more nicknames than any other country.

A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology in the early 1990’s, examined whether a child’s first name influences the scores they receive in a standardized grade six testing. The study showed that a child’s nickname played a role in their own performance on the test and their self perceptions of attractiveness to others. Moreover, children with desirable first names scored higher on a standardized test of academic achievement. One possible interpretation is that teachers expect children with more popular names to do better and so, over time, those positive expectations translate into actual higher levels of achievement.

One particularly suggestive study, done in 1954, looked at 1,682 case histories of children treated in a mental health clinic in New Jersey. Boys with unusual first names (names that occurred only once or twice among the group of children) were more likely to have moderate or severe emotional disturbance, compared with boys with more common names. (The same effect was not found among the girls in the clinic, however.)

Perhaps this is why they all do tequila shots? Are they self medicating?

2. Self Tanning:

Enough said. This one is easy. Pauly D has a tanning bed in his home. A meta-analysis published a few months ago in the Lancet, looking at 20 different melanoma studies concludes the risk of skin cancer jumps by 75 percent when people start using tanning beds before age 30. Experts also found that all types of ultraviolet radiation caused worrying mutations in mice, proof the radiation is carcinogenic.

I know that a name like “Pauly D” implies some sort of superhero powers, however, even Superman had Krypton Pauly…. Beware young man. Save the UV bed for your fifties. When it comes to tanning…. “spray it, don’t lay it?”

3. Alcohol:

Tequila is really not a food group. I’m 30 minutes into the first episode, it is 10 am and Snooki is doing shots. I’m not a square (okay I am) but women who drink do have 1.7 times the risk of breast cancer as those who don’t. Snooki… do your double D’s a favour and put the shot glass down.

4. Protein Shakes:

The show has a high protein shake factor. I am a fan of fitness. I hate protein shakes. I have always maintained that I will only drink my meals AFTER my first stroke. A small trial published in new England Journal of Medicine showed increased weight loss in Obese patients who used a protein supplement for breakfast relative to those who did not. Another study in the Journal of American Physiology published in 1990 showed no benefit of drinking protein shakes vs. eating protein apart from convenience. Drink up “Situation” if you must…. it will not kill you, nor will it, according to the evidence, make you stronger.

And so my list complete, my lessons learned, I am off to finish the watching the first season of The Jersey Shores as only a vapid voyeurist can. I call it cultural research. That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Now Hear This!

With summer comes sunshine and tan lines and open-air days. It also brings an unusual amount of twenty something men in automobiles they clearly cannot afford with stereo systems the size of a small American state.

Amidst the sun and the blue skies comes the smell of the ocean and fresh air. Never wanting to leave any of the senses behind comes what can only be described as hip-hop’s solution to the sonic boom.

Am I getting old, my dear girlfriends? Is it a sign that my youth is behind me when I walk through the streets to a car stereo blazing and all I want to do is to ask the lovely Jay-Z wanna be behind the wheel to “turn the damn noise down”!

Here I am strolling along English Bay and a Cadillac Escalade is stopped at the light with the latest Rhinanna song blaring as clearly as if “Miss Thing” were up on a speaker singing for God and Glory. The base is turned up to such a level in order to enhance my listening pleasure. Rest assured I can now HEAR and FEEL the beat as the environmentally sound vehicle zooms off to fulfill its higher purpose. It is now easily six blocks away and all I can feel is the pounding as clearly as if I had my own little Escalade right where my heart used to be.

Is this what P. Diddy, or Mary J or Alicia (Goddess of Goddess) wanted when they created their perfect art forms? Did they intend for Johnny or Janey come lately to take their “sweet wheels” for a ride, hubcaps spinning, light blaring and music as loud as gunfire for all the world to literally hear? Did they honestly intend a crack in the silence and the sound barrier that could be heard round the world?

Make no mistake, I am a huge fan and patron of the arts (my closet is proof of said endorsement) and I firmly believe in a person’s right to self-expression. There should however be some sort of rules of order when it comes to letting one’s freedom reign.

Rule number one: THE NOISE LEVEL:

If I can feel your car music coming before I can see your car. Turn the damn tunes down.

Rule number two: THE SING A LONG:

Play it loud and play it proud. Hell, sing along if you must. But the world is NOT your living room and just because you are in the safety of your own automobile does not mean that the windows must be open and 21 guns blazing. The intersection on Robson and Burrard is not the time and place for your own personal rock concert.

Rule number three: THE SONG CHOICE:

When choosing what genre of music to blast on Daddy’s car stereo, ask yourself the following questions,
1. What does this song say about me as an individual? Do I want the world to know that I know all the words to the latest TIMBERLAND manifesto?
2. Is my affection for country music something I want to truly advertise?
3. Given what Brittany Spears has done for humanity, should I be blasting her greatest hits album to the masses, or is she better left to the privacy of my bathroom?

The human ear is divided into 3 parts -- the external, middle and inner ear. The inner ear is located inside the skull and is quite frankly the ear’s “business end”. It is the most complex part of the ear. The soft tissue of the inner ear is made of different types of cells and nerves, all arranged in a pattern on a thin sheet of tissue. Noise induced hearing loss results from damage over time to the nerves and cells of the inner ear. Piss the inner ear off too much and you will get permanent hearing loss.

Whether noise harms your hearing depends on the loudness, the pitch and the length of time you are exposed to the noise. The loudness of a sound (measured in decibels, or dB) and the length of exposure are related. The louder the sound, the shorter the exposure can be before damage occurs. For example, 8 hours of exposure to 85-dB noise on a daily basis can begin to damage a person's ears over time. Using power tools (at about 100 dB), listening to loud stereo headsets (at about 110 dB), attending a rock concert (at about l20 dB) or hearing a gunshot (at 140 to 170 dB) may damage the hearing of some people after only a few times.

According to the Centre for Disease Control an estimated 17% of people ages 16-60 have experienced some form of permanent noise induced hearing loss. How many of them experienced said loss at the hand of a car stereo remains one of life great mysteries.

A study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine showed that the average sound level in a music club (or a bar) was 95-107 decibels well in the range for permanent hearing loss. 76% of club employees tested at 8 different clubs experienced some form of noise induced hearing loss.

A further study published in the Journal of the Canadian Family Physician in 1993 took 22 volunteers to a rock concert. Their hearing was tested before and after the concert and at 10-minute interval throughout to determine how long an exposure would be dangerous.

The study also placed the participants at different locations throughout the arena to determine where the “danger zones” would be. Interestingly it was NOT the group closest to the stage that received the highest exposure to noise. The study does not site where this group was sitting. However all participants in the arena received at least twice the accepted dose of noise (at least 240 decibels). The study went on to show that after 7 minutes of exposure the participants hearing began to decline with 12% experiencing residual effects to hearing loss 14 days later.

A car radio at full volume puts out about 170 decibels. This is almost twice the noise any ear will tolerate. If I extrapolate from the ROCK CONCERT DATA, that means that “Johnny Drive Loudly” needs about 10 minutes of Lady Gaga blasting on the radio every night for two solid months before he’s got a one in 10 chance of yelling “what?” for the rest of his life.

Multiply this by the numerous rides I am sure said DUDE takes around town on such a perfect summer night and I am ever so glad that my tax dollars may someday pay for his hearing aid. It’s the least I can do to repay him for sharing his “Top 40” with me on a regular basis. And alas another week ends and begins with me knowing that Karma is alive and well and living on the streets of Vancouver.