Yoohyun Park/Production Coordinator

From 19th century paintings to contemporary animations, Middle Easterners are over-sexualized

By: Kimia Tahaei, Staff Writer

Have you ever thought about the roots of stereotypes? Why are Middle Eastern women continuously depicted as sexual? Why is the culture of Easterners so heavily fetishized and exoticized? 

Palestinian-American cultural critic Edward Saïd gives a thorough explanation of this phenomenon in his renowned book, Orientalism.

Saïd argues that European colonizers provided distorted information regarding the Middle East, which led to a false production of "knowledge" — "knowledge" that instilled the erroneous belief that the West (also known as the Occident) was superior to the East (also known as the Orient). 

To spread their fictitious "knowledge" far and wide, the West decided to use art as a means of propaganda. At this point in history, European artists created numerous artworks with the primary purpose of advancing their political ideologies — European superiority. 

At this point in history, European artists created numerous artworks with the primary purpose of advancing their political ideologies — European superiority. 


Due to the West's misrepresentation of the Orient, Middle Easterners are paying a steep price, even today.

As Saïd repeatedly states throughout his book, Orientalism and whoever followed its principles did so with intentions of falsely exhibiting the East. To better understand how Middle Easterners are suffering the consequences of these former European paintings, we first have to understand the depths of this flawed misrepresentation. 

To begin, Middle Eastern women were persistently sexualized. Gérôme, a French pioneer of the Orientalism movement, fetishized Middle Eastern women and portrayed them as exotic in his paintings. He did so by frequently illustrating them as nude or semi-nude and often participating in provocative acts. 

Not only did he fetishize women, but he also managed to hypersexualize integral elements of Middle Eastern culture, like belly dancing. I find it particularly frustrating how Middle Eastern women have to suffer stigmatization daily because of a French painter's Occidental fantasies of the East. 

Due to his lack of knowledge on Middle Eastern culture, he fabricated a mass amount of false "knowledge" that led to fundamental components of the culture getting fetishized — this "knowledge" portrayed Middle Eastern women as exotic commodities and intrinsically sexual beings. 

This stereotyping has led to the hyper-sexualization of Middle Eastern women in books, films and even Disney movies.

Beyond Hollywood’s exotic depictions of “sexy belly dancers,” such stereotyping can even be seen in innocent children's movies. 

For instance, Princess Jasmine, a 16-year-old, was represented as erotic and was overly sexualized in the Disney movie Aladdin. In the movie, Jasmine and other young Arab women are shown in tops showing cleavage and midriff. Astonishingly, in one specific scene, Jasmine even overtly takes advantage of her sexuality to seduce an older male character — Jafar. 

This portrayal is particularly problematic for me because Jasmine is one of the only princesses who is so harshly sexualized. Almost every other princess wears modest dresses that cover their head to toe.

Not only is this problematic because cartoons intended for a young audience are including sexually suggestive imagery and themes, but it is also just blatantly disappointing to witness such poor cultural representation. It is incredibly disheartening that Orientalism has ruined one of the few occurrences in media where a young Middle Eastern girl can see herself represented in some way.

It is incredibly disheartening that Orientalism has ruined one of the few occurrences in media where a young Middle Eastern girl can see herself represented in some way.


I often imagine the lasting and destructive impacts that this misrepresentation leaves on a young Middle Eastern child. I wonder if they question whether they have to be sexual in order to receive a speck of representation in the media.

Overall, it is interesting to think about the evolution of propaganda that served colonialism in the promotion of Western domination. What was started by 19th-century European painters is still alive thanks to 21st-century directors. Although the form of propaganda has changed, the message of Eastern inferiority remains the same.

C/O Avel Chuklanov, Unsplash

Prioritizing work and school over social commitments is something to be proud of

By: Ardena Bašić, Contributor

The stereotype surrounding university and college years often involves abundant partying, going to events and socializing in general. While this is one way of ensuring one doesn’t miss out on “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunities, it sometimes needs to take a backseat to other priorities, namely school and work. While this might lead to some FOMO — fear of missing out — it is important to respect such prioritization when it arises and realize that the benefits far outweigh the costs. 

Even most schools recognize that social gatherings are an integral part of student life, ensuring that there are plenty of on-campus events to bring students together. Homecoming and Welcome Week activities offer such examples. While the concept of meeting and engaging with new people is intriguing in and of itself, most people also feel pressure to do so in order to ‘fit in’ and not miss out on such experiences. 

Unfortunately, it is quite arduous to try and attend all these events while balancing other responsibilities. It is crucial to realize that, while there is always a party around the corner, education and work needs to be prioritized to foster a stable and prosperous future. While this is an understandable concept, peer pressure and trying to adhere to the ‘norms’ of a post-secondary education may blur that important notion. 

The idea of FOMO has become even more pronounced after COVID-19. For more than a year, the majority of our get-togethers have either been cancelled or done through a screen. What’s more is that our obligations have also been more flexible, with many schools, jobs and extracurriculars being moved online or to a hybrid format to accommodate these unprecedented times. 

It is clear to see why most people, especially students, are eager to get back to a ‘new normal’. Yet, we also need to return to finding a balance between the things we want to do, and the things we need to do. 

It is clear to see why most people, especially students, are eager to get back to a ‘new normal’. Yet, we also need to return to finding a balance between the things we want to do, and the things we need to do.

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

When we decide to forgo an event in favour of an assignment or an extra work shift, we should really be proud of ourselves for being able to make that decision. When there are so many things on our plate, it can be difficult to be honest with ourselves on what we really need to focus on. 

This is especially true given that transcending societal norms can be daunting, especially  considering the potential reactions from one’s peers. Instead of seeing yourself as a “buzz-kill” the next time you skip a party, reconsider that perspective to realize the effort you are putting into yourself and your future development. 

Alongside overcoming the barriers to making such a decision, putting in a little more work over play can also help ebb the difficulty one has finding employment or a spot in a post-graduate program. Although the potential increase in grades from extra study time may not be applicable everywhere, the skills in work ethic, time management and organization are invaluable for most employers.

Although the potential increase in grades from extra study time may not be applicable everywhere, the skills in work ethic, time management and organization are invaluable for most employers.

Ardena Bašić, Contributor

Moreover, if time is spent on part time and internship opportunities, that will allow for an even wider range of capabilities and relevant experiences to bolster one's resume. It may not be transparent at first, but a work-life balance — or even a scale with a slight prioritization towards work — pays off graciously in the long run. 

While you may think partying means you’re enjoying your youth, there is more to this stage of life than just socializing. This is the time when we are working to search for what we are passionate about, find out what our true life goals are, and continue to grow and learn each and every day. Despite what may come from missing out on one area of life from time-to-time, there are always endless new things to discover behind another door.

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In the year 2016, companies continue to put new products onto shelves that are distinctly marketed for specific genders. Obviously, this is problematic for many reasons.

For one, unnecessarily gendered products avouch the gender binary. Today, men and women live very similar lives. We grow up together, attend the same universities and work in the same offices. There are few distinctions that require us to constantly think about how our gender dictates our role in society.

But when products that we use in our daily lives fall into two distinct categories, we are reminded that society really does see important differences between male and female. Affirming this gender binary becomes very problematic for those who don’t fit into it. With the silent assimilation of these products onto the shelves of our local stores, we render those who reside outside the typical gender binary invisible.


Obviously, these types of products are most impactful on those whose assigned gender at birth do not conform to their identity. However, it’s a problem for everyone else as well. From what we wear to how we move and talk, we make efforts to act in gendered ways in order to conform to what is expected of us, forcing ourselves to fit into the binary and reinforcing needless stereotypes that further make it difficult for those who do not identify with a certain gender. Often, gendered products not only reinforce the binary, but also suggest that women and men are expected to play unequal roles in society. Consider toys for children: girls are dentists’ assistants and boys are dentists; girls are princesses and men are kings.

In addition, there is a financial disparity that results due to gendered products. While it could be (wrongfully) argued that these products are only things for “emotionally sensitive” people to fuss over, there are real-world consequences as well. It has often been shown that the masculine and feminine version of a product are not priced the same. Typically, the one marketed towards women is more expensive. Due to the distinctions between even the most benign products (e.g. razors), it slowly becomes engrained within shoppers that there is a “right” product for them, that it makes sense to shell out more money to buy a product that most suits their needs as either male or female. However, this is but a marketing ploy; realistically, there are no differences between the two products. Women are therefore paying more for products that aren’t much different besides being the colour pink.


In truth, unnecessarily gendered products are as problematic as they are dumb. Companies often employ the excuse that gendered products are beneficial to shoppers because men and women are fundamentally different. For instance, many of these products advertise that the version for women is smaller than the one for men in order to fit women better. Gendered ear plugs are a prime example of this.

Again, this is an issue for many people who do not fall into the two distinct categorizations. Moreover, to argue against the reasoning behind these products, it would make more sense to create earbuds of various sizes and let the buyer decide what is the best for them instead of making assumptions on their behalf. Gendering ear plugs and having the distinction be “smaller for women, larger for men” is a vast generalization. These types of products make larger women or smaller men feel invisible. In a society that already pushes for women to be small and dainty, we don’t need earbuds to reinforce this outdated notion. The same goes for the stereotypes we perpetuate against men. Companies need to start catching up with the times and realize that what they may think as harmless marketing tactics do cause very real and upsetting ripples in the world they create their products for.

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Valentine’s Day serves as an annual reminder that I will likely, one day, turn into a cat lady. This concerns me for a couple of reasons, the most important being that I despise cats. If their condescending, territorial stares aren’t enough to detract from their appeal, then consider that they’ve been known to eat their dead owners’ bodies. Valentine’s Day might incite oozing feelings of passion for some, flowery declarations of love for others or even just a general indifference. Whenever Valentine’s Day swings around, I usually think of myself not alone, per se, but surrounded by two dozens of cats all feeding on my decaying body. Happy Valentine’s Day, indeed.

Perhaps you'll spot the obvious flaw my brain tends to miss when it conjures up these imaginary soap operas. If I don’t like cats, then I don’t have a problem because I’ll never actively decide to own a cat in the first place–let alone two dozens. No one sane would, which is maybe where the parasite Toxoplasma gondii comes into play. T. gondii alters rodent neural systems so that a rat becomes attracted to the scent of cats (specifically, cat pee) and is more likely to get eaten. Once in the feline digestive system, T. gondii can happily complete its life cycle. That’s not all: T. gondii has also been shown to use humans as hosts.

Although largely asymptomatic in humans, some have suggested T. gondii is to blame for extreme ailurophilic (cat loving) behaviour. The more cats you own, the more waste they produce and the greater the likelihood of T. gondii infecting your brain. It’s a very convoluted kind of feedback, and without any empirical evidence, hard to accept as anything but a conspiracy theory. Along with the cats comes the “crazy”: despite the minute number of historical cases, studies of people with an acute T. gondii infection show they exhibit psychological symptoms that resemble schizophrenia.

The association of female cat owners with the “crazy cat lady” stereotype only reinforces the unequal perception we are trying so hard abolish: that a person’s worth based on their achievements ... cannot compare to the worth of someone who has established a committed relationship.

A pseudoscientific basis for the “crazy cat lady” phenomenon, however, still fails to explain its inherent association with a pathetic and fornlorn soul, particularly one who lacks enough social skills to find a significant other. My friend recently recalled an instance where she had been playing Neko Atsume on her phone, a highly addictive game where the player purchases products to attract and collect a variety of virtual cats. When her brother saw this upon passing by, he commented (I imagine, in a snarky “you should punch me in the face” tone) on it being good preparation for her real life.

No one denies that my friend's story made for a good laugh, but her brother's association of a cat lady with spinsterhood, and ultimately, failure, is proof that a stigma still exists surrounding solitary living.

Yes, the world has come a long way in terms of recognizing that a woman can be successful in both self-acceptance and her career, even if it means she is not romantically involved, but it is essential that we continue to move away from outdated ideals as a unfounded basis for criticizing other people.

The association of female cat owners with the “crazy cat lady” stereotype only reinforces the unequal perception we are trying so hard to abolish: that a person's worth based on their achievements, such as someone who puts their career first, cannot compare to the worth of someone who has established a committed relationship. Everyone is unique, and as we all have different ideas of what makes us happy, it is far from our place to judge someone by the traditional standards of a fulfilling life.

When I say Valentine’s Day serves as a reminder of my probable future as a cat lady, what alarms me is not literally being forced to live alongside domesticated animals so much as the irrational fear of growing old and dying alone. With Valentine’s Day approaching, we tend to forget that we are constantly surrounded by the people (and pets) we love. So love the things you love without reserve. Love yourself (although not in the way Justin Bieber suggests). If that makes you “crazy,” then so be it. All the best people are.

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By: Alon Coret

I usually spend holiday dinners with my girlfriend and her family. And of course on such occasions it is important to create good impressions, as well as partake in the specially prepared meal. From my experience, however, this often involves the consumption of meat.

The awkward thing is, I am vegetarian.

Wait. Pause. Why did I think of this as an “awkward” situation? I mean yeah, sure, I may be that slightly annoying guest who does not partake in the central component of the meal. But at the same time, Sarah (my girlfriend) and I have been dating for three years, and her family is not the type to take offence to such trivialities. There must be something else at play, and it took me a while to understand what exactly it is.

After pondering the issue some more, I realized that refusing meat is not about dinner table etiquette so much as it is about gender roles – at least, from my perspective. I have often been told that I “eat like a girl.” Sadly, my liking of quinoa, soy milk, and multigrain cereal is not helping my case. On date nights with Sarah, waiters often confuse our meals: “no, no, no. The steak is for her; I ordered the butternut squash quiche.” Moreover, Sarah’s father formerly served in the Canadian army, towers a good two or three inches above me (and I am already 6’2”), and can probably knock me out with one small punch. He also loves football; I can’t even name two players. Therefore, my choice of dinnertime veggies is the cherry on top of a deficient-in-masculine-gender-stereotypes-yet-needs-to-impress-girlfriend’s-father cake.

So here comes yet another question: why is it that food is gendered in this way? What makes steak and beer “male” foods, and what exactly is “feminine” about fruity drinks and chocolate cravings? And why is it that women outnumber men in meat-free diets – 2:1 among vegetarians and 4:1 among vegans?

A quick Google search came up with an answer I expected: it’s all about evolution. Men, who were traditionally hunters, have grown to see meat as a valued prize. Women, on the other hand, were more involved in gathering roles (e.g. grains, fruits), and thus prefer sweet tastes to bitter ones (strawberry daiquiri, anyone?). Another explanation has to do with protein intake requirements, which are somewhat higher in men than women (and meat is an obvious protein source).

These conjectures left me frustrated. They evoked biological reductionism, and reinforced the notion that we are living 21st-century lives in the bodies of hunter-gatherers. And, of course, they gave backing to the gender stereotypes associated with food – men prize meat, women like sweets. So, then, what does a vegetarian man say to himself? “Yeah, evolution dictates that I should consume meat…but evolution is SO passé. I am, like, post-evolution.” No. And how does a woman who likes traditionally male foods and beverages (e.g. steak, beer) affirm her femininity when our food culture encourages her to eat a zero-percent fat probiotic yogurt?

These are some good questions to which I currently lack answers. But I think that being conscious of the sociocultural context of our foods can help us make choices that step beyond the constraints of evolution and gender. So, whether you choose Turkey or Vurkey, I would like to wish you a wonderful holiday season.

Photo Credit: Levon Biss

By: Ismaël Traoré 

Brock University has been in the news lately for a Halloween party hosted by Isaacs/BUSU, where a group of four people (three white men and one brown man) dressed as the Jamaican Bobsled team and the three white men wore blackface: they painted their faces so they can “look” black — which apparently means shoe polish-like.

They won first place for best costume, which came with a $500 stipend. This is the third time I am aware of this happening at Isaacs. The first was in 2007. An all-white Bobsled team with blackface won second place. The second, in 2009, saw a white male with blackface emulating Lil Wayne. He won first prize with an $800 prize. Isaacs promised to not repeat their mistake when it was brought to their attention in 2009. Yet here we are, again.

Blackface has played a powerful role in the trauma and holocaust of black persons. An example of this is the movie Birth of Nations that revitalized the Klan. Because trauma is passed on generationally, we cannot dismiss how the past affects us today. The practice of cross-race painting by white persons triggers generational pain, and perpetuates cultural racism. Cultural racism, specifically discursive racism, is when a dominant group uses mediums of communication (ie. popular media, education, etc) to speak about, rather than with, a minority group, and in a manner that is negatively selective.

in these same channels of communication. While some may banalize it as mere talk — “get over it” — discourses shape our implicit thoughts, are stored in our collective cultural repertoire, and explain, for instance, why in a 2002 study by Joshua Correll and colleagues, titled “The Police Officer’s Dilemma, a Study on the Fatality of a Fraction of a Second,” white participants were quicker at shooting an armed black man in a video game simulation.

The fear-mongering of Muslims as terrorists is an example of this. Cultural racism not only is the practice of a dominant group speaking about an oppressed group selectively and stereotypically, but it also silences or tokenizes their voice than an armed white man, and more likely to not shoot an unarmed white target than an unarmed black target.

In short, white participants hesitated longer to shoot armed or unarmed white men, and were more likely to not shoot them when not armed and to misperceive unarmed black men as armed. White life matters more. These results were found not to be related to cognitive prejudice, but knowledge of racial stereotypes associated with black men that implicitly induce bias.

Blackface is a discursive medium through which white persons in the past and in the present practice cultural racism by perpetuating stereotypes about black persons through costumes, by selectively “representing” black persons. It is not a coincidence that blackface costumes nowadays are primarily of rappers, gangsters, or athletes. This is a reflection of the white imagination of black identity and black life. It is also what author Chimamanda Adichie speaks about in her fascinating TED talk called “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Many Jamaicans consider Cool Runnings offensive for it misrepresents Jamaicans by exaggerating a caricature, playing on stereotypes of “yes mawn,” and giving the save the day role to yet another white person. The actors were not even Jamaican. So while some may think a Bobsled blackface costume is “praising” or “celebrating” Jamaicans or Black people, this could not be further from the truth for it perpetuates stereotypes, continues a practice of cultural racism, and triggers and creates more generational trauma.

There is another matter to ponder: why is the practice of cross-race painting significant- ly over-represented by white persons and under-represented by persons of color? The very fact that “whiteface” is so infrequent as to be negligible is not a coincidence considering that behaviours do not occur in a vacuum. It is a reflection of a racial order that practices racism that has made it possible for white persons to consider blackness as a “thing”; to dehumanize blackness to an object such that it can be taken apart from the humans that have said skin colour, to then “wear” blackness without regard to how this may impact onlookers who are black, to “wear” blackness without a sense of repercussion or accountability whatsoever, and to defend continuing a practice that offends others by using target-blaming and “stop being insensitive” privileged rhetorics.

The blackface of the Brock bobsled team is less a reflection of costume accuracy, and more of a racialized order hierarchy and continuing history that encourages the mocking, fetishizing, and appropriation of those who are marginalized and have less social qua discursive influence. This behaviour exists within a culture that gives power to its dominant majority and absolves them from their action.

It is also a behavior that exists within a culture in which mainly, though not exclusively, white persons do not have to develop racial etiquette and cross-cultural competency to exist. Persons of colour, by the very nature of them being marginalized, do not have the luxury to take skin-colour issues lightly for skin-colour has material consequences.

"Sexy Indian Princess" and "Eskimo Cutie" are words I never thought I'd see in a university campus bookstore. And yet under their new-and-improved Campus Store moniker, McMaster's bookstore is now selling Halloween costumes - and very offensive ones at that.

Every year I see cringe-worthy concoctions in line for TwelvEighty’s ever-popular Halloween club night. Aside from the revealing choices of many club-goers and the frequent rude joke outfits (ahem, six-foot-tall penises), the worst offenders continue to be the racist and culturally insensitive.

Perhaps it’s a tired request: dress with some respect on Oct. 31 and the party days that surround it. But based on the “costumes” that continue to proliferate the last week of October, and the merchandise being sold on our very own campus, it’s clearly a conversation worth rehashing.

First Nations costumes are probably the most common of the most inappropriate found around this time of year.

Donning the traditional dress of First Nations peoples because you like moccasins and hipster clothing ads have made it cool to wear feather headdresses is not okay. Doing so stereotypes and appropriates the culture of a diverse group of peoples, erases their identity, and ignores the history of colonization and genocide that is regrettably intrinsic to their relationship with Caucasian settlers (and that includes you, even now, even “after all these years”). Their culture and practice is disrespected through parodic – and always hypersexualized – costuming.

Apparently this is news to Campus Store, who offer three sexed-up First Nations costumes for women: Indian Princess, Sexy Indian Princess, and Eskimo Cutie (complete with a disgusting "faux chocolate popsicle").

Many other Othered and marginalized groups also get “put on” for a day every October. Under no circumstances is sexualizing and insulting Indian, Mexican, Arabic or Asian cultures an acceptable thing to do. Not even for a day, not even if you “mean it as a joke,” not even if you have one <insert ethnic group here> friend who thinks it’s really cool/funny/acceptable.

An ignorant celebrity culture helps normalize this kind of overlooked racism. In recent history when Paris Hilton dressed as a scantily-clad First Nations woman, Heidi Klum as Hindu Goddess Kali, NHL player Raffi Torres as Jay-Z (complete with blackface) and Chris Brown as a Middle-Eastern terrorist, it made cultural appropriation and stereotyping seem totally passable.

A great campaign put it succinctly last year with posters that read, “We’re a culture, not a costume. This is not who I am and this is not okay” along with people from marginalized groups holding pictures of people in costumes of their heritage. The examples it gave of costumed people in blackface, or mustached with sombreros, or wearing turbans – all inappropriately boiling a peoples down to one stereotypical image – were powerful, albeit oft-parodied since.

All it takes is a quick stroll down a costume aisle at a big-box party store to see that these costumes are as popular as ever, are readily available, and are clearly not being questioned or criticized enough to create change. Even here at McMaster, in 2013, on an educated and progressive campus.

This isn’t about being “politically correct,” or any other kind of buzz-word rhetoric. This is about being a decent human being. And it’s a perspective and mandate we need to wear and internalize this Halloween – and every other day of the year.    

The Campus Store has since removed the "Sexy Indian Princess," "Eskimo Cutie" and "Tackle Me" costumes discussed in this article. A full story on the developments will be published in this week's edition of The Silhouette. This article is updated from the editorial originally published in print on Oct. 24, 2013. 

Sarah O’Connor
The Silhouette

Whenever my sister and I reveal ourselves to be twins, most are shocked, some are disbelieving, and some look at us like an oddity, their eyes flickering from me to my sister trying to find some similarity to mark us as twins.

The first question is whether we’re identical or fraternal, which I always think is a silly question because my sister and I look nothing alike. My sister and I are fraternal twins, and yes - fraternal twins can be of the same gender, it isn’t just boy-girl twins who are fraternal. I look like our father, she like our mother; she has darker hair and eyes I have lighter; she loves theatre and I love writing. We look like sisters but we don’t look like twins, or rather we don’t look like how society views twins: identical. But even with our differences it doesn’t stop people from trying to find an ounce of similarity between us, some proof that we are in fact twins.

It’s after this question that things start to go downhill and my sister and I start to become an oddity. The questions of telepathy, dominance, which one of us is the good and evil twin, and fantasies start rising. We got the cruel prospect of death brought to us by the children we went to school with who told us that if one of us died the other would follow.

I don’t blame people for asking; it’s what pop culture promises. Twins are people who dress alike, talk alike, think alike, finish one another’s sentences and are alike in every way. Pop culture promises a variety of stereotypes from the nice twins, the creepy twins, the long lost twin, the troublesome twins but in all these varieties theses twins are the same person. Twins aren’t supposed to have an identity out of being a twin.And it’s easier for my sister and I because we are fraternal. We look different, dress differently; we talk differently and think differently. Our names are not anagrams of one another’s; our name’s don’t rhyme or alliterate. Our parents, while proud to have twins, wanted to raise us as individuals, as two separate people.

I can’t imagine how hard it must be for identical twins to break the twin stereotype. With people so obsessed with the similarities they ignore the differences. Being different and unique is celebrated for every person unless you are a twin.

Being a twin is just having a sibling, in this case you’ve had your sibling since before birth. And just like any normal older or younger sibling you have your similarities and differences. You are two different people who like some of the same things and some different things and it’s the same with being a twin.

I am a twin. My sister and I are not the same in every way, we cannot read each other’s minds, we do not dress identically, and we are not a sexual fantasy (that’s just gross). We are siblings and like all other siblings we get along but sometimes we fight. But it doesn’t stop us from loving and protecting one another like families should.

And if you care, by popular opinion I am the evil twin.

By: Matthew Greenacre


When one thinks about eating and body image disorders, the picture of a muscle bound behemoth benching twice his weight is one that rarely springs to mind. Rather, extensive public health campaigns focussing on anorexia and bulimia have planted the image of a skeletal teenage girl in the public consciousness to exhibit the gravity of a previously ignored and very real disease. This image isn’t untrue - despite the fact people of both sexes, of any age can be sufferers - the majority of cases of anorexia and bulimia occur in young women. Thus, for many people it may be difficult to consider the antithetical case of a young man with an uncontrollable desire to gain muscle mass as a similar type of disease.

Muscle dysmorphia is the term given to individuals who have intense anxiety about their physique, driving them to undergo strict dieting, obsessive weight lifting and exercise regimes. However, a person striving to sculpt not just a six or eight but a ten pack does not necessarily have dysmorphia. Like many psychological disorders, it can only be defined as a disease when it disrupts a person’s life or is a source of unhappiness. For example, if a person’s concern about his or her muscularity is extreme, negative, or interferes with his or her social or professional life, there may be an issue. It is not just a question of whether one takes steroids or lives in the gym. Regardless of how much muscle persons with dysmorphia develop, or fat they trim off, they remain self conscious and unhappy with their appearance.

The criteria that are used to diagnose muscle dysmorphia can be found in a brief questionnaire called the Muscle Dysmorphia Disorder Inventory, and the similarity to anorexia is undeniable. Unsurprisingly, muscle dysmorphia affects men more than women. It closely mirrors anorexia in that it is more prevalent among a specific gender in a defined age range. There is a genetic component to muscle dysmorphia, and it usually begins in mid to late adolescence. Also, both disorders manifest with the same extremely rigid routines of diet and/or exercise, and overbearing shame and guilt if this regimen is broken.

For those of us who were not lucky enough to be handed a six-pack along with acne and social awkwardness, worrying about one’s physique is a normal part of male adolescence and young adulthood. But why does the mild nagging sense of insecurity that many of us feel turn into an obsessive addiction to the gym for some? Just as glossy images of pencil thin models and photoshopped actresses have been blamed for anorexia, cultural values and popular media play a role in propagating muscle dysmorphia by fuelling the inadequacy that one study claims 95% of young men feel.

Aspirational advertising for men has been used long before the Bowflex infomercials placed an unused hunk of metal in everyone’s garage. From the 1920s onwards, the Italian bodybuilder Charles Atlas made a fortune selling the Dynamic Tension muscle-building program to millions of people. Part of his advertising was the story of how he turned himself from a “97 pound weakling” into a “muscleman” after having sand kicked in his face by a bigger, stronger boy. This almost laughably cliché story is actually reminiscent of case studies of muscle dysmorphia in which an incident, such as an offhand comment about a person’s appearance heightens his or her insecurity, triggering an obsessive anxiety about their body image. The sheer success of this industry suggests that it takes little more than a bodybuilder with a shake-weight to trigger men’s anxiety about the state of their biceps.

For the majority of people this anxiety is kept in perspective and does not govern our lives or prevent us from spending time with friends, as is the case for some. Though this disorder is only just being recognized and few people have been treated, case studies of patients that have received counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy show that these measures can be effective and eliminate sufferers’ misconceptions about their body. For some such men, it might be helpful to keep in mind a study that showed that women do not prefer broad shouldered, body builder body types any more than slim and slight male bodies.



Natalie Timperio

Senior InsideOut Editor

University isn’t all fun and games, is it?

Sure, we spend countless hours buried in the books, routinely depriving our bodies of sleep, all for that sought-after degree on which we base our livelihood. Academics, after all, are of utmost importance for many universities. In fact, schools are often ranked and categorized based on the quality of their education.

Yet, academics don’t necessarily work alone in shaping a university’s reputation. Much of it also has to do with a school’s social scene. And though this may not always be openly, if at all, endorsed by the university itself, it seems to find a way to prospective students.

In May, Playboy announced its annual list of the Top 10 Party Schools in North America. Rankings were based on male-female ratio, winning percentage of sports teams and other, similar categories.

Schools located near beaches, ski resorts and music venues were given bonus points. Data was collected from Playboy’s Facebook pages, surveys by student reps and interviews. “And as always, we factor in academic excellence, because the work hard, play hard ethic is the DNA of any party school,” according to Playboy editors.

The University of Western Ontario (UWO), located in London, Ontario, was ranked number four and was the only Canadian university to make the cut. Playboy’s take on UWO? “The bar scene is kicking. On Tuesdays students cram into Ceeps to play Sledgehammer Bingo, which is basically an excuse to strip and drink (as if one were needed) ... the on-campus scene is just as lively. One of the school’s dorms became so notorious for partying it was nicknamed the Zoo.”

But, let’s face it; it’s not as if we needed Playboy to tell us that UWO parties are of the highest quality. Across Southern Ontario, UWO is said to be the party school. And so it may be. Anyone who has had the opportunity to party like a Mustang can attest to this fact. The party culture seems to be very much ingrained in UWO as a university, which leaves something to be said about our very own school.

“The difference [between UWO and Mac] is that there is almost no ideal way to describe the social scene at Mac because it’s so diverse,” said Matthew Dillon-Leitch, President of the McMaster Students Union (MSU). “It’s everything for so many different people. The hardest thing to say sometimes is, ‘What is a Mac student?’”

McMaster’s diverseness is perhaps one reason why the social scene is of a lesser priority for McMaster in comparison to UWO.  “The stereotype is almost self-perpetuated [at UWO]. At Mac, we work hard, we play hard. We just have different ways to have fun,” said Dillon-Leitch.

Yet the work hard, play harder mentality does not necessarily dominate the UWO agenda. Andrew Forgione, President of the University Students’ Council (USC) at UWO, said, “I think people confuse London with UWO. [London] has a large number of pubs and clubs, and combined with Fanshawe has an influx of 50,000 students every year.” In fact, he added, Western “had to refuse acceptance to a large number of students as well, which shows that students know UWO is a great academic institution and also  the city allows for great social life.”

In fact, UWO is possibly best recognized globally for its high level of student satisfaction. “Our orientation program, clubs system and multiple services ensure that students have a number of opportunities to get involved and to grasp the experience that they wish to take throughout their university career,” said Forgione.

Yet, reputations can be difficult to shed, particularly when magazines like Playboy help to perpetuate the stereotype. But perhaps Western’s reputation is simply inflated. Sure, UWO may attract that party-goer we recall so well from high school – and so what? Even then, it’s not as if every UWO student possesses the party persona.

“I strongly believe that we do not ‘party’ any more than any other university in Canada, but since the city is so concentrated with its Richmond Row core and people have such a great time when they come to UWO, it may be misconstrued. Students know when to have a good time, and when to buckle down, and this is evident if you try to find a seat in any of our libraries on a Friday night.”

Conversely, McMaster campus is nearly deserted on weekends. This is no doubt a result of the fact that McMaster is largely a commuter campus which, in turn, severely impacts McMaster’s social scene. While UWO has far fewer commuters than McMaster, so too is UWO less disconnected with its home city in comparison to McMaster. In fact, Hamilton is quite divided, with extreme disparities, between not only areas within downtown Hamilton itself, but also the lower city and the Hamilton mountain, which is often seen as foreign territory for McMaster students.

Speaking from personal experience, Dillon-Leitch said that “when you’re growing up at Mac, Hess is the line between Mac and downtown ... but there’s so much more to Hamilton than Hess and Westdale.” Encouraging students to engage with the Hamilton community is one of Dillon-Leitch’s top priorities. Rebuilding McMaster’s social scene is something that Dillon-Leitch said he feels very passionate about: “We have students involved in all these different pockets on campus ... but you don’t necessarily always feel a part of this greater McMaster community ... It’s something that needs to get better. But it’s been improving even just in time I’ve been here.”

At a second glance, Western’s reputation may have little to do with our conventional understandings of partying and may be more so a reflection of the strong communal ties among its students. After all, people who play together stay together. Though this is something that McMaster lacks. Rather than grudgingly acknowledging UWO’s existence, perhaps we have a thing or two to learn from them.

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