Singer Taylor Swift, talking in today’s newspaper about combatting her eating disorder, wrote, “I worked hard to retrain my brain that a little extra weight means curves, shinier hair and more energy.” This is the pressure of the image-makers who would tell her she was either too thin - not enough of a “booty” - or too fat - having a sufficiently curvaceous backside meant her stomach wasn’t flat enough. At one point she was UK size 2, about the size of a very small child, and even now is only a size 10. I’m not sure how tall she is but if she’s about my height (around 5ft 5in - not excessively tall) than size 10 is rather skinny.
She also wrote and about disregarding her father’s instruction not to criticise republican politicians who talked about Tennessee Christian values. “I live in Tennessee. I am a Christian. That’s NOT what I stand for,” she wrote.
She went on to describe being almost conditioned to respond to praise and to shape her life around that. “I’ve been trained to be happy when you get lots of praise ... Like, those pats on the head were all that I lived for. I was so fulfilled by approval that that was it. I became what everyone wanted me to be.”
Oddly enough, that view coincides with something I heard on the radio. A female economist was interviewing a well-known American professor of economics. (No, I don’t remember the names of either the interviewer or the interviewee because as a rule economists don’t come into my sphere very much.) They were considering why there are so few female economists and the professor gave an interesting explanation. In her experience female students of economics continue to study quite happily while they are getting A+ or A grades. When they get A- they become a little shakey about continuing. And when they get B grades they tend to drop out and go and study something else. The male students, on the other hand, continue quite happily with B grades or even lower. It seems, said the professor, that women need those “pats on the head” to encourage them to continue. If their chosen field does not provide enough of them, then they transfer into a field where the pats on the head are more frequent.
And it’s not just a question of seeking an easier route.
Are we really so conditioned? Is it something in our nature or is it the way we are treated as children? Why do boys not have the same need to seek praise?
Just another modern conundrum!