On OkCupid, a dating site known for lengthy questionnaires that help people pin down potential partners, politics has become the most popular category. More than 1.2 million people who use OkCupid said they prefer to date people who share their political views. Women were more likely to say so than men. The platform recently began offering users a “voter badge,” a digital equivalent of an “I Voted” sticker.
People who have been out of the dating pool for a while may see this as a sea change. “For my generation and most generations before me, it was, ‘Do not talk politics until you’re down the path of a relationship,’” said Melissa Hobley, 40, OkCupid’s chief marketing officer. “Now it’s ‘I don’t even want to see you in my lineup of potential people to chat with if your politics on certain issues don’t align with mine, or if you are not a voter.’”
Political Deal Breakers
When Richard Schmitz, 31, a founder of a marketing agency, moved from New York to Scottsdale, Ariz., he said he was screened by a match. “I had a Hinge date who texted me, ‘Good morning, I think we need to get this out of the way,’” he said. She told him that most of her beliefs are very conservative, that she plans to vote for President Trump, and that if her preference offends him, it is best for them not to meet.
Mr. Schmitz was pleasantly surprised. “In New York, it’s very normal and common to see a girl who has ‘If you vote Trump swipe left. Liberals only,’” he said. In Manhattan, he found his dating pool limited and turned to Filter Off, a platform that offers virtual speed dating sessions for people with specific interests, like veganism, the ketogenic diet or a political party. After his struggles in New York City, he said the text he received in Scottsdale was “refreshing.”
Living in New York, Pat Cassidy, 27, who works in investment banking, has found that a common deal breaker for potential dates is not necessarily his conservatism but whether he helped elect the current president. “The screening question is, ‘Did you vote for Trump or are you a Trump supporter?” he said.
Mr. Cassidy finds himself having to explain his politics, which are “right of center.” “Looking back five years, I do not know if I would have tried to explain myself that much pre-Trump,” he said. “I think the political climate generally has made me feel the need to be a bit more nuanced or tactical about how I position myself.”
Under Armour gives up on one of its big acquisitions, Uber Eats faces complaints over its free delivery policy for Black restaurants and Facebook takes another step to limit QAnon-related content. This is your Daily Crunch for October 30, 2020.
Five years after Under Armour acquired MyFitnessPal for $475 million, it’s selling the diet- and exercise-tracking app to investment firm Francisco Partners for $345 million. It’s also shutting down the Endomondo platform, which it acquired at the same time.
Under Armour says it’s making these moves so that it can focus its brand on its “target consumer – the Focused Performer.” However, the diminished price suggested there may be more going on here, perhaps the business likely suffering as companies like Peloton and Apple (with its upcoming Fitness+ service) hog the spotlight in the casual fitness category.
It’s also worth noting that Under Armour isn’t completely giving up on digital products — it will continue operating the MapMyFitness platform, including MapMyRun and MapMyRide.
Facebook’s ability to create filter bubbles, promote divisive content, and accelerate political polarization is no surprise to users who’ve kept up with the platform’s many scandals. But two new studies point to pitfalls with commonly proposed solutions and point to a troubling double bind for the 190 million Americans who rely on Facebook for news.
Encouraging users to sample other news sources, one study finds, can instead cause users to double down on their beliefs. Another found that logging off entirely reduces polarization but leaves people politically disengaged and disinterested. Sixteen years in, we’re still only beginning to understand how Facebook is shaping us.
Internally, the company has begun to quietly acknowledge the trade-off for users between staying informed and being algorithmically driven toward divisive content. But little has been done. Politicians remain focused on accusations of bias, and Facebook is busy proving it treats conservative and liberal users impartially. Executives routinely emphasize the matching Republican and Democratic criticism of the platform. If neither side is happy, they say, neither is being favored.
But conservative and liberal users have very different experiences when using Facebook. That’s not because of politically motivated decisions around what’s allowed on the platform. Rather, it reflects the way Facebook organizes information to reward “engaging” content. The focus on ferreting out bias obscures this and makes even practical solutions seem implausible.
While there’s little evidence to support that Facebook is biased against conservative users, University of Virginia professors Brent Kitchens and Steven Johnson found that, by maximizing for engagement and attention, Facebook’s algorithms actively push conservatives toward more radical content than liberal users. Kitchens and Johnson analyzed the news habits of over 200,000 users who agreed to share their browsing data. They found that Facebook pushed conservatives, unlike its moderate or liberal users, to read dramatically more radical content over time.
“All the platforms end up providing a sort of diversifying effect,” explains Kitchens, associate director of Virginia’s Center for Business Analytics. “If you’re reading more news from Facebook, you’re going to get a wider variety of news. But there’s also a polarizing effect. The diversity of information gets a little wider, but it also shifts more extreme.”
The study compared respondents’ use of Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, with their news habits. Kitchens and Johnson created a numbered political spectrum of 177 news sites, with DailyKos and Salon furthest left, Breitbart and InfoWars furthest right, and USA Today around the center. In the months when conservative users were most active on Facebook, they read news sites that were far more conservative than their average, clicking links from InfoWars and Breitbart over staples like Fox News. By contrast, news consumption by liberal users shifted far less dramatically on the authors’ scale.
This polarizing effect of Facebook is in stark contrast to Reddit. When conservative users were most active on Reddit, they actually shifted to news sites the authors judged as more moderate than what they typically read. Kitchens and Johnson hypothesize that the most salient differences between Facebook and Reddit aren’t the content itself but how platforms structure and feed news and information to users.
“The impacts we’re seeing are by design. Facebook knows what’s going on with its platform,” says Johnson. “If it wanted to change it, it could.”
The authors identified a few major differences between Facebook and other sites. First, Facebook requires reciprocal friendship, which encourages a feed of like-minded people and reduces the chance of seeing opinion-challenging content. Facebook’s algorithms create feedback loops that perpetually show users what it thinks they want to see.
Second, Reddit has more anonymity than Facebook. Because users don’t necessarily have reciprocal bonds, people with different views can gather and share links in the same thread. Reddit’s algorithms prioritize interests, not friendship, and in the course of interactions on nonpartisan topics, the authors say there’s a much higher likelihood users will come across links to sites outside their typical news diet.
The Los Angeles Chargers could have played it safe. Ahead by 10 points with under four minutes left against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the team might have handed the ball off and run down the clock to finally end a four-game losing streak.
Having Justin Herbert under center, however, has changed the team’s math. On third-and-5 at the Jaguars’ 34-yard line, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen ended a timeout by giving the rookie quarterback the go-ahead to throw to receiver Keenan Allen, who gained 8 yards and a new set of downs. Soon after, Herbert knelt out the clock to earn his first N.F.L. win.
The decision — that a Herbert throw was as safe a bet as a carry, even on a rushing down — was emblematic of how Chargers coaches have come to regard the 22-year-old who, technically speaking, wasn’t supposed to be their starter yet.
Herbert was thrust into the spot in Week 2 after Tyrod Taylor, the starter Los Angeles had signed to a two-year contract that included a reported $11 million in guaranteed money, had his lung punctured by a team doctor injecting a painkiller before game time. In Taylor’s stead during an afternoon game broadcast widely, Herbert pushed the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs to overtime, running for a 4-yard touchdown on his first N.F.L. drive and ultimately finishing with a better passer rating (94.4 to 90.9) and more yards (311 to 302) than Patrick Mahomes, though not the win.
The unexpected performance turned heads toward Herbert, who last spring was rated the third-best pro prospect at quarterback, behind the No. 1 draft pick Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, both of whom were charismatic leaders in college. Now, having thrown for 1,542 yards in his first five N.F.L. games, a career start that is second only to Cam Newton’s in 2011, Herbert has asserted himself as a game-changing talent worth building around.
“There’s nothing passive about how he plays,” said Daniel Jeremiah, a former N.F.L. scout and an NFL Network analyst who is a color commentator on Chargers’ radio broadcasts. “Other teams try to protect their young quarterback, try not to destroy their confidence.” The Chargers coaches said, “let’s run your stuff.”
Herbert, who is not prone to hyperbole, has tried to play down attention he might attract.
“One of the great things I’ve been taught is to not let it affect me,” Herbert said. “Everything that I’ve been focused on is what’s been said inside this building, or by my parents or previous coaches. I’ve done a good job of staying away from the noise.”
When Los Angeles drafted Herbert sixth over all, the plan was for him to sit and observe Taylor for a season. Herbert had a 29-14 record in college and became only the second Oregon quarterback to throw for over 10,000 yards and score more than 100 touchdowns, despite a lack of big-playmaking receivers, but he did not have to take many risks in the Ducks’ rush-heavy offense.
Herbert was the second-tallest quarterback measured at the scouting combine in February, and also one of the heaviest. But he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds, the fourth fastest time among quarterbacks, catching the eye of Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn.
“For a man that is 6-foot-6, he’s very nimble,” Lynn said. “In today’s N.F.L., with the speed of defenses, that’s pretty important. So a guy that can do both, throw from the pocket and move and extend plays, that’s a pretty unique skill set to me.”
Herbert’s talent has been a windfall for the Chargers, who in addition to losing Taylor have been without their top rusher, Austin Ekeler, and three offensive linemen. Searching for a spark, Pep Hamilton, the Chargers quarterback coach, and Steichen have encouraged Herbert to play aggressively, running when needed and throwing to receivers in tight windows.
He has responded with the best quarterback rating in the rookie class (74.4, good for 12th over all in the league) and emerged as a running threat that can keep defenses honest. Herbert has 121 rushing yards and two touchdowns through Week 7 and one highlight run on which he flattened Damien Wilson, the much heavier Chiefs linebacker, on a scrambling run to the sidelines.
Coach Anthony Lynn, who had previously said Taylor would keep his job after returning from the injured reserve list, named Herbert the starter in early October, after he had played three games.
“I wanted this to play out, and I’ve seen enough, and I wanted to go ahead and make it official,” Lynn said.
Still, Lynn has been wary of overloading the rookie with too many tempting offensive dares. He said that Philip Rivers, the former Chargers quarterback, used to go to the line of scrimmage with three different options for plays, too much to expect from a rookie. Instead, Herbert is asked to review his first, second and third passing options within one play call, based on his read of the defense.
So far, Herbert has shown the ability to gamble safely with the offense entrusted to him, racking up a 67.4 percent completion rate and a four-to-one ratio of touchdowns to interceptions.
“He throws the deep ball real well, throws the intermediate stuff well, he’s obviously very athletic,” said Vic Fangio, coach of the Denver Broncos, who face the Chargers on Sunday. “They’ve done a good job coaching him and adapting their offense to his skill set.”
Another part of Herbert’s development was left purposefully uncomplicated: his time off the field. Having grown up in Eugene, Ore., within a mile of his college stadium and with two brothers who doubled as his workout partners in the off-season, Herbert has tried to re-create that cocoon in Southern California. Despite his $610,000 salary and $4.2 million signing bonus, he shares a house with two other rookies, including one from the practice squad. His diet hasn’t changed much either, still relying heavily on Subway sandwiches and Domino’s pizzas.
What has changed, though, is Herbert’s growing list of accomplishments and, with them, the attention. Just don’t expect him to crow about it.
“I don’t think I’ve changed my game any,” he said. “I think I’ve just kind of grown and developed and I have a better understanding of the game.”
Fitness Instagram, like every other place or population on earth, contains multitudes. There are athletes working their butts off, coaches promoting their business, models making a living. Not all of these people are legitimate fitness professionals, so if you look to Insta or YouTube for workout advice you need to ask yourself a few questions.
What is this person implying but not saying?
The number one lie of many fitness influencers is one they leave unsaid: It is the implication that whatever I am selling will get you the body you see here.
The truth is, people who make a living by being fit all got fit before they started selling workout programs or supplements. Once you have a jacked physique, you can endorse sawdust in a jar and people will connect the dots in their mind to assume that you’re selling them a muscle building supplement. If you have a lean body, you can sell a diet plan and people will assume that if they follow the plan they’ll get shredded like you.
To be totally honest for a minute: steroid use is fairly common among athletes who compete in sports that are not drug tested, or who don’t compete at all. But because it is illegal for recreational use in the U.S., many folks don’t want to talk about it. (There are exceptions, though: here’s a before-and-after post from sport scientist and bodybuilder Mike Israetel where he obliquely compares his “natural” years to the part of his training career that was “otherwise.”)
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Don’t forget that influencers often use photo editing—with Photoshop, FaceTune, and other software—to make themselves look skinnier (or curvier) as needed. Posing to accentuate certain body parts is absolutely an art that can be taken to extraordinary lengths, as journalist Danae Mercer points out in several subversive little tutorials on her feed. Oh, and: if you’re looking at influencers selling booty workout plans, be aware that butt implants are very much a thing.
What is this person’s real area of expertise?
If somebody is selling diet plans, exercise programs, or coaching services, they should have credentials—formal or otherwise—to back them up. For example, a personal training certification from a legit organization like ACE, ACSM, NSCA, or another accredited by NCAA is one thing to look for. Some coaches or instructors don’t have a formal credential, but can point to top athletes they’ve coached or fellow professionals who can vouch for them. These more subjective connections work best if you follow them to find the trainer or instructor in the first place: for example, if several of your favorite powerlifters are all coached by the same person, that person may be a good source of advice for you.
But remember that exercise and nutrition are not the same thing. If someone is giving advice on nutrition, check whether they are a registered dietitian or hold a similar qualification. In many places, “nutritionist” is not a legally defined term, but registered dieticians are professionals with a significant amount of training and experience.
Similar to the unspoken lie about body appearance, there is also another that goes something like: Science says I’m right. This one is trickier to detect, because evidence-based information is a great thing to look for, and there are plenty of professionals who openly discuss where their information comes from and how it shapes their recommendations. But there are also people who decide what they want to say, and then cherry-pick a few studies to make those messages look more legitimate.
Does the person have a consistent, somewhat boring message?
The real experts—on Instagram or elsewhere—don’t make any secret of this. They’ll discuss the challenges of staying consistent, or offer tips on what exercises might help address a small problem you may find. They might share successes: before-and-after photos of themselves or their clients, or peak performances at competitions.
What they don’t do is suddenly declare a certain workout or type of exercise as the be-all-end-all. They also don’t present exercises or workouts as standalone solutions. If you choose a different cool-looking workout every day, you may have fun and move your body—which is one basic minimum goal met. But that’s not the same as having a program that will get you closer to your goals. Anyone can post a few exercises and call it a booty workout or the hidden secret to bicep gainz, but long term results come from the way you train over time.
Certainly the supermodel Ashley Graham is stunning. But Ms. Graham, 32, is also keeping it real, varied and interesting, whether on her Instagram account, her YouTube workout series or her podcast “Pretty Big Deal,” which is back for Season 3 this week, where she hosts conversations with successful people she looks up to.
Here is a behind-the-scenes peek at how she does it all. Ms. Graham, who is also a Revlon ambassador, muses on her career, managing a 9-month-old baby and sticking to her Covid-adjusted beauty regimen.
Figuring Out Routines
It’s a weird time. I’m a new mom, but I’m also figuring out how to live life at home. We moved to Nebraska when the pandemic hit. That’s where I’m from. It was my mom, my husband, my baby and me, and on March 13 we drove for 20 hours straight. We were there for six months. And we were all staying in the house I grew up in. It was very nostalgic for me. And I was so grateful that my husband was so kind to bear with me through all of it.
We’ve been back in New York now for maybe a month and a half. It feels so good to be back. I have a new normal morning routine. I don’t set an alarm. I learned that from interviewing Arianna Huffington on my podcast. She said that the time from when you put your head down to when you wake up is your own. I don’t sleep with my phone next to me either. The baby monitor is my alarm, and I know Isaac will wake me up between six or seven. I feed him right away, and it’s morning snuggles time.
I’m ever-so-proudly breast-feeding. I put it on my social media all the time because I want it normalized in a way that is truly normal. We all eat in public, so why not breast-feeding? Once he’s close to a year old, I’ll probably stop. Isaac has four teeth now, so, buddy, if you’re going to bite me, we’re gonna have problems.
I’m a nighttime shower girl. My morning routine is really prepped by my evening routine. I use whatever shampoo I can get my hands on that doesn’t have sulfates. To stimulate my hair follicles, I’ve been doing an apple cider vinegar rinse about once a week. It smells! If you go to the gym the next day, you’re going to sweat and smell like vinegar.
I go to sleep with my hair wet. I part it down the middle and then douse my head with John Frieda Dream Curls. I’ve been using it since I was 15 years old. This is the only way I can get a full head of hair when I wake up in the morning.
In the morning, I have slightly frizzy waves. I have this finishing gel by Vientti. Four months postpartum my whole hairline fell out, and now I have a bunch of cowlicks from all the baby hair growing in. This gel isn’t too thick, and it tames my center part. It can be so heartbreaking when you’re looking at your child, and he’s so healthy and adorable, and then you look at yourself, and you’re, like, what is happening to me? These are things women go through!
Skin Care Devotee
My favorite deodorant is the Crystal spray deodorant. I feel like it doesn’t mess with my PH, and it’s aluminum free. I also love the Flamingo spray moisturizer. It’s my biggest beauty mommy hack. It’s so fast — you spray it on. I feel so moisturized, and it smells like a hotel!
I use SkinMedica face wash. It’s light, and it gets any residue off my face. I use it morning and night. Then I use the skin toner by Vivant. It burns really bad. That’s how I know it’s working. Ha!
I think I have early signs of rosacea, so I’ve been looking into LED lights. I have the Dennis Gross one — it’s the face mask with all the LEDs. It makes me feel like I’m doing something helpful for my face.
I like to use skin-care products that my skin idols use. Tracee Ellis Ross, her skin looks phenomenal. She’s on Skinceuticals right now, so I’m on Skinceuticals right now. I’ve been using the Phloretin CF serum. It’s stinky, but again because it stinks, I know it’s working, ha! I also use the vitamin C serum and the Triple Restore moisturizer. It’s ah-mazing. Sometimes I use the Restore lip stuff. It tastes disgusting, but I think it’s helping my lips.
Through quarantine, I’ve been eating whatever I want. That’s probably why I’ve been getting acne on my forehead. I use my Mario Badescu drying solution only after my Dr. Pimple Popper picking kit. If you’ve ever used a lancer on yourself, this is addictive! You have to be OK with poking a needle in your face, but I’m really good at it.
Doing Things for Yourself
Sometimes I wonder if I even have time for a skin-care regimen. If I have a second kid, there goes that! But I just went to Milan for work, and I left Isaac with his dad for the first time. It was amazing! It was like a mini-vacation!
My husband and I are big into prayers. We both grew up in the church, and it’s something we brought into our marriage. We treat it as a sacred date night sometimes. We’ll turn off the lights and turn on worship music and just pray together.
I’m shooting my podcast now. I’m getting some really good glam for that. I get my eyebrows dyed, so I don’t have to think about that. Otherwise, everything I wear for makeup is Revlon. If I need to be camera-ready, I wear the Candid Glow foundation in shade 270. I love that it’s coverage with a glow, and you don’t have to mix anything with it.
I usually use a concealer under my eyes and on my chin if I have acne — which, yes I do have right now! I like the SkinLights bronzer and the powder blush in Naughty Nude, but not too much. My eyelashes will stick straight out if I don’t do something about them. The So Fierce mascara pulls them up like Tammy Faye.
I don’t use eyeliner, but my favorite pro tip whether for Zoom or a run to the grocery store — actually that’s a lie, I don’t always do this for the grocery store!— is something I learned on set. You use an eyebrow pencil in a muted brown, and you draw just on the outside of your upper lip. It makes your upper lip look a little bigger, like you got lip filler but it was $4.99 instead of $4,099.
An eyebrow pencil is better than an eyeliner pencil because the pigment is more powdery and softer. You don’t want that hard ’90s lip liner situation again — unless that’s your look, then you go for it! I do that, then I put Brazilian Tan lipstick and Aquaphor over that. It looks so juicy!
I wasn’t wearing fragrance after Isaac was born, but when he was about seven months old, I figured he could handle it. My favorite is Byredo Mojave Ghost. I love clean scents. I’d smell fresh laundry all day if I could.
Diet and Fitness
Sometimes I think about diet, and other days I don’t. Today, for example, I had Levain Bakery delivered. The chocolate walnut cookies are so good!
I worked out so hard during my pregnancy. I started a series called Thank Bod in my second trimester. It’s on YouTube. Every episode is only 15 minutes. I wasn’t finding anybody that looked like me online, and I wanted to make a point that working out is for any age and any size. I don’t want to look at ripped abs and toned arms — I will never look like that. I started modeling when I was 12 years old, and I was already a Size 12. Now I’m a 32-year-old postpartum, Size 16 mom, and my body is ever-changing, and so is everybody else’s, so why not showcase that?
I supplement that with boxing at Gleason’s Gym in Dumbo. It’s really tough. It’s not about losing weight but staying healthy, and that can also benefit your mental health. Working out and being able to move my body has been crucial for me, especially through the pandemic. We all need to release tension somewhere.
A panel of public health experts is set to recommend that people get screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 45—five years earlier than their current recommendation. The proposed change is due to mounting evidence that colon cancer is becoming more common among younger people.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) is a government-appointed but independent panel of experts whose recommendations guide nationwide screening and preventive care practices. They routinely review the current medical evidence for the risks and benefits of various population-level interventions, including cancer screening and vaccination. Their guidelines carry plenty of weight: Vaccines recommended by the USPSTF, for instance, are legally required to be covered with no out-of-pocket costs by private insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Currently, the USPTF recommends that people at average risk start being screened for colorectal cancer starting at age 50 up until age 75. This recommendation is backed by enough evidence to warrant their strongest level of certainty, called Grade A. But in new draft guidelines released this week, the USPTF is now looking to add an additional Grade B recommendation that people between the ages of 45 and 49 also get screened. Those over the age of 75 are still recommended to get screened only if they and their doctor agree that it’s best, since the benefits of screening are small past that point.
The change, though not supported by as much clear evidence as the current guidelines, is the result of growing reported rates of colorectal cancer among people in their mid-to-late 40s and even earlier. In August 2020, for instance, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman died at age 43 after a years-long struggle with colorectal cancer. The change also follows identical recommendations made in 2018 by the American Cancer Society.
“Recent studies showing a rising incidence in individuals aged 45 to 49 drew our attention to that age group,” John Wong, chief scientific officer at Tufts Medical Center and a member of the USPTF, told NBC News.
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Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. and is expected to kill around 52,000 Americans this year. Though the death rate from cancer continues to decrease over time, including from colorectal cancer, experts have been worried about these increases in cases among younger people.
Factors like obesity and a diet high in processed meats are likely important contributors to developing colorectal cancer. But low screening rates are also thought to help account for higher death rates among Black and Native American communities, as well as among those living in poverty. Even now, a quarter of Americans between the ages of 50 and 75 are estimated to have never been screened for colorectal cancer at all.
There are three major tests for screening, which call for different periods of time between screenings. The colonoscopy and the flexible sigmoidoscopy both use a camera inserted in the rectum to physically look for potentially cancerous growths called polyps, while doctors can also test a person’s stool for the minute presence of blood—a key sign of colorectal cancer—or suspicious DNA from cancer cells.
If used alone, the stool tests are supposed to be done every one to three years, while the colonoscopy is supposed to be done every 10 years (the less-invasive flexible sigmoidoscopy is recommended every 10 years if paired with an annual stool test and every five years if used alone). More recent research has indicated that stool tests by themselves may be able to detect colorectal cancer as well as colonoscopy for people with no added risk and no symptoms. In their revised guidelines, the USPTF calls for any method to be used, at the patient’s preference.
The USPTF’s recommendations aren’t final. Members of the public, particularly outside medical experts, will be allowed to submit comments to the USPTF on the proposed change until November 23, 2020.
“I see the self-care industry really as the diet industry rebranded.”
— Leigh Stein, the author of “Self Care,” a novel
“Self Care,” a novel by Leigh Stein, is anything but soothing.
It was pitched to publishers as “‘American Psycho’ in a Goop universe.” But in place of a “psychopathic murderer,” there are “all these women competing and taking each other down online in the name of feminism,” Ms. Stein said in a phone interview.
Published in June, the book is an all-out send-up of the wellness industrial complex and the companies profiting from it. Ms. Stein sharply delivers by poking at all that is uncomfortable and goes unsaid (or is said too earnestly) in the self-care industry.
The monetization of self care that Ms. Stein takes on — think millennial pink robes and the popular Instagram hashtag #selfcaresunday that shows off countless beauty rituals — has prompted psychologists to ask: “Where did real self care go?”
That’s one question at the heart of Ms. Stein’s novel about the two female founders of Richual, “the most inclusive online community platform for women to cultivate the practice of self care and change the world by changing ourselves.” Marin is the body-positive, anti-diet, workaholic, number-crunching member of the team. And Devin is the appearance focused, slightly eating disordered, and yoga obsessed public face of the brand.
Inevitably, Ms. Stein’s characters raise other contradictions about self-care, too. The idea, for instance, that even as young women supposedly “take care” of themselves by buying face rollers, meditation apps and face masks, they aren’t necessarily feeling better. Millennials shell out twice as much on self-care — a $10 billion industry — compared with their Boomer parents, yet their health outcomes haven’t necessarily improved. And all women continue to have a higher incidence of anxiety, depression and eating disorders compared with men, according to the Women’s Institute for Policy Research.
The irony, Ms. Stein says, is that the title nods to both the narcissism and the paradox of #selfcare.
Ms. Stein spoke with In Her Words about whether there is such a thing as too much #selfcare, her personal reckoning with feminism, and the desire to look and feel good.
The conversation has been edited for clarity.
Why tackle the wellness industry? Why did you see that as fertile ground for a novel?
I see the self-care industry really as the diet industry rebranded. Today it’s not “lose 10 pounds for bikini season.” It’s: “How is your gut health? Have you cut out gluten? How’s your sleep hygiene routine?” It’s new messaging for the old problem of “you’re a woman, there must be something wrong with your body.”
I don’t want to say self-care is bad, because I do think we do need to take care of ourselves, but I believe that true self-care doesn’t cost anything: drinking water, getting enough sleep and going outside occasionally to get vitamin D.
What I’m really cynical about is the more consumerist forms of self-care. If you go on the Goop website, there are products for problems you didn’t even know you had. Like, I didn’t know I needed to lighten my eyelids until I saw this eyelid brightening cream.
So self-care is important, but it can go really wrong. How?
I think there’s a lot of systemic problems right now that our country faces. There’s the national reckoning right now with racial injustice, among other issues of social justice. There are so many huge problems that feel overwhelming, so if there’s a product I can buy or a book I can read that tells me how to work on myself, I feel like that’s doable.
I keep coming back to this idea that no one has ever lost money on making women feel bad about themselves. In the end, do our medicine cabinets full of supplements, serums, vitamins and creams make us feel any better?
I put Maren and Devin on these extremes of the spectrum, where Maren is like, “I’ll be body positive and I’ll just eat whatever I want, and just feel like crap. But I’m a feminist.” She has her own twisted way of making herself feel better by not taking care of herself. I think that’s one way to go — you can just opt out of all this stuff. There aren’t role models for that, or at least not on Instagram. Once you become a role model on Instagram, you’re already peddling something.
Where do you fit on the self-care spectrum?
This is my confessional. I told my therapist that I wanted to lose some weight, but that I didn’t want to go on a diet because that would make me a “bad feminist.” And she said, “Why do you have to bring Gloria Steinem into it?” Which I thought was very funny. I felt guilty about wanting to lose weight because I thought the message I had gotten from other feminists was that we don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about pounds. We don’t talk about calories. That’s over. Diet culture is dead. I really struggled with that.
On the topic of being a “bad feminist,” some of Devin’s sexual preferences one could argue are “unfeminist.” Does that make her a hypocrite because she runs a female empowerment brand?
Devin has a preference to be submissive sexually, yet she has a lot of power in other respects. She’s the CEO of this company. And so for her, what turns her on is actually to have no power. She’s also a compulsive over-exerciser and has orthorexia. Her life is so controlled. She has so much riding on her as the face of this company that she wants to escape from that.
It’s unrealistic to write off self-care entirely — people want to feel and look good. On the other hand, we don’t want to become prisoners to the self-care industry. Is there some happy medium?
I think it’s being aware of what you use and why. It’s not just products. It’s also programs. I think there’s enough shaming of women that I don’t want to be the person that shames people for what makes them feel good. But I think we’re so influenced by marketing disguised as content that we aren’t often checking in with our own bodies. That has been really revolutionary and radical to me: to actually ask my body what it needs instead of just taking in what the screen tells me that I might need.
A combination of taut, glowy influencers, who rely on elaborate routines to get views, and brands, under pressure to introduce a set number of new products per year (to meet sales goals), are partly to blame.
And the pandemic didn’t help the product pile-on. Interest in self-care skyrocketed, and people tuned into more skin-care tutorials, stuck at home and ready to experiment. Followers were chasing the perfect complexions staring back at them from the screen.
“Consumers buy products because they think they will look like influencers look on social media,” said Ms. Plescia, who added that influencers may well be using Botox or lasers. “Their skin already looks flawless. It’s a show.”
Instead, she said, the focus should shift to realistic outcomes. Multitaskers that combine steps with high levels of active ingredients could appeal to women who are short on time, money or both. Doctor Rogers Restore face cream and lotion are meant to be used as eye creams, and MMSkincare’s serums, $85 each, double as moisturizer.
This, along with a trend toward simplicity, is changing the way we perceive skin care. Many people are reassessing what their skin needs (less), just as many in the fashion industry are rethinking their addictions. There will always be a consumer who craves the ritual of a long skin-care routine (and one with an aversion to repeating outfits), but brands are starting to cater to increasingly minimalist shoppers.
“It doesn’t mean that consumers will go back to one product,” said Michelle Freyre, the global brand general manager at Clinique. “They’ll go back to more simple routines. That whole behavior, the buying everything that an influencer is telling you, the 20,000 products — that’s going to happen a lot less.”
The two-inch-long wasps Vespa mandarinia — — attack bee colonies because they teem with prey. These hornets are remarkable, tenacious-looking animals. They’re the biggest wasps in the world. The problem is they’re native to Asia, but in 2019 and 2020 people have spotted over a dozen of them (so far) in a corner of Washington. This makes the hornets an invasive species, and with no natural enemies in a new land, a big potential threat to honey bees in the U.S.
In 2020, news stories have hyped the Asian giant hornets, mostly due to their clickbaity, unfortunate nickname. (The nickname is absurd because even in Japan, where the insects are common, “no one calls them ‘murder hornet,'” Akito Kawahara, an entomologist at the Florida Museum of Natural History, .) The eager stories about these supposedly murderous animals (humans murder, animals don’t) will almost certainly continue as the Washington State Department of Agriculture seeks to stomp out the giant hornets before they establish themselves in the region. This is a necessary, though truly challenging, endeavor.
In the months (and years?) ahead, however, the national and global attention repeatedly given to “murder hornets” may potentially stoke a fear of or misunderstanding about insects, even thousands of miles away from northwestern Washington (as of Oct. 12, ). Yet, critically, there are some insects and arthropods that increasingly threaten humans over big swathes of the U.S. that might deserve more of your attention, particularly the recent expansion of disease-spreading insects and ticks. It’s also valuable to remember that most insects aren’t terrible, scary critters. Rather, we should all grow comfortable with (most) bugs. They’re the foundation of our food web. And we are, of course, vastly outnumbered.
“Insects rule the world,” said Marc Lame, an entomologist at Indiana University.
The big threats
Giant hornets don’t care about people. “They’re not after you,” said Heather Mattila, a biologist at Wellesley College who researches honey bees and other insects. “They’re after their prey.” To be sure, it’s , much like it’s not wise to pester a honey bee. Then, the big hornets might sting, with a .
It’s unknown how the giant hornet situation will play out in Washington, where their range is still pretty limited. The good news is government agencies are taking the wasps’ presence seriously. “People are on it — pros are on it,” said Mark Willis, an entomologist at Case Western Reserve University. “This is definitely an animal we don’t want in North America, if we can avoid it.” Biologists with the Washington State Department of Agriculture are trying to follow live, captured hornets back to their nest, so they can destroy it. They’ve to the large, feisty bugs, but haven’t yet successfully tracked the hornets.
Though most insects are hugely beneficial to humans (they, for example, are major pollinators), what follows are insects and arthropods that pose some serious, growing threats to people in the United States. In the U.S., diseases from biting insects, ticks, and mosquitoes (commonly called vector-borne diseases) .
“Their ranges are exploding in size,” said Mattila.
The climate is relentlessly warming, and will almost certainly (even if we slashed all carbon emissions, there’s still bounties of heat baked into the climate system, ). Gradually warming climes have allowed mosquitoes that carry tropical diseases to .
It’s already begun. The mosquito species that spreads the Zika and dengue viruses, Aedes aegypti, , meaning the viruses can now spread more effectively in more places. Zika, which can and neurological disorders, into South America, Central America, Puerto Rico, and elsewhere in 2015 and 2016. Mosquitos then in 2016 and 2017.
“These are little hypodermic syringes that are able to transmit new diseases,” said Willis. “Suddenly we’re getting diseases we never had before.”
Though still rare, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) has , first . The mosquito-borne virus, when it causes encephalitis (brain swelling), . The number of reported cases in the U.S. (38 cases) compared to previous years.
In the humid Gulf Coast, where most tropical diseases appear in the U.S., poverty combined with wet environmental conditions favorable for breeding mosquitos leaves this region especially vulnerable to disease. In this southern area, public health researchers concluded that “changing rainfall patterns, flooding, and warmer temperatures are promoting the emergence of both parasitic infections and arbovirus infections such as Zika, dengue, and chikungunya.”
“I do think global climate change is allowing vectors [disease-carriers] to extend their range,” said Indiana University’s Lame.
Importantly, we’re not completely helpless as vector-borne diseases spread. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services uses aircraft to treat hundreds of thousands of acres deemed “high-risk” with insecticide to limit the potential spread of EEE. And you can make a difference, too. “Dumping over standing water in your yard can actually be important,” noted Willis, of Case Western Reserve University, as mosquitoes flourish in these pools. “You need to be aware of your environment,” he said.
Ticks are exploding in the U.S. Unfortunately, they carry human diseases, notably the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “the number of counties in the northeastern and upper midwestern United States that are considered high-risk for Lyme disease between 1993 and 2012.”
“Ticks are in more places than they ever were,” said Thomas Mather, a public health entomologist at the University of Rhode Island and director of the university’s TickEncounter Resource Center.
Mather hears from lots of people about ticks, which aren’t technically insects but are closely related (ticks are arachnids, like spiders). Mather recounted a typical question he receives: “I’ve lived here for 30 years and I’ve never seen a tick. Now I’ve seen six in a week. What’s going on?”
What’s largely going on, explained Mather, is that animals that carry ticks, particularly deer, are living in closer proximity to humans (he noted a warmer climate plays a role, though less so, in expanding the range of ticks, too). We’ve moved into their territory. Deer commonly walk through our neighborhoods and backyards, carrying ticks. And there’s lots of deer, as we’ve depleted their natural predators in many areas (wolves, bears, mountain lions). “It used to be that you find ticks in the forest,” said Mather. “Now hosts have come out of the woods and live in urban environments.”
But we’re not helpless as ticks expand. “Be tick smart,” emphasized Mather, recommending five critical actions to avoid tick bites. “Knowing what kind of tick lives near you and when they’re active is a “tick smart action,” he said.
Beyond the spread of human disease, large regions of the U.S. have another existential woe: invasive insects that devour native trees, vegetation, and crops. Once an invasive species establishes itself here, there’s often little to nothing to naturally check their populations. “They don’t have natural enemies in new territories,” said Lame.
Take the spotted lanternfly. Since its discovery in Pennsylvania in 2014, the bug (native to China, Bangladesh, and Vietnam) has spread to 26 counties. The state says “it’s imperative to immediately report” sightings, as the flies seriously damage and kill trees. Pennsylvania isn’t messing around. “Kill it! Squash it, smash it…just get rid of it,” the state wrote online. “These are called bad bugs for a reason, don’t let them take over your county next.”
“The biggest invasive species that I’m aware of are humans.”
Of course, the insects themselves are not the problem. It’s that we’ve transported them (often as stowaways in shipping crates) to the U.S. We’ll do our best to limit their spread, but in the end, they have more in common with us than perhaps we’d like to admit.
“In the big picture almost all species are invasives,” said Lame. “The biggest invasive species that I’m aware of are humans.”
They’re not murderers or murderous
The giant hornets are undoubtedly thrilling, big insects. But entomologists say these wasps shouldn’t be vilified. They’re just doing what they must to survive.
Insects often get a bad rap.
“We have this horror movie idea of what insects are,” said Willis. “It becomes everyone’s worst nightmare.”
“In reality, there are insects that are so part of our environment that we don’t notice them,” he added.
Yes, the giant hornets have a “slaughter phase” wherein they decapitate honeybees en masse to feed their young. That’s what they’ve evolved to do. But does that make them inherently bad, or just, wild? (Humans slaughter cattle on conveyor belts after driving a steel bolt through their heads, which seems on par or perhaps worse than decapitation.)
“It makes me sad when very remarkable insects, like these giant hornets, get maligned for being so good at what they do,” said Wellesley College’s Mattila. “They’re such an interesting group of species. I feel badly when there’s more fuel in that fire.”
“We have this horror movie idea of what insects are.”
In an insect world we might view as violent, the giant hornets get attacked, too. In Asia, bees have found ways to kill the giant hornets by forming a “hot defensive bee ball” around the hornets. The bees essentially cook the hornets alive. It’s a wild world. “It’s fascinating,” said Mattila.
Overall, insects are a great boon to humans and our hungry civilization. “They are really important pollinators,” said Allen Gibbs, an evolutionary physiologist who researches insects at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. And they are the foundation of the food chain, Gibbs emphasized. “They are the diet of a lot of bird species.”
In some parts of the world, like German forests, researchers have reported dramatic declines in insect abundance, which may be largely due to a loss of habitat. A world with far fewer, less diverse insects would be troubling.
“It would be a pretty devastated world,” said Mattila. Beyond their critical place in the food web, insects are amazing lifeforms who survive in curious niches all over the globe. They glide atop streams, can migrate thousands of miles, and dwell in some of our deepest caves. “They are just amazing stories of survival,” she said. “They’re the most diverse animal taxa we have.”
Unfortunately, of course, invasive insects like the giant hornets can threaten our agriculture. So we’ll do our best to keep them out. But in a world now forever linked by trade and travel, more hornets will inevitably be on their way, someday.
“If they got here once, they can get here twice,” said Gibbs.
WATCH: Here’s how the so-called ‘murder hornets’ came to the U.S