Sunday, January 07, 2007

What Would Miss America Say?

I was thumbing through the most recent issue of Glamour (a magazine I usually find sneakily feminist) and I saw a little filler article that made me want to smack approximately 1,750 women upside the head.

They asked 2,156 readers some “Would you rather” questions—for the most part silly things like “Would you rather go to a huge party naked, or never eat your favorite food again?” (66% would give up their favorite food). But two of the questions—or rather, the answers to them—made me dizzy with disbelief. The first one was, “Would you rather achieve world peace but never find a cure for cancer, or cure cancer but never have peace?” The majority (59%) answered that they’d rather cure cancer.

WHAT? What is it with the fear of cancer? Don’t people realize that they have to die of something? Most people don’t die of cancer as it is. And though I don’t like to scare anyone, there are plenty of diseases that are worse than most cancers. Give up the possibility of world peace to eliminate cancer? I know it’s just a silly poll that I’m sure most of the respondents didn’t take seriously, but come on.

The second question that got me riled up was, “Would you rather have a body like Heidi Klum’s but die at 40, or be morbidly obese but live to 100?” A whopping 81% said they’d choose Heidi Klum’s body.

All these women really believe that having a hot body would make their lives so special that it would be worth giving up 60 years of life for? (Or perhaps they’re so afraid of getting fat that they’d rather die? But since the vast majority of women in this country are already significantly bigger than Heidi Klum, I assume it’s mostly the former.) The question didn’t say you’d get her face, or her career, or even Seal; you’d just have her body. Just what do they think they’d do with it?

Even weirder, most of the women who said they’d give up world peace for a cure for cancer must also have said they’d die at 40 for Heidi Klum’s body. I guess they’d be okay with dying young as long as they don’t die from the Big C. Maybe they’d rather step on a land mine in the next world war?


Midwife with a Knife said...

I might give up world peace to get Heidi Klum's body, though. Just kidding.

Seriously, I agree with you. It's funny how people's perceptions of what's a real problem differ from what is really a real problem.

By the way, I like your blog. :)

punchberry said...

I think people know that war is more dangerous than cancer. The responses of this US, female population probably reflect the perception that some people have to die in war, but it will probably be someone else. On the other hand, personally dieing of cancer seems like a more tangible concern.

Very insightful post- thanks!

JK said...

What I always say... Life is fatal. It sounds "glass half-emptyish" but really, that perspective is rather freeing and liberating. I think it helps me remember to be happy while I can and enjoy life.


Anonymous said...

OOooh, that's very interesting. I have to admit I paused for a moment on the cancer vs war thing, which I suspect means I've been consuming too much fear-mongering mass media. And I have to admit, on a stereotypical level, I would've expected a doctor to pick cancer, since it's more a part of their daily lives.
If you're inspired to do so, I would love a whole elaborate post on cancer vs war.

And Heidi vs The Fat? I can't say I'm surprised at all.

Erin said...

Interesting surveys. I think that probably most people have been touched personally by cancer, while they consider war as being something that doesn't affect them in the same way. Short-sighted and ignorant, yes, but probably true in their own minds.

The idea of dying before my son graduates high school, no matter what I look like, is terrifying. But I can see Suz's point about the lifestyle. Would I be willing to be alive but unable to get down on the floor to play with him, or go camping and hiking together, or any of those activities? I'm not sure.

Aya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luolin said...

(reacting to Suz's comment)... DoctorMama, does morbid obesity really "by definition" come with serious disorders? The definitions I found on a quick check had to do with being 100 pounds overweight or double one's ideal weight or BMI over 40,but I don't know if those are the best/real definitions.

If they are accurate, then the morbid obesity simply has to do with one's weight, and it is a risk factor for disorders but not a guarantee.

I would have read the survey question as a choice between being morbidly obese but healthy enough to live longer than my grandparents or unhealthily thin and dying young (I guess I consider 40 to be young now), but I suspect a lot of people assumed obese must equal unhealthy and miserable.

Unknown said...

Not to mention that if they're morbidly obese, the chances are very small that they will live to be 100.

Anonymous said...

Oh I don't know. Does Heidi Klum's body come with Seal? Because then I would be willing to give the matter some serious thought.

Anonymous said...


If the question ends the offered life at the age of 40, then I would imagine that the poll is probably getting a whole lot of teenaged girls who probably think that 40 is pretty much 100 so they might as well take the hot body.

I remember when I was a teenager, 40 seemed *so old*! Now that I'm in my 30s, I think 40 is young! :)

eviec said...

For the questions about being morbidly obese - it might be due to my physiological makeup, but before I started on my pursuit of better health last year, I had at least 100 pounds to lose, which I would think would qualify me at morbidly obese (especially at 5'4"). I did not have any major health problems and was able to function more than adequately at all times. While I was not running any marathons or happy with my state of athleticism, I was able to enjoy my son (2.5 years old) very easily. Any mother who would choose to shorten their life due to their vanity hopefully just was not giving the matter a lot of thought.

Orange said...

A fairer question wouldn't pit curing cancer against world peace. Cancer is terrible ("Fucking cancer!" as I always say), but it I had the power to wipe out either (a) cancer or (b) the assorted infectious and parasitic diseases that are endemic in the developing world (malaria, schistosomiasis, river blindness, TB, HIV, cholera)—option (b) would win out. The world can easily continue as it is with the current hit-or-miss state of cancer detection and treatment, but to wipe out those other diseases? Could improve the lot in life of a billion people. (I can overlook all the corporate nastiness of Microsoft now that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is funding so much prevention and treatment in Africa.)

I thought about writing a post about Glamour a few months ago. There was some amazing content in there—advice about the trade-offs between career and personal life from women who were incredibly successful professionally. Then there was also the "splurges that are worth it" article that was a bunch of B.S. I can envision all these women in their early 20s who can ill afford it deciding that they "need" to buy fancy-ass skin creams. And the makeup looks they were recommending—yeesh! Ridiculous.

I don't want to live to be 100, not even with Heidi Klum's body.

OMDG said...

Step away from the magazine.... you know they wouldn't sell if they weren't utterly stupid!

As a side note, people have been shown to be awful at predicting how they'll feel when they develop X, Y, or Z horrible condition. Typically people who actually have the disease view it far less negatively than people who just imagine what it would be like. I'd imagine that would be especially true for something like morbid obesity. It's not like they'd take away your brain, for goodness sakes.

DoctorMama said...

Meira—Although I would certainly be very happy if I could cure all of my patients with cancer—in fact, I know the first one I would give such treatment to—I have so many patients dying of so many things that cancer wouldn’t be first on my list of things to fix. Not that all or even most of my patients will die soon, but I have a lot of patients who are suffering from a lot of things. And yeah, next time you read some scary article about cell phones or peanut butter or whatever, just repeat to yourself, “fear-mongering mass media!” (I’m exhausted by the very suggestion of an elaborate post on cancer vs. war. You do it.)

I think Erin is on to something. And punchberry too.

Aya, how come you deleted your comment?

Suz—and luolin—the definition of “morbidly obese” is a moving target, but basically just means weighing a lot more than you should. It doesn’t automatically mean any particular health problems. But your reactions suggest to me that some of the respondents were thinking of it as meaning being really ill. (Interestingly, you are likely to get MUCH sicker and die MUCH earlier from smoking than from being fat.) You won’t find many obese 100 year olds, but you won’t find many 100 year olds, period.

Menita—even if Heidi Klum's body did come with Seal, it would be a cold, dead body in a couple of years … and I don’t think Seal is into that scene. (Though how would I know?)

Eve—thank you.

Orange—you are spot on.

Old MD Girl—you’re right, I wouldn’t mind living to 100 (obese or not) as long as I had my wits about me.

Aya said...

Doctormama, the little man (woman) in my head told me to stop bitching about the media, NGOs, and pharma. companies all the bleeding time. Cancer, thanks to TV and print shoving it down our throats, is the number 1 nightmare in my life.

I walked into a Claire's recently to buy my niece a pair of useless earnings (and in my area, only prepubescent girls frequent it). Guess what I found there? A life-size ad., scary as the exorcist movie, about the silent killer, OVARIAN CANCER. Now I know it is a hell of a disease but I also know it is a rare, and mostly of advancing age. If you're going to scare the shit out of people (it worked on me by the way and I am in my 20s), at least have something more appropriate for the Claire's frequenting crowd, like cervical cancer.

To sell one more bloody pink ribbon or read bear, there are constant images of pale, skinny, bald and scared shitless people on TV. Why are the media and cancer societies so hell-bent on ruining our lives with? We are all dying anyway.

Anonymous said...

It's time like those when you say to yourself either (a) people are dumbasses or (b) Americans are dumbasses. Of course, if (a) is true then so is (b). Ordinarily, I assume neither (a) nor (b) but there are some things lately that make you wonder.

The thing that gets me about the world peace is that many of the people they are asking probably have given about 14 second of their lives thinking about how terrible war is even though their country is currently waging a war. But cancer? They are thinking: Maybe I could get cancer. So who cares about the horrors inflicted upon humanity by war--assuming such horrors will never touch them.

Or maybe I'm being cynical. Things like these are why I strive with every fiber of my being not to pick up Glamour at the gym. But the stupidness leaks out into the internet. It's everywhere.

Med Students 5th year said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara said...

Jeez. I used to read Glamour, haven't in about 10 years - but I always remembered it as being sort of content oriented, despite the usual model pictures and fashion crap. (Yes, I am a nerd who read it for the I suspect most of us on women doctor forums and blogs are.) I think once I read things summed up as

Public reaction/perception =
actual threat x outrage

That Wars on Cancer and all kinds of lobbies basically work on the "outrage" factor - and the 1 in 9 women factor has been terribly effective in increasing outrage, whereas war "somewhere else" gets people upset but no one is really lobbying much for outrage on the part of Rwandans, Sudanese, or whatever.

Also - we'll get a handle on cancer by dint of science and willpower and investment someday (maybe even thanks to the outrage-related funding), but if I were making random wishes to be granted no strings attached, end war anyday - because I seriously doubt that humanity will manage to do that on their own.

Anonymous said...

As a 45-year-old woman and mother of teenagers, who lives a comfortable, affluent life, I'd have to go with the curing cancer because of the large number of people I know who have been affected by cancer. Yes, world peace is a nice concept, it will NEVER be achieved due to human nature. My husband and I are 4 for 4 in # of parents with cancer, three of whom are still living. My best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 41, and yes, I did the pink ribbon laden 3-day 60 mile breast cancer walk. I raised $15,000 and I'm not sure how much of that actually will do any good, but I'm proud to say I did something. A good friend of mine, mother of a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy, exactly the same ages as my boys, died in November of cancer, a tragic loss of a wonderful person, not to mention a horrible, painful decline for her and a horrific experience for her family. I have countless friends and acquaintances who have had cancer and are in varying points in their treatments. Yes, most of them go on to be fine, but it is terrifying. When people are choosing the issues most important to them, they will always choose the issue that affects them most, so I think it is kind of flippant to put them down for that.


E. said...

I also think Erin is onto something, but I'd be more specific: the average reader of Glamour (American woman who's more likely to be middle class than not) is more likely to have had her life touched by cancer than war. Globally, this is absolutely not the case, but in the US we are actually very insulated from the effects of the wars we have a hand in starting or escalating.

If we could end war globally, we'd have so many more resources, we could probably come much closer to a cure for cancer and cure the infectious and parasitic diseases Orange mentions. Hell, from what I understand (from Dr. Paul Farmer - read Mountains Beyond Mountains if you haven't) TB is totally curable world wide, if the world community were just willing to put enough resources into it. But who gets TB? The very poor. So unfortunately it's not a priority.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "anonymous", about two posts up.

I just don't think it's fair to say that achieving world peace is more important than finding a cure for cancer merely because we're all going to "die of something". If one extrapolates that argument to its natural end, then why shouldn't all doctors give up practicing medicine and, instead, lend their hefty talent and skills to the U.N. or some other international organization? Yes, we are all going to die of something, but cancer is a horrendous, insidious disease that would definitely merit a broad swipe from any magic wand I could get my hands on.

The Heidi Klum - morbidly obese question is not a fair one, in my opinion. Well, maybe it *is* fair - just not to me, since I will be 40 in about 6 months.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

I indoctrinated all my students with 'cancer is many divergent diseases without one cure, and is a disease of age'.

Based on current CDC stats, if cancer magically vanished we'd die of heart failure and car accidents instead.

Anonymous said...

It sounds awful, but I can't even imagine world peace. Even if we were able to eradicate outright war, I wonder what other sorts of violence and cruelty would take its place, as people vie for power.

It's easy for me to imagine a world without cancer. After losing numerous friends in their 30s, a family friend at age 4 last month, and after a breast cancer scare last year, I'll take the odds on good old heart failure!

Anonymous said...

I would answer the same as you on both of those questions. I have only to look at Cecily at Wasted Birth Control to see that one does not have to have Heidi Klume's body to enjoy an active, rich and wonderful life. She is, by her own definition, 100 pounds heavier than she wants to be and look at the beautiful, joyful life she leads. And I am 100% with you that, given the choice today, I would absolutely choose world peace over a cure for cancer. However I don't think that the answer is quite as easy as we would like it to be.

People are selfish. There is no question about that. I would guess that just about everyone reading can think of at least one close friend or family member (maybe several) whose life would be saved tomorrow if we could wave a magic wand and cure cancer. I can think of 4 relatives and friends (ages 12, 31, 59 and 72) whose lives are currently threatened by the cancer. And while I certainly intellectually understand that war and violence is far more devastating on a global level than cancer, I can personally think of only one friend, (a soldier in Iraq - and soldiers are of course not the most innocent of the victims of war) whose life is currently threatened by war.

Every day each one of us chooses our own well being and comfort (and that of our families) over the lives of others. If I took the $80,000 I am about to use on a down payment of an itty bitty --by American standards of course, it's *only* 750 sq feet-- little 2 bedroom starter home in Southern California and invested it in the well being of the desperately poor and/or sick in the third world I would undoubtedly save at least several lives. But as much as it pains me to admit this, I don't have that level of selflessness in me at this stage in my life, and maybe I never will. So I am not going to do that.--and neither are you I’m guessing (and don't think that if you are reading this and you can’t scrape together anything approaching 80 grand that you are off the hook since every literate person with access to a computer is in a position of extreme privilege compared to the poorest of the poor). We are both going to choose the comfort and well being of ourselves and our family and use the majority of our income and savings to benefit the people we love most in the world. The whole magic wand quality makes it much easier to be --or imagine we would be --purely altruistic, but in real life my guess is it would be harder to turn your back on those nearest and dearest if you knew one of them was truly suffering.

Anonymous said...

I heard an interesting piece on NPR once, where they asked nurses who treat terminal cancer patients how they would choose to die. Can't remember the stats, but the vast majority (if not all) chose cancer, even with all the suffering they witness. The crux of the story was that the nurses realized how fortunate their patients were to have closure with those they loved. Things like unexpected fatal heart attacks or car crashes seem much more brutal for both the victims (if they have a few moments to think and realize they are going to die) and the surviving loved ones.