Let’s Talk About S**

Yoga, the Kama Sutra and Bollywood are three of the sexiest products of Indian culture; actresses in the film industry thrive off their internationally recognised sex appeal and ancient Hindus had penned a guide to maximising sexual experiences long before many other civilisations had discovered the written word. In theory therefore, Indians should be as sexually liberal as their culture portrays them to be. Yet earlier this year the Indian Health Minister, Dr Harsh Vardhan, suggested a new values-based approach to sex education which removes sex (or the more ‘culturally acceptable’ s**) from the picture almost entirely. Not only does his vision repudiate the emotional and social importance of sex but it brushes over basic scientific principles, virtually closeting the topic altogether.

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Thankfully his proposal was almost immediately dubbed as ridiculous and young professionals across the country formed a strong opposition. Parodies of ‘government approved’ initiatives appeared online and newspapers openly mocked his Victorian mentality. What many failed to acknowledge however was how poor the current level of sex education is. Here in England, children aged ten or eleven years of age are taught about the reproductive system and more information is disclosed each academic year regarding sex and relationships, based on what the Department of Education has deemed age appropriate. Although this in itself is controversial, this scheme was introduced in response to alarming (and now well known) statistics which showed that the UK has one of the highest teen pregnancy and teen abortion rates in Europe, thereby warranting a drastic intervention. It was justified to conservatives with the argument that if teenagers cannot be trusted to abstain from sexual activity, it is surely more sensible to prepare them for a healthy sex life by equipping them with trusted knowledge on contraception and answering their questions in a safe environment.

In India, this permissive approach couldn’t be further from reality. There are clear discrepancies in the delivery of sex education across schools in India; whilst some schools have followed the World Heath Organisation’s advice that sex education should be taught to children from the age of twelve in order to prevent increasing HIV transmission by promoting safe sex, very few engage in the same level of teaching that has been adopted in the western world. A common theme, which unifies the various Indian sub-cultures and traditions, is the importance of chastity before marriage. This underlying value helps sustain the rationalisation that sex education is wrong, as it may spur the youth to believe pre-marital sexual relations are morally acceptable.

This leaves the future of Indian society in a precarious position. It would be unreasonable to suggest that all of India’s current issues result from an aversion to discuss sex openly but it is interesting to consider just how many problems it might explain. Would the population grow as rapidly if women knew how, where and why to access contraception? Would women be seen as inferior to men?

Adolescence is as awkward a time in India as it is in Europe, however the difference in India is that there is a severe shortage of responsible adults willing to explain the changes your body undergoes. I presume it is still uncomfortable for parents and teachers here in England but there is at least an understanding that by holding these positions of power, you are morally obliged to prepare children for what will be an incredibly vulnerable time, both physically and psychologically. This does of course include that favourite talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ that every parent and secondary school teacher thinks of with fondness.

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Pornography, unlike reliable counsel on sex and relationships, is easily accessible and downloadable; and therefore the only source of information for many young Indians. It usually shows a woman (or women) following the whims of their partner and submitting herself to his every need, which can be crass, aggressive and undignified. Feminists would not object so heavily to porn if it depicted both the male and female parties as having equal power as they engage in whatever sexual activities that take their fancy. What porn actually does is add fire to the pre-existing gender stereotypes that tarnish social mentality.

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Pornography does not demonstrate real life but as we are often told here in the west, it provides an escape. It is by its nature a chance to live out fantasies. In a country where sex and the reality of relationships are not openly discussed however, should crude fantasies be the only way sex is portrayed? Women are exhibited as submissive sex objects, so young men are deluded into believing that women should embrace that role. Young women are not told anything different and are therefore deceived into embracing it. Porn is made by men, for men, and the lack of assertive females in the industry is painfully apparent. Even in mainstream Bollywood, Emran Hashmi – an actor with an infamous reputation for producing smutty films for the general audience – will star in film after film and engage in risqué scenes with a different C-list actress, who is taking her first shot at the big screen. Each actress eventually withers away following a torrent of controversy but Hashmi continues to pave his career, relatively unscathed from the negative PR that shrouds his films.

Pornography does not only entrap young women but it also fails to liberate young men, who spend more time alone in front of a screen than interacting with other human beings in a sensate dynamic. Both genders are allocated unhealthy roles in relationships and because there is little alternative guidance available in India, they may unknowingly adopt the example pornography gives. We often speak of the advances made during the digital age. It is possible however that instead of shifting towards gender equality, a fundamental lack of sex and relationship education is further engraining archaic gender clichés into today’s youth and consequently delaying social progression.

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How Good Are Your Sperm?

I learnt a fair few life lessons during my visit to India. Hot water is a luxury (most of my morning showers could fulfil ice bucket challenge requirements), you should never start watching a three-hour Bollywood film on the TV as a power-cut is guaranteed ten minutes before the end and a deck of cards will provide universal entertainment for days on end. Some of the most interesting advice I’ve picked up however was during a clinical placement with a leading IVF specialist and, incidentally, applies worldwide. Both citywide and rural studies have shown that changing lifestyles have been detrimental to public health and sperm counts specifically are suffering as a consequence. Male infertility is becoming an issue of increasing concern in the Punjab – so why is it that in an overwhelmingly testosterone-driven state, this fundamental measure of virility is being neglected? Stereotypical punjabi men rarely shy away from opportunities to demonstrate their superior masculinity and in this agricultural province, it may often be the number of whiskey bottles you devour or the kabaddi tournaments to your name that will help you garner respect.

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For women, infertility is usually a mechanical problem that can’t be helped. Although lifestyle factors (such as promiscuity, smoking and extremities of BMI) may significantly impair a women’s ability to reproduce, the most common causes are diseases of relatively unknown origins, with endometriosis and uterine fibroids being common examples. Increasing age also severely limits a female’s reproductive capacity as women are born with a finite store of eggs, which is depleted with each menstrual cycle, and eventually concludes with the menopause. Men however could theoretically procreate from the onset of puberty until their death as there are no such restrictions on the male reproductive organs. Whilst rarer mechanical causes exist (undescended/absent reproductive organs, hormone imbalances), male infertility can essentially be considered as a dysfunction of one of two processes: sperm production and sperm delivery. The following factors (many obvious and some unexpected) may interrupt either of these processes temporarily or permanently:

  • Alcohol – drinking within the recommended limits of 3-4 units per day is unlikely to affect a man’s fertility. Drinking in excess however increases your risk of diabetes and diseases which effect your blood supply, both of which can lead to erectile dysfunction.
  • Obesity – again, a BMI of greater than 29 predisposes men to an array of diseases, many of which may lead to hormonal imbalances and, yes, erectile dysfunction.
  • Smoking – cigarette smoke places your body’s cells under oxidative stress (including those of your reproductive system) which, in other words, increases the risk of cell death due to oxygen starvation. Other mechanisms also reduce the production of nitric oxide (NO), which is responsible for dilating your blood vessels… including those which men hold most dear.
  • Unprotected sex – many STIs (chlamydia and gonorrhoea being the main culprits) are responsible for infertility in both sexes and as they can often be symptomless, lasting damage may occur long before you seek treatment.
  • Tight clothes – those sick skinny jeans in Topman may be sicker than you think and should perhaps carry a “genital-crushing” health advisory warning.
  • Poor diet – the unhealthy fats in fast food clog your arteries through a process called atherosclerosis and high sugar levels contribute to a risk of diabetes – both of which can reduce the blood flow to your reproductive organs, leading to reduced sperm production and more erectile dysfunction. Fruits and vegetables on the other hand are rich in antioxidants which stop cells from dying prematurely.
  • Mobile phones – a recent study carried out at the University of Exeter suggested that the electromagnetic radiation produced by mobile phones kept in trouser pockets can impair sperm production, thus reducing sperm counts by as much as 8%.
  • Hot water – sperm develop optimally in a cool environment, hence why a man’s testicles are situated outside his body. Too much time in hot baths, jacuzzis and hot tubs may relax sperm production as well as your muscles, leading to reduced fertility.

skinny-jeans-on-men1 Thankfully, breakthroughs during the last few decades have allowed miracles to occur on a daily basis; embryos are conceived for couples who would have once been told they had little hope of birthing their own child. As many as one in seven couples seek advice or treatment for infertility but despite this, it remains a sensitive topic that can be difficult to broach for either sex. Indeed, in 100 cases: 30 would be due to problems with the father, 30 due to problems with the mother, 27 due to problems in both parents and the remaining 13 cases would be ‘unexplained’. It is fair to say therefore that infertility is a reasonably common problem for both genders. With an expanding circle of clinicians taking the view that lifestyle plays a significant role in fertility, perhaps a fresh approach to infertility therapy is needed. invitro2 Prevention is undoubtedly the best remedy for any medical problem, hence the billions of pounds that are invested annually into research for vaccinations and public health campaigns. If this same concept was applied to educate the public on how to preserve fertility, the quantity of couples approaching their GP for fertility advice could slowly decrease and fewer members of the public would be subject to the financial and psychological burdens contiguous with infertility.

Although this is ideal in principle, too often we neglect our own bodies and discard own health in favour of the easier, gluttonous option. We make ourselves unnecessarily vulnerable to a host of ailments which, with a little self-motivation, could be entirely avoided. What is the point in government initiatives if no one pays attention? The slogans “use a condom”, “smoking kills” and “drink in moderation” have been plastered across schools, hospitals and social media – yet STIs continue to rise, smokers still go through a pack-a-day and alcoholics find themselves in emergency rooms unable to recall how they got there.

The next time you receive advice for your health or come across an NHS poster, take thirty seconds of your day to pay attention. You will soon realise that healthcare professionals understand that abstaining from guilty pleasures is usually unachievable and will only ever recommend it if they consider it to be worthwhile. The tools necessary to preserve every aspect of your health are widely available. Instead of ignoring them, utilise them and remember that by taking care of yourself today, you have taken care of your future self and perhaps avoided the loneliness of a doctor’s waiting room years down the line.

Great Expectations

It’s hardly a secret that some Asian parents have a notorious reputation for expecting a great deal of their children; it is a feature of Eastern parenting been parodied, persecuted and sometimes even praised. A catalogue of acceptable careers as devised by generations of Asian parents who ‘definitely know better than you’ includes:

  • Medicine / Dentistry / Pharmacy
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Economics / Business / Maths / Accounting

The list for many Asian parents ends here. Telling your father that you wish to study music or the arts is often simply not an option and many children are indoctrinated with the idea that pursuing science or vocational degrees is the only guarantee of success. Languages are particularly controversial; I imagine that expressing a desire to study French or Spanish at university would have quickly been rejected with the reasoning that I could learn Punjabi free. Although many parents have adopted a more liberal approach and instead encourage their children to define their career paths by what they enjoy, in my personal experience only a rare and lucky minority can claim to have parents that fall into the latter category.

As parents pray that their children will forge careers in high-paying and highly-competitive fields, it leaves the younger generation under a great deal of pressure. As a child I never dreamt of being a ballerina or an astronaut (albeit for a while I was utterly resolute that I would one day be a dolphin); they were far-fetched careers without tangible benefits. Instead I focused on my literacy, numeracy and colouring in homework (always endeavouring to stay strictly within the lines) because I had been advised time and time again by everyone older than me that doing well in school was the only thing that would get me far in life.

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There’s no point denying there’s a certain credibility to this fact but I wonder how beneficial it is to give young children constant reminders of their need to excel in their education, particularly as many parents forget that straight A*s aren’t achievable by everyone, despite their best efforts. A well known joke of the child that rushes home to tell their parents that they got 97% in an exam, only to be asked what happened to the other 3% rings too true.  I, like many others, genuinely dreaded marks less than 90% and I almost pity the teachers that had to mark my work, as the high expectations I had of myself were clearly evident.

We all know how vulnerable, impressionable and susceptible to environmental stress children are but when it comes to education, this all seems to be disregarded. Government assessments now start from the delicate of age of seven and a wonderful letter penned by a primary school headteacher outlines just how little these tests tell us. Nevertheless the stage at which children discover stress seems to decrease with each generation. The highest priorities still lie with studies of course, hence the thousands of pounds many parents now invest into their three-year-old’s schooling but if acing exams isn’t enough, children are now expected to take up a musical instrument, play a county-level sport and have a burgeoning group of friends. Many of my youngest cousins seem to have busier schedules than me and while there are very real concerns of how much time some groups of children spend in front of the television, I worry more about the children who don’t even have time for television in between their extracurricular activities and supplementary tuition.

The pressure originates from our families and the competitive culture that made the four-thousand mile journey from sub-continental Asia with our ancestors. Cars, big houses and jewellery count for a lot but the absolute measure of success lies with how well you raise your children. Eventually parental pressure evolves into a pressure we place on ourselves. No one told me to revise for sixteen hours a day in the month before my last set of exams and indeed, my parents actively discouraged it as it became clearer that my health was suffering as consequence. Yet the need to do well has become so ingrained that I was willing to sacrifice basic requirements such as sleep and food and I found myself in a self-imposed exile from fun.

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These pressures are by no means confined to members of Asian minorities and without providing spoilers, Dead Poets Society explores these issues and demonstrates that there is much more to life beyond a classroom. It also depicts Neil – the film’s alternate protagonist – who is unable to bear his father’s hopes for his prospective career in medicine, when his enjoyment and talents lie in theatre. Society expects to hear and frowns upon stories of failed actors and musicians but we turn a blind eye and even offer sympathy to the numbers of medical school dropouts and failed investment bankers because it seems as though attempting to succeed in a the latter professions is worth more than in the former – a concept which confounds me. If your talents lie in the arts and not in a laboratory, who is anyone to compare the value of two entirely different sets of skills?

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I love my degree and I am pleased to say that I chose to study medicine despite my parents better efforts to discourage me from it but in truth, I only ever really considered vocations from the ‘Unofficial Asian Career Guide’. I expect that if there was a recipe for success, it would plainly state that equal measures of passion and ability are required. There is no assurance of success in anything but if your heart doesn’t lie in whatever you choose to pursue, then there is a great deal of potential for failure. Perhaps it would be prudent therefore to stop limiting the potential of the younger generations by ushering them along predetermined paths and instead encouraging them to forge a path for themselves in whatever their imagination conceives.

Musings of a Fannibal

Part of the application process for Medicine involves memorising the definition of “empathy” and being able to offer several scenarios in which you’ve demonstrated your inherently empathetic nature. It is a concept that we are constantly reminded of during our studies and in practise, it is difficult to feign. Antisocial personality disorder – more widely known as psychopathy or sociopathy – is the antithesis of what one would expect of a healthcare professional. The Psychiatry Bible recognises characteristics such as “callous unconcern for the feelings of others”, “gross and persistent attitude of irresponsibility” and “incapacity to experience guilt” as the basis of diagnosis; i.e. an intrinsic lack of empathy.

A recent study published in Time magazine reassuringly identified most members of the healthcare profession as having the least psychopathic traits. I say ‘most’ because surgeons were conversely recognised as one of the top-five professions to which psychopaths are attracted, placing them in the same bracket as CEOs and lawyers. This doesn’t suggest that all surgeons are psychopaths (despite the popular beliefs of countless medical students) or that all psychopaths choose to become surgeons. As with every psychiatric disorder, it is not a case of “you are” or “you aren’t”, it is more about how far along the spectrum you sit. A profession, which relies on purely clinical judgement in stressful situations, requires individuals who are able to make decisions uninfluenced by emotion. A moment’s hesitation could cost a patient their life and in such circumstances, a self-assured, impulsive surgeon may be just what the doctor ordered.

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Feeling emotion is something I have never struggled with and years of crying over John Lewis Christmas adverts are testament to this. Psychopathy, to most people, is therefore an absolute enigma. It is understandably difficult to feel sorry for psychopaths – is it even possible to feel pity for someone who shows no remorse? I am intrigued however by the notion that psychopaths are born, not made. A psychiatrist I encountered on placement theorised about three types of crying-baby:

  1. The physiological crier – this baby will only cry when they need something basic, such as food or a nappy change. This is the calm, docile baby that all parents pray they’ll have.
  2. The attention-seeking crier – this baby will also cry when they want love or affection. This baby is generally amenable and can be easily placated, once they’ve received a little focus from their carer.
  3. The pathological crier – this baby cries relentlessly despite the better efforts of their carers.

Of course, every baby is different and crying is a purely subjective measurement. It has been suggested however that the ‘pathological crier’ that may grow up to be a psychopath. An absolute deficiency of emotional understanding prevents these babies from responding to their carers’ attempts to pacify them. As toddlers, they may exhibit violent or cruel behaviour with a remarkable disregard for punishment. The film adaptation of We Need To Talk About Kevin portrays the journey of a sociopath from birth to adolescence by revolving around the strained relationship between a reluctant mother and her very disturbed son. It is unnerving, coarse and perhaps over-stylised – but its premise fuels the ongoing debate of “nature vs nurture”, making it near impossible to stop watching. Research suggests that reduced activity in the amygdala – the part of your brain responsible for emotional response and fear conditioning – gives rise to psychopathy. The “nurture” camp would argue that negligent parents do not give their children enough attention, eye contact or love and therefore prevent the amygdala from developing. Team “nature” suggest that it is a congenital amygdalal deficiency, no different from Type I Diabetes or cystic fibrosis, and these children have no hope.

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Horror has been making a big comeback to the small screen. Shows like The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries and American Horror Story have surprised audiences with their success. My newfound favourite is Hannibal and whilst I am terrified by the prospect of watching it by myself (I wait until my brother’s around to do a series catch-up), I am hooked. It is an exquisitely haunting and unexpectedly witty visual marvel and I challenge you to find a drama on TV with a more captivating cast. Although Hannibal has received universal critical acclaim, it has failed to be as commercially successful as shows like True Blood. Indeed parts of episodes were banned in America for being brutally graphic but wouldn’t that only attract more viewers, desperate to see what all the fuss is about?

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Vampires may sparkle in the sunlight but they are essentially serial killers that use exsanguination as their preferred method of murder. As former humans themselves, their choice to drink human blood makes vampires reminiscent of cannibals. The difference is of course that vampires are a supernatural entity, which explains why it is more than acceptable for your 13-year-old daughter to lust after the Salvatore brothers. Hannibal is a psychological horror that deals with reality, a much scarier place than the paranormal world. Psychopathy lies at the heart of Hannibal and every week, the writers laugh at your darkest nightmares and offer you a murderous Grand Design that is at least ten times worse.

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Hannibal is no more gory than its supernatural counterparts but it centres on a highly stigmatised mental health disorder and pays little heed to social convention. It is therefore conceivable that Hannibal’s failure to reach a mass audience stems from a deeper societal fear of mental health issues and the realities psychopathy presents.

Do Gaysians Exist?

The “gaysian” – or gay asian – is a rare creature. Often seen parading through bazaars in eccentric and over-accessorised garments, you will frequently hear him use words such as “fierce” and “fabulous” to express his delight when coming across the season’s latest sherwani. It is widely accepted that their uncontrollable attraction to members of the same sex prevents gaysians from maintaining platonic relationships and it is likely that any gaysian you encounter will find his male peers irresistible. Beware, however, as a plethora of undisputed scientific evidence has shown that homosexuality is indeed contagious; you must therefore avoid too much close contact, lest you too wish to fall into an incurable pit of flamboyancy and emotional instability. 

The above is what many sub-continental asians would consider to be an accurate definition of homosexuality. It is of course absolute rubbish, fabricated by narrow-minded individuals with congenital homophobia. Yet a lack of exposure to openly gay and lesbian asians has prevented this perception from evolving into a truer image. Why is it therefore that so few people have come out? The answer is quite obvious but difficult to admit; it ultimately comes down to two factors:

  1. Sexuality is taboo – until recently, a kiss-on-the-lips would be verging on pornographic in Bollywood cinema. Parents rarely broach the topic of sexuality with their children but from their perspective, as these things are only relevant after marriage, is there any need? It seems as though asian elders are endemically prude, leaving little open to discussion for the younger generations.
  2. Male + female = baby – procreation is classically the main goal of life and marriage. As this can only occur in a heterosexual relationships, homosexuality is naturally out of the question. A man wants his wife to pop out sons (another issue entirely) to continue the family name and inherit his wealth. If those sons don’t want wives, the family line stops there and alas, they have failed to fulfil the asian paradigm.

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These are old views often addressed in British-asian media (Bend It Like Beckham, East is East, Eastenders) and thankfully, the majority of our generation holds different opinions. Even our parents’ generation is demonstrating flexibility that we wouldn’t have necessarily believed unless we had been the subjects. Amusing stories of parents’ attempts at “the talk” have frequented conversations amongst my friends but given that their own parents presumably quarantined the subject, they deserve endless praise for even trying and simultaneously pioneering a much-needed cultural shift.

Despite moves in the right direction, homophobia is still rife. The reason I chose to adresss this topic now is because last week, I read a news article that made me furious. Jasvir Ginday, a 29 year-old IT specialist from Birmingham, strangled Varkha Rani, his 24 year-old newlywed wife, with a metal pipe and then cremated her remains in a garden incinerator because she threatened to “expose” him as gay. Of course, only a monster could be capable of such atrocities but the stinging reality is that his fear of being outed eclipsed any reason or moral sense.

Although attitudes are changing, they clearly haven’t changed enough. Last year the Indian Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling on Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (which was introduced during British rule) thereby re-criminalising homosexual acts. Not only did this adversely affect homosexuals living in India but it had wider repercussions on non-resident Indians, who feel an obligation to uphold their heritage and culture whilst living abroad. Now that Indian society dictates that homosexuality is a criminal act, it leaves NRIs in an uncomfortable position where their decision to accept their child’s homosexuality in England may be met with backlash “back home”.

Thankfully the Indian Supreme Court has marginally redeemed itself. Across India in homes where celebrations are occurring, Khusreh (or hijras) – transgender individuals – are typically invited to attend the “after parties” and provide entertainment by singing and dancing, though many are also forced to earn income as beggars and sex workers. Earlier this week however they were recognised as a third gender, thereby granting them legal sanctity; a significant step to demarginalise them and improve their quality of life. This sort of progress is precisely what will give LGBT individuals the confidence to come out and have any hope of being accepted by their asian communities.

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As you may have noticed, I have intentionally avoided a religious debate. While The Bible and Qu’ran expressly forbid homosexuality, Sikh and Hindu scriptures do not address the topic and thus they are left to be interpreted as you wish. I can therefore understand that as the Guru Granth Sahib does not provide a clear direction on homosexuality, it is difficult for practising Sikhs to know whether it’s okay to be gay. Something a Sikh (or indeed any decent human being) cannot justify however is blatant homophobia. I have literally been repulsed by the opinions and sly remarks of some Punjabis and while they are happy to declare themselves as Sikh, they forget that the intrinsic principles of equality and inclusion make our religion beautiful and that shameless prejudice taints it.

For those of you still in doubt, let me leave you with this thought. “Gaysians” exist. Homosexuality cannot be “cured” or “corrected”. If we don’t choose to accept it, gay or lesbian individuals may be forced into heterosexual marriages by societal pressures. Not only will they suffer as they closet a defining part of their identity but their partners will suffer and question their abilities to maintain a relationship. Everyone deserves a partner in whom they find comfort, love and happiness and if that partner happens to be of the same gender, who is anyone to judge.

 

The Profile Picture Predicament

It’s the middle of August and Facebook has announced that another one of your eight-hundred-and-something friends has changed their profile picture. A breathtaking panorama of Koh Tao consumes your news feed and at its centre stands a perfectly tanned and perfectly toned somebody that you vaguely recall from secondary school. You scroll down the page and this time you find evidence of a former flatmate’s adventures in Tanzania, captured in a three-minute-old profile picture. Surrounded by smiling children, they look every part the well-accomplished and wholesome individual sought after by potential employers. You close the tab and dejectedly return to working your way through every episode of Breaking Bad; the only achievement of your summer thus far (not counting your victory in an eBay bidding war for disco pants).

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Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking these things just happen. The mental effort some people devote to selecting a profile picture would leave Annie Leibovitz in awe. As evidence, the following is a list of questions that I have asked myself or friends have asked me (divided into helpful categories):

  • Personal appearance – Will people notice one eye’s more closed than the other? Is my outfit too slutty? Is the lighting okay? Do I need “Valencia” or “Lo-Fi” to work their magic?
  • Appearance of others – Have I cropped out too many people? Have I cropped out enough people? Are we good enough friends for them to be in my profile picture? Will people think there’s something going on between us?
  • Timing – When was the last time I changed my profile picture? Has everyone been changing their profile pictures? What time of day best maximises “likeage” potential?
  • Perception – Does this picture make me look fun? What would an employer think? What will family think?

My nearest and dearest gal pals know that changing my profile picture is a harrowing process I prefer to avoid. While many of you won’t relate to any of the above questions, I’m equally mindful that several others share my pain… and rightly so. Although the term is so overused that it now verges on cliché, our society has well and truly become “image obsessed”. The successes of photography-based apps (Snapchat, Instagram) and the recent surge in “selfies” reflect the constant pressure today’s individuals are under to maintain their online appearance.

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Now humour me and consider a Facebook without profile pictures; it would be liberating. In an instant, Facebook would lose its inherent narcissism. While Facebook stalking may still occur, people wouldn’t be judged on their appearances but instead on their substance. Surely a better perception of a person can be drawn from what they have to say than from how they look? Yet everyday, judgements are passed on a solely aesthetic basis. RateMash – a viral website which allows university students to rate their fellow peers against each other using their Facebook profile pictures – has thrived off this infatuation we have with looks. By giving attention to such heinous websites, we’re fuelling the shallow and egocentric mentality that plagues adolescence and preventing ourselves from maturing into open-minded human beings.

The problem I have with profile pictures is not that I believe they’re self-indulgent; I think that we all need to love ourselves more and with a whole host of people waiting to pass judgement, finding a picture of yourself that you like enough to share with the world is actually quite a courageous feat. The problem I have is that they do not accurately reflect an individual but they’re given enough weight to deceive people into thinking they do. One of the first lessons we learn as children is not to “judge a book by its cover” but everyday, friends/family/employers are very quick to do so. We make assumptions about a person by allowing a picture to speak a thousand words when in reality, it may hold no truth whatsoever. Does showing off a fantastic pair of legs make you vain or slutty? No. Does a cute picture of a boy and a girl imply they must be dating? No. Does a stunning selfie make you self-obsessed? No.

In the grand scheme of things, the stress of choosing a profile picture amounts to nothing. The consideration we give it does however illustrate our insecurities, which arise from being part of a culture that is too eager to criticise. We do not struggle to compare ourselves to other people but are often disheartened by the result. We find fault in ourselves and we find fault in others. If everyone was a little less quick to judge, then perhaps changing your profile picture wouldn’t be such a predicament at all.

A Suitable Boy

“Husband-hunting” (or “partner-pursuing”, to be more PC) is something 99.5% of girls will be guilty of at some point during their lives, whether it be a conscious action or not. While (almost) everyone enters higher education to get a degree and secure a future of professional prosperity; stories of how friends, relatives and pets met their significant others at university will also linger in the back of many minds. Today’s culture dictates that in the average degree-length of three years, you should aim to: bash out a first, scoop up an elusive graduate-job, establish yourself as a BNOC and meet the love of your life. Expectations of the ideal student are as unlikely as they are absurd but that doesn’t stop anyone from pulling all-nighters or meeting that guy your friend says is “made for you”.

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As I’ll spend a grand total of six (yes, six) years plodding through my degree, I theoretically have twice as long to attain all of the above. Many of my friends have come to accept that three years are simply not enough and have wisely chosen to extend their education and thus avoid facing reality until further notice. For many of those coming to the end of their stints as students however, only two or three of the above boxes have been ticked.

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At the tender age of 22, for the majority of people this shouldn’t pose a problem. So what if you haven’t found a job, now is the time to find yourself. So what if you’re still single, now is the time to mingle. Reason, however, seems to evade some Asian parents in these circumstances. I am always wary of over-generalisation and I don’t want to offend anyone so please take everything I say with a pinch of salt. However with the end of their degrees in sight, a few of my friends feel they have “failed” in some way as they don’t have good, respectable boyfriends to introduce to their parents on graduation day.

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Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. The title of this blog is inspired by Vikram Seth’s novel, which tells the story of a mother’s attempt to find “a suitable boy” for her nineteen-year-old daughter to marry. I think it is fair to say that arranged marriages are no longer the norm and while introductions are still commonplace, parents have come to accept that with their children “living out”, there’s a chance they’ll bring home a potential partner themselves. This is where things get a little confusing however and different categories of parents present themselves:

  • The Unrealistic Expectations these parents will only accept a son-in-law with royal blood… or this might as well be their only pre-requisite because chances are he won’t tick all the other boxes anyway. It’s not just caste that matters, it’s the side of the river. It’s not just a degree from Oxbridge that matters, it has to be a first. Superwoman’s video exemplifies these parents perfectly.
  • The Wedding Plans– these parents have a Hilton Hotel on hold and constantly badger their daughters about whether they’ve found a boy to fit into the proceedings. They want their daughters engaged the summer after they graduate, married a year later and will probably expect grandchildren nine months after that.
  • The Downright Denial– these parents are still stuck somewhere in the early-20th century and cannot accept that “love marriages” occur and for them, “dating” doesn’t exist. You could bring home Dr. Lawyer who models on the weekends and they wouldn’t look twice.

It’s not just parents who can be difficult. Some girls are so frantic in their attempts to find a husband-in-waiting that they forget to enjoy their time at university and spiral into a state of loneliness and self-pity. Their parents aren’t “wedding planners”, but they burden themselves with obscene pressure and fail to make the most of the time they have as free and single ladies.

If you have identified yourself or your parents as husband-hunters, then my advice would be to calm down. The average age of couples increases every wedding season and as you’re unlikely to find a guy who also wants to be married by 22, there’s no real rush. The best relationships and marriages I’ve witnessed began by chance – whether it was a well-timed introduction or a random encounter in a shopping centre. Communicate with your parents so you know what they expect and make sure you vocalise your concerns if you disagree. I am by no means an expert but wiser people than me have said the most important thing is to make sure everyone’s on the same page. Little things count for a lot and when the right man comes along, you’ll be glad you waited.