book reviews, healthcare, Reality TV

Repost: Dr. Pimple Popper’s book… Put Your Best Face Forward

Here’s a repost of a book review I wrote in January 2019. It appears here as/is.

Until a couple of weeks ago, when someone mentioned the name Sandra Lee, I thought of the tall blonde chick who used to do “semi-homemade” cooking shows on the Food Network.  But, just as I’ve lost touch with today’s popular music and television shows, I also missed out on Dr. Sandra Lee, dermatologist extraordinaire, popularly known as “Dr. Pimple Popper”.  Sandra Lee, as I pointed out in a recent post, made a big splash on YouTube… or should I say she “busted out”… posting disgusting videos of herself removing cysts, pimples, and lipomas. 

Dr. Lee became so successful that The Learning Channel (TLC) gave her a show of her very own, called Dr. Pimple Popper.  She showcases patients with unsightly blemishes who visit her in her southern California practice, where she practices dermatology and does cosmetic and surgical procedures.  Apparently, a lot of people make appointments with her after watching her videos on YouTube.  She even had one patient come to her all the way from the Philippines.

I must admit, I binge watched everything and, as much as some of the videos turned my stomach, even enjoyed the show enough to decide to read Lee’s book, Put Your Best Face Forward: The Ultimate Guide to Skincare from Acne to Anti-Aging.  Although I’m definitely not a beauty fanatic, I do find medical subjects interesting.  I’m also at that age when zits are less of an issue than wrinkles and red blotches are.

On her television show, Dr. Lee is very friendly, personable, and warm.  She comes across the same way in her writing, which is chatty and conversational.  Her book, which was just released on December 31, 2018, consists of an impressive 285 pages of information about how to keep your skin healthy and glowing, along with some anecdotes, and a few of Lee’s thoughts on the vast array of medical professionals who now offer cosmetic procedures. 

As someone who once aspired to work in healthcare, I was surprisingly interested in Lee’s comments about all of the people who are now offering services designed to make people look better.  Why do they do it?  Because people tend to pay out of pocket for those services and doctors can make more money.  Lee writes that everyone from dentists to physicians’ assistants are getting in on the game, even if they aren’t necessarily qualified.  Therefore, it’s very important to do your homework before you see someone for cosmetic procedures not covered by insurance.

Dr. Lee also has some interesting thoughts on collagen fillers and “Botox”, which is the popular name for the botulism toxin used to temporarily paralyze certain muscles in your face that makes you look older.  Apparently, Botox gets a bum rap.  Dr. Lee thinks it’s “amazing” and uses it herself, although she cautions against using too much of it.  Also, what we think of as “Botox” has evolved from what it was even fifteen years ago.  The technology is changing rapidly and now, instead of using a bovine derivative of the “toxin”, new drugs are used.  But, just as we tend to think of all bandages as “Band-Aids” and all copiers as “Xerox”, people think of Botox as a catchall term for that medicine that people use to look younger. 

Aside from her thoughts on choosing the right person for cosmetic procedures, Lee also offers tips on how to take care of your skin.  Naturally, she is all for sunscreen and moisturizers.  She writes that some products, such as eye creams, are kind of a waste of money.  A good moisturizer that works for your skin will probably be fine for your eyes, too, despite what the marketing professionals try to tell you.  She cautions readers to avoid smoking and to wear clothing that protects your skin from the sun, even in addition to wearing sunscreen.  I also enjoyed reading her thoughts on liposuction, which many people know little about.  She explains that liposuction is not for weight loss, but for contouring.  Also, it’s apparently a physically demanding procedure, but she finds offering it fun and rewarding on many levels.

Although Dr. Lee does take a couple of opportunities to pitch her skincare line, SLMDskincare, she mostly keeps the product pitching to a minimum.  I appreciated that, since I think it’s a huge turnoff to read a book that is basically an ad campaign.  She does explain that the “golden age” of medicine has passed, and today’s healthcare environment is not like it was when her father practiced dermatology.  Apparently, a lot of doctors are leaving healthcare practice, mainly because of insurance companies.  I can believe it.  However, it does appear to me that Dr. Lee is extraordinarily lucky, clever, and talented.  Besides being a doctor, she’s also a classically trained musician and plays guitar.  She’s pretty and bubbly, and that will likely get her far in our image obsessed culture.  On the other hand, I must admit she also has a very pleasing personality, which makes her success less likely to inspire jealousy among the masses.

Personally, I enjoy Dr. Lee’s show because each case has a compelling story behind it.  It’s gratifying to watch Dr. Lee change someone’s life just by improving their appearance.  This book is like a companion piece to Dr. Pimple Popper.  I bought it on Kindle, but I actually kind of wish I’d gotten a hard copy.  It’s a good reference book that begs to be consulted, which is easier to do with an actual book.  She includes some pictures, which are also easier to find in an actual book.

Overall, I think Put Your Best Face Forward is a good read, especially if you care about keeping your skin looking great.  I would recommend it, especially to those who also like watching Dr. Pimple Popper.

As an Amazon Associate, I get a small commission from Amazon on sales made through my site.

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lessons learned, musings, Reality TV

“Raise your words, not your voice.” Ruminating on Rumi, Renee Alway, and people who have done “bad” things…

This morning, I was thinking about what today’s topic would be. I’m kind of irritated, because I had a couple of interesting ideas for today yesterday, while we were enjoying the end of the weekend. But when I woke up this morning, those ideas were no longer available. I probably should have written down the ideas, but that’s not my habit.

I did what I usually do when this happens, which was check the old version of my blog. I ran across a post about former America’s Next Top Model contestant, Renee Alway. Back in December 2014, I wrote a controversial post about Renee Alway’s 2013 arrest and conviction for a number of felonies. Around the time I posted, Renee had been sentenced to twelve years in prison. I was sad for her, even though I remember how she had behaved when she was on ANTM. She was often portrayed as a “bitch” on that show, but then she would show a really lovely side to her personality.

I thought Renee was gorgeous and had so much potential. Then she got on a bad path. I was disappointed to see her with a shaved head, wearing cuffs, shackles, and chains. That sadness and disappointment was what had motivated me to write about her. I wasn’t interested in shaming her, although some people apparently thought that’s what I was doing.

Renee was released from prison on good behavior after serving five years. But then in 2019, she was arrested again for domestic violence.

I got a ton of hits on that post, as well as a lot of comments. Some of the people who commented claimed to be Renee’s friends. I even got a comment that appeared to be from Renee herself, although I can’t confirm if it was her or someone pretending to be her. One person got so irritated by my comments that she wrote:

Renee Diane is an amazing person, she continues to teach me the most amazing aspects in life, she’s there for me like no other person has ever been… I love her with all my heart, you don’t know Renee and never will just because she’s a model and is beautiful doesn’t mean she’s not human and doesn’t bleed. We all have our story in life and deal with pain differently who are you to sit here and judge her. Walk a mile in her shoes and look into your own lives the come here and point fingers … You don’t know a thing about here keep your blog shit to yourself. If you have nothing nice to say and reflect on the world don’t say shit.

We went back and forth a few times. I finally turned that person’s post into one of my famous rants. I basically explained that people are going to have and express their opinions, particularly about public figures. When a person goes on a reality TV show, particularly if they are an adult when they make that choice, they are pretty much fair game for commentary.

What I wrote about Renee Alway really wasn’t all that bad. In fact, I think it was a fairly compassionate post. Let’s face it. It IS sad when a beautiful young woman with children gets arrested and goes to prison. It’s sad on many levels. I saw Renee as a talented person with great potential. I could tell she loved her son very much when she was on ANTM. I don’t know why she chose the path she did, and I was dismayed to see that her life had taken a criminal turn. That was the main gist of the post.

But that person still got angry with me that I wrote about Renee. She basically told me to “shut up”. And my response was this:

Thanks for the comment. This is a personal blog and I have the right to write about anything I please. If that upsets you, I’d encourage you to find something to read that is more to your liking. Based on what I saw on ANTM, Renee would probably tell you the same thing. She strikes me as quite a spitfire who doesn’t let other people dictate to her what she can and can’t communicate. 

The person evidently got confused about what I meant when I wrote that my blog is “personal”. She responded thusly:

If it was personal it wouldn’t be posted online. And your right she’s definitely a spitfire and doesnt take shit from anyone or let anyone elses opinions affect her. But I’m her friend and seeing people put her on blast and talk down on her upsets me so I’m sure you understand and would do the same for your friends and ppl you love

I hear what she’s saying… really, I do. But I’m not the one who put Renee on blast. I wrote this in response:

I understand your concern, but she put herself on blast when she went on a reality TV show. In any case, this post has been here for months now and is only getting new attention because you’re commenting. I’m sorry Renee is in the situation she’s in and I hope it gets better for her, but I can’t allow random visitors to my blog to dictate what I write about. I hope you understand.

I never know how people will react to what I write. If I chose to “keep my blog shit” to myself as a means of avoiding upsetting random people, I would never publish a single post. I can’t predict how people will respond to most topics I choose, nor can I control it. I think that commenter also confused the concept of “personal” versus “private”. They aren’t really the same things. Personal means it comes from me. I can write something personal and not keep it private. Or I can keep something private that is also personal… or impersonal.

I could keep the blog private, but there’s not much use in doing that. Why write things that no one will ever read? I understand feeling the need to respond to things that are upsetting, but I would urge people to pause and reflect for a moment before doing so. It’s not right to tell people to shut up, particularly when all they’ve done is shared an opinion or an observation. Stop and think for a minute and consider if what the person has said is really as awful as you think it is. Chances are, you’re overreacting to something that shouldn’t be that upsetting. I understand having that reaction, particularly when it’s in response to an ego blow. We all do it. But no one likes to be told to shut up, and frankly, telling people to shut up isn’t cool. Especially when you’re on their space instead of your own.

One commenter wrote this about Renee:

The season Renee was on was one of the ones I watched. I found her to be arrogant, manipulative and despicable. She wasn’t a good person. You managed to find the good side, however, which is to your credit. 
Renee actually ended up with two kids when she was arrested and gave birth to a third after that. She had been addicted and committing a strong of burglaries, eventually armed when she did so. 

In her prison interview, she admits to being a person whose character had defects. She said that she thinks people watching the show saw exactly who she was and that she had problems with her character. At least that admission is a good start. But it’s funny that she has “friends” on here denying what she herself has admitted and screaming at someone who wrote a compassionate post about what happened to her. 

Right… and what I wrote was not nearly as “mean” as what the person above wrote. I think her comments are valid, even if they do seem harsh. It’s good to show grace toward people, but it’s also good to keep your eyes open about who people are.

So anyway… on to Rumi, and his connection to Renee Alway, who was born hundreds of years after his death. In my response post, I found a meme attributed to the Persian poet, Rumi. Rumi was born in the year 1207 in present day Afghanistan. His parents were native Persian speakers. He grew up to become a sage, whose influence spread around the Middle East and transcended borders and ethnicities. He died in 1273 at age 66 in what is now Konya, Turkey.

When I was writing my response post to Renee’s friend who told me to “shut up”, I found today’s featured photo, which is a famous Rumi quote. I thought it was very relevant. The quote is:

“Raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.”

In other words, yelling at someone is not likely to make a whit of difference. You might feel better doing it in the short term, but it’s not likely to inspire cooperation or compliance. If you have an argument or contrary view, try presenting it in a civilized way. Take the time to reason. Frame your comments in a way that is constructive, instead of destructive. Don’t just react with emotion. Think about why you’re reacting the way you are before you say something. It’s fine to feel offended by an ego blow, but you’ll get further in changing someone’s perspective if you approach them with basic respect for their dignity.

In my response post, I wrote “If you “yell” at me, I’ll cross my arms and stop listening because I will simply assume you’re an asshole.  I don’t listen to assholes because that’s where shit comes from.” I had to laugh at that because it’s true. Shit is basically thought of as unpleasant, stinky, and worthless. On the other hand, shit DOES make the flowers grow. Most everything has a purpose of some sort. Most everything has at least something good about it. If you stop and think long enough about it, you can probably come up with something good about almost anything.

For example, a lot of people dislike Donald Trump. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may already know that I can’t stand the man. But– I can legitimately state that some good things came from Trump’s time as president. For instance, I have noticed that many people have become much less complacent about voting than they once were. They are no longer okay with skipping elections, because they’ve seen what not voting can lead to. Or– if they support Trump– they realize that their votes will make a difference. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum one falls on, I think it’s a very good thing to exercise the right to vote. It’s a very valuable right in a civilized society to be able to make one’s voice heard. So, in my opinion, making people more aware of the right to vote and impressing upon them how important voting is is a good thing Trump did. That doesn’t mean I don’t think he’s a contemptible asshole. But he isn’t 100% bad, either. Almost no one is.

I can even extend this thought to people like Josh Duggar. I don’t like Josh Duggar. I think he’s a massive creep who has done terrible things. However, I don’t think he’s the worst person there ever was, and I recognize that there are people in the world who love him, in spite of his criminal behavior. I also realize that he’s got six kids and one on the way who would not be here if not for him. I don’t know a thing about Josh’s children, but I’m assuming that they have the potential to be good people. They don’t have to turn out like Josh has. And they would not be here or who they are if not for their father. At this point, they probably love their dad and, if they’re aware of what’s going on, may feel scared and upset that he may soon be going to prison for a long time. So I have some compassion for them, too… and that leads me to have some compassion for Josh, in spite of how terrible his actions have been.

Because I have compassion, I can’t support mistreating people who have done bad things. I think they should be punished, and some need to be permanently taken out of society because they will harm others. But I don’t support deliberately making them miserable, torturing them, or harming them. I do understand the sentiment of feeling like you want to hurt or kill someone who’s done you wrong. I even express it at times when I am angry. But the reality is, I don’t want to see people being hurt, even if they’ve hurt others. I mainly think it’s only appropriate to hurt or kill someone when it’s done in self-defense.

Most commenters on this video don’t think Ghislaine should be treated decently. I disagree.

I recently watched a video about the conditions Ghislaine Maxwell is dealing with as she awaits her trial regarding her alleged sex trafficking crimes. In the video, Maxwell’s lawyer explains that Maxwell is in a living hell. While I do think she needs to be confined because she is a potential flight risk, I can understand why she’s complaining about her conditions in jail. But there were so many comments from people indicating that they had no compassion for her and she deserves to be treated cruelly. I can’t agree with that. She’s still a sentient human being. Being cruel to people who have done wrong doesn’t change them for the better. It makes them worse. I don’t want Ghislaine Maxwell to be worse than she is. I want her to be a better person. So I think she should be treated humanely.

I think all people should be treated with humanity, whenever possible. And I write this realizing that I’m sometimes a hypocrite when I get angry… I sometimes express anger in a way that seems contrary to the idea of compassion. But I’m telling you that deep down, despite being angry, I don’t support hurting people or making them suffer unnecessarily. That includes Bill’s ex wife, whom I legitimately despise. I mainly want her to stay out of my life and am content with letting her destructive actions lead to natural consequences. I would also hope people would show compassion to me, so I do try to show it to others. I can be compassionate and still think a person should be held accountable… or even have some contempt for them.

Anyway… I don’t know what Renee Alway is up to now. I think it’s troubling that she turned to crime. I suspect she suffered abuse in her past and is dealing with it in a way that isn’t helpful. When I saw her on ANTM, I really did think she was gorgeous and talented. I rooted for her and hoped she’d win. I wish things had turned out differently and she didn’t succumb to criminal behavior. But I realize Renee has friends… and some of those friends can’t bear to see her criticized. I do understand wanting to protect your friends, but screaming at me to be quiet doesn’t help your case. It just draws attention to that which you claim is damaging. So, as Rumi says, “raise your words, not voice.” If you want something to grow– like flowers or food– you have to nourish and nurture it. In other words, be constructive, not destructive. And try to have kindness and compassion toward people, especially if you want them to return that sentiment to you.

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Duggars, Reality TV, religion

The Duggars are… done?

I woke up to the news that TLC is finally canceling the Duggars. That means no more Counting On. No more sneaky attempts by Jim Bob and his wife, Michelle, to get on camera and hijack what was supposed to be a reality show about his adult children who haven’t committed crimes. No more babies being born on toilets. No more contrived honeymoons to foreign countries, where the whole storyline centers around how “different” the Duggars are. No more over the top baby gender reveals. It’s about time.

What took them so long?

To be honest, the Duggars have been on TV for an astonishingly long time… and it’s high time they hightailed it off into the sunset. Even if Josh Duggar wasn’t a notorious sex pest, the Duggar time in the spotlight of reality TV should have been over some time ago. I quit watching their show several years ago, not necessarily because of Josh, but because it had become really boring. It was a lot of lathering, rinsing, and repeating. I’m sure a lot of the people on the show– Boob’s children and their spouses– who evidently weren’t even being paid for their work– will be glad to be able to do their own things off camera.

My guess is that Jeremy and Jinger will be glad to be done with the show. Now he can work on becoming the next Joel Osteen.

I read that Josh’s child pornography trial has also been postponed. It was supposed to begin on July 6th, but now it’s slated to start in late November. I guess that will be enough time for him to be around to see his seventh child being born. With any luck, he won’t have time to impregnate Anna again before he goes to trial and likely ends up in prison. Another baby is the last thing Anna would need. But I would not put it past Josh to try to make one more baby… Someone as narcissistic as he is no doubt thinks the world needs more of his progeny running around.

I’m sure Jim Boob is now thinking of new ways to be rich and famous, as he looks for experts to help his son beat his child porn charges. Even if Josh doesn’t go to prison– and I think he will, but I’ve learned never to “count on” what seems obvious– I suspect his life may be pretty much over. His reputation is ruined. There are some people in the fundie Christian world who might manage to overlook his past, but a whole lot of other people will never be able to forgive and forget what he’s been accused of doing, even in the highly unlikely event that he’s proven innocent.

I feel badly for Josh’s kids. Those poor souls never had a choice. It won’t be easy for them, growing up in the fundie Christian cult with their father locked up in prison. They will always be associated with him, no matter what. They probably love their dad, despite what he’s allegedly done and what he’s openly admitted to doing.

See this smirk? He probably isn’t hurting like his loved ones are.

I think this is something that a lot of people don’t think about in these situations… that predators may be the worst sorts of people, but there’s usually someone out there who loves them anyway. I’m sure Josh’s mother loves him. It looks like Jim Bob does, too. And he has a wife who is standing by him, and all those kids… The rest of the world may think he’s just the lowest form of turd, but there are people in his life who don’t see him the way others do. And those people are going to suffer for this. They’ll probably suffer more than Josh will. Josh doesn’t seem to be taking this very seriously. See the above pic for evidence.

I guess this Duggar situation is one reason why I’m not so tough on the Plath family, another large family that has been profiled on TLC. I mentioned the Plaths on Facebook yesterday, and someone mentioned how “cruel” the parents are to their kids. Honestly, I watched all of the episodes over the past couple of days. I didn’t come away with that much disdain for Kim and Barry Plath. I mean, sure, I don’t agree with their parenting decisions. I think Kim seems a bit closed off emotionally. Barry is a bit smarmy. But I don’t see them nearly as controlling or egregiously offensive as the Duggars often are. And at least Kim has an excuse. She grew up with the chaos of an alcoholic single mom and later lost a child to a terrible accident.

In one episode, Kim Plath mentioned that as a child of an alcoholic, she’d learned to “manage her emotions”. I know what she writes of, although I wasn’t very successful at that myself. She also mentioned being a partier in college, driving drunk and, by the grace of God, not getting in any accidents. I think it’s possible that if she hadn’t quit drinking, she would have ended up like her mother. Many children of alcoholics become alcoholics, marry them, or turn into control freaks. I’ve also witnessed in my own family people trading alcohol for something else. In Kim’s case, maybe it was religion. I have a cousin who quit drinking and turned into a gun toting, right-wing, Christian zealot. I can barely stand to talk to him anymore, and he used to be one of my favorite relatives. He’s become so smug and self-righteous. I’ll bet he’d love a flag like the one pictured below.

A screenshot of a Trump rally going on this week. Some people still think Trump is the president.

I watched the Plaths over the past couple of days. Unlike a lot of viewers, I feel like I saw both sides of the situation. Most of the kids were complaining about how tough the parents were on them, not educating them and preparing them for the world. But from what I see, the kids are doing quite well. Not a single one of them is a skid row drunk or drug addict. They all appear to be employed beyond the TLC show, launching their own lives as they see fit, and not being forced to work for the family business, as the Duggar children seem to be. Once they become 18, they are encouraged to get out and live life. I think that’s healthier than what we see with the Duggars, with all the adult kids living close by, often in properties owned by Jim Bob. Those who buck the system get ostracized by Boob. In the Plath family, it looks like the children are deciding to go “no contact”. Also… Boob protects his sex pest son, Josh, but doesn’t protect one of Josh’s victims, Jill. That’s way fucked up.

Now… in saying all of this, I’m not trying to be a Plath booster. Again– I see issues from both sides. I can understand why Kim Plath wouldn’t want her youngest children around people who seem hostile toward her. She’s still their mom, and she has to live with them. The youngest kids are not old enough to be kicked out of the house, as Micah and Moriah have been. And again, while I don’t agree with the fundie lifestyle, I do think parents should be allowed to raise their children the way they want to, as long as there’s no egregious abuse involved. And, of course, we all need to remember that if the Plaths weren’t a bit dysfunctional, they wouldn’t be on TV. If Kim Plath was an awesome mom who shits sunshine and flowers, they wouldn’t have a show. People tune in to see the strife. So we should all remember that… that dysfunction and apparent “cruelty” is what keeps people watching and the money rolling.

And I can also understand why Ethan and Olivia were hurt when they were told they couldn’t be around Ethan’s siblings unsupervised. It’s hurtful to have your parents not trust you, especially when you haven’t done anything criminal. Ethan and Olivia are just evolving into “regular” people. The Plath parents would do well to realize that this is going to happen with all of the children as they grow up. The vast majority of them are probably not going to follow the same path their parents have. That’s part of growing up– making your own choices. On another note, I also empathize with Olivia feeling disliked by Kim. I don’t think Bill’s stepmother likes me very much, even though I’m not nearly as abusive as Ex is. On the other hand, lots of people don’t like me… I figure that’s their problem.

For whatever it’s worth, Kim does seem to have a lovely relationship with her daughter, Lydia. Lydia, seems to be the type of person who goes along to get along. Personally, I think she’s my favorite on that show. I think she’s the prettiest, too. She just seems so kind and caring, as well as naturally beautiful. She’s probably the Jana Duggar of the Plath family. 😉 Seems like every large family has at least one person who is ultra responsible and mature. It’s usually the oldest who’s like that, but I think Ethan appears to be a lot less mature than his sister, Lydia, is… and she’s several years younger than Ethan is.

Anyway… I wouldn’t be broken-hearted if the Plaths have another season, although I don’t see them going on for years, as the Duggars have. I wouldn’t want them to do that. I think they’re wise enough not to try to do that, although I could be wrong.

Being on reality TV is probably a bit like gambling. It’s best to quit while you’re ahead. The Duggars should have been done years ago. They should have been done before 2015, when revelations about what a creep Josh is initially came to light. But no… Jim Bob had to keep the money, fame, and attention whoring going, and now he and Michelle and the rest of the clan are going to pay a terrible price as they likely watch their eldest trudge off to prison in cuffs and shackles. I think that’s probably the most appropriate thing to happen… but it does make me sad to see it. It makes me sad to see anyone being sent to prison, even if they absolutely deserve it. I think languishing behind bars is a terrible fate, particularly for those who have any potential whatsoever. That doesn’t mean I sympathize with Josh. It means that I know he’s a human being, despite his habit of doing terrible things. And I do empathize with all of those who love him and will be watching as he faces justice. Especially, his children... who have all of my sympathy.

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book reviews, narcissists

Repost of my review of The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell

Another repost of a book review. I originally reviewed this book on Epinions.com in 2009. I reposted it on my old blog and am reposting it again as/is, because narcissism is a hot topic.

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way… I can’t wait to look in the mirror, cuz I get better lookin’ each day…” (Mac Davis, “It’s Hard To Be Humble”)

According to authors Jean M. Twenge Ph.D and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D, Americans have a serious self-esteem problem that needs prompt attention. Look around and you might see what they’re talking about. Today’s babies wear bibs that say “Supermodel” or “Chick Magnet” on them. Today’s children win sports trophies just for showing up to play the game. Today’s adults live in huge, well furnished homes and drive luxury cars, yet they’re drowning in consumer debt. Yes, many Americans have a self-esteem problem, but despite the conventional thinking that our collective self-esteem is too low, Twenge and Campbell, authors of the 2009 book The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, propose that it’s too high. They write on page 14, “American culture has embraced the value of self-admiration with a big, warm hug.” And now that I’ve read their book and considered their observations, I’m inclined to agree with them.

I purchased The Narcissism Epidemic while shopping for Stepmonsters, the subject of my last book review. Amazon.com quite brilliantly offered The Narcissism Epidemic as a suggestive sell and I took the bait. I am fairly pleased with the purchase, since psychologists Twenge and Campbell have written a very timely book about a problem that plagues a lot of Americans and may well be causing our downfall.  A growing number of people in our country think that rules don’t apply to them because they are somehow exceptional.  Too many people lack empathy and are too willing to put their needs above everything else.

Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell, former fellow postdocs at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, first started thinking about the narcissism problem back in 1999, when they were both working in well-known social psychologist Roy Baumeister’s lab. The authors claim that there’s not much to do in Cleveland, especially in the winter. One day, as they were chatting with a fellow postdoc, the two came up with the idea of looking at trends related to narcissism. However, in 1999, the standard measure of narcissism had only been around for about ten years, which wasn’t long enough for them to do a solid study of change over time (6). They both eventually became college professors and decided to revisit the idea in 2006. The end result is this book, which focuses much of its discussion on narcissism in the United States, but also explores global trends of the narcissim epidemic in Europe, Asia, and Australia.

What this book is about

This book is about the collective “me first” attitude demonstrated by so many people today. Twenge and Campbell point out how the “me first” can attitude start out in the womb, as parents go to great lengths to come up with “special” names for their unborn children. When their babies are born, they’re photographed and fawned over and dressed in little t-shirts that point out how cute and “special” they are. As pre-schoolers, they sing cute little songs like “I Am Special, Look At Me”, a song that no doubt was written as a way of celebrating individuality and self-esteem, but may actually result in cultivating narcissism.

As kids come of age, some of them may be overvalued by their parents, who may refer to them as “little princesses” or “little princes”. Young girls may find themselves wearing makeup and attending spa appointments before they’ve left elementary school. Kids of both genders may aspire to be rich and famous over anything else when they grow up.

The authors explore how reality TV shows can entice ordinary people to dream of fame and fortune. Public figures like Paris Hilton and Britney Spears promote the shallow message that it’s more important to be rich, beautiful, and famous than it is to be a decent person. MTV’s highly obnoxious show, My Super Sweet 16 gets a lot of discussion, as the authors show how teenaged girls are encouraged to be shallow and haughty, as their parents scramble to throw them the best sweet 16 party ever, complete with $100,000 cars, exclusive invitations, and top of the line entertainment.

The authors even step into the church sanctuary, pointing out how megachurches take a tradition that once reined in narcissistic impulses and turn it into something that promotes it. For many people, going to church used to be a humbling exercise, where people came to be reminded of the consequences of acting like jerks. People drank bad coffee or Kool-Aid, ate stale donuts, and depending on the faith, might be given a stern warning about how sinners will end up in Hell. With the advent of megachurches, that warning message may well have gone away for a large segment of the population. Parishoners can listen to messages inspired by the prosperity gospel, where they will be told how special they are and how much God loves them. They can listen to high quality music, drink high quality coffee, and later purchase feel good books from the church bookstore. The prospect of going to Hell barely gets a mention.

I wasn’t surprised to see the authors take on college students. They write about students who have the audacity to demand better grades and expect passing grades simply for showing up to class. They quote students as having said to their professors, “You work for me.” On the other hand, they also explore how being a college professor can promote narcissism, too. After all, people tend to take notes on everything a professor says.

After college, it seems a lot of young people expect to get a fulfilling job that immediately pays six figures a year. Many of them lack the ability to fail with grace and handle disappointments. Some of them may sink into depression. I have to admit, having been through that myself after college and graduate school, I can relate. On the other hand, I have never expected to make a six figure salary in my lifetime.

Along with the expectation of a high paying job after graduation, some of these young people also expect to be able to wear the very best clothes, drive the best cars, and live in fine homes. They may succumb to easy credit, running up huge debts in their efforts to look successful and live the sweet life… only the sweet life is soured by the burden of huge bills they can’t hope to pay. No wonder America’s economy is in the toilet.

What I liked about this book

The Narcissism Epidemic is a good example of how research doesn’t have to be presented in a boring way. The authors present their case in a clear, logical, and very entertaining manner, often adding cleverly pithy comments that are fun to read. I liked the fact that the authors explored many different aspects of society to make their case about how narcissistic we’ve become. They cover everything from the adulation kids may get during early childhood to the school shooting sprees perpetrated by young people who felt the world owed them something. They also devote a lot of discussion to how the Internet promotes narcissism through Web sites like YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook… hell, I guess even Epinions could be included in that list. How many of us reviewers live for ego-boo through this site?

What I didn’t like about this book

As much as I enjoyed reading The Narcissism Epidemic, I couldn’t help but realize that the authors may be a little guilty of narcissism themselves. After all, their lofty academic achievements are clearly presented on the book’s dust jacket. They presume to offer suggestions on how people might become less narcissistic. I thought their suggestions were good ones and was glad to see them attempting to “solve” the problem. The irony is, in their attempt to solve narcissism, they seem to perpetrate it themselves. But again, I guess it really is hard to be humble sometimes.

I also felt the authors got a little carried away with this book. They include a huge range of examples, which while interesting to read about, made this book a little longer than it might have been. Some topics got mentioned more than once. For instance, I remember reading about the babies with the “Supermodel” bibs, Paris Hilton, and My Super Sweet 16 more than a couple of times as I made my way through this book.

Nevertheless

I really did enjoy reading The Narcissism Epidemic, especially since I happen to agree with a lot of the authors’ points. Even if most Americans aren’t suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder, a lot of us could stand to take a good look at they way we’re living. We work so hard to protect ourselves and our children from hardship and disappointment. We surround ourselves with useless toys and status symbols. We may even start to look at fellow human beings as “trophies” of sorts, caring more about what another person can do for us rather than who they are as people. All of this can lead to depression over a dull, meaningless, existence, not to mention the potential shame of bankruptcy and foreclosure when the fantasy of artificial wealth comes crashing down into reality.

I think The Narcissism Epidemic is a fine book and hereby recommend it with four stars.

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Duggars, Reality TV

Appearances can be deceiving…

I hope you’ll indulge me one more Duggar related posting. It comes on the heels of yesterday’s post about young Spurgeon Seewald, whom many people in the Duggar Family News Facebook group think is “doomed” to live his whole life as a fundie Christian doormat for his grandfather, Jim Bob Duggar, not so affectionately known as “Boob” in some circles.

Today’s post is going in the opposite generational direction. I want to discuss Boob’s late father, Jimmy Lee (JL) Duggar. I’m going to refer to him as JL in this post, because that’s what Grandma Duggar called him.

As I was talking to Bill about four year old Spurgeon Seewald, and the people who think his future is “doomed” to fundie drudgery, I wondered out loud how this whole dynamic came to be in the first place. Jim Bob Duggar, after all, was raised in a God fearing Baptist church, but his mom only had two kids– Boob, and his sister, Deanna. Deanna had only one child, Amy, who is not at all like her fundie Christian cousins. And Boob and Deanna went to school; they weren’t homeschooled.

Jim Bob had a somewhat “normal” upbringing. What happened in Boob’s life to turn him into the narcissistic cretin he is today?

Suddenly, I remembered Boob’s father, JL, who died of brain cancer in February 2009. JL was featured on the original Duggar show just before he passed away. My memories are a little bit fuzzy, but a Reddit post explains that he was on the show for his birthday, which was February 3, 2009. He passed away on February 9, 2009. In other words– six days before this man’s death of brain cancer, he was trotted out for the cameras and a “birthday” celebration. He appears in the episode “Duggars on Ice” lying in bed, obviously very close to death, as well as another called “The Big Thaw”, in which the Duggars celebrate his birthday six days before he died. Two episodes later, his death was covered in an episode called “Duggars Say Goodbye”.

This is the clip in which the banana cake was served… It was filmed six days before Grandpa passed away.

I remember seeing that episode and thinking it was in incredibly poor taste. And I write this knowing that I’m not exactly known for being tasteful and classy myself. The Reddit author agrees that the way JL Duggar was treated before his death was pretty shitty. Here’s a screen shot of the post.

Here was JL Duggar, obviously very sick and frail. His son, Boob, apparently didn’t think very much of his father, who only had two kids instead of 19. JL was known as “fun loving”, and perhaps wasn’t a particularly strong church leader or patriarch. I wonder if someone in the church Boob went to made comments about JL that caused shame to Boob. Perhaps someone Boob admired disparaged his father to the point at which Boob was just fine in showing him off for the cameras, just days before his death. It kind of felt a bit like a “fuck you”, even though it was not really scripted that way. It was like, “Look, even though you weren’t a ‘godly’ father and I’m kind of ashamed of you, I’m going to show everyone– and I mean EVERYONE– how amazing a son I am by filming your exit from Earth for my reality show.”

Edited to add– I actually have the episode about JL’s death in my iTunes library. Gonna watch it now to refresh my memory.

I see Boob is picking out a casket for his father, saying that JL didn’t want anything “expensive” and would be fine in a pine box. Indeed… these were the years when the Duggars were constantly preaching about being thrifty. Buy used and save the difference… and there’s a scene involving food brought by neighbors, and a close up scene showing one of the youngest Duggar daughters picking her nose.

Charming screenshot of some kid! In another clip, a woman says, “I’d better not see this on TV.” So much for that!

I remember on one episode, which aired just before JL’s death, Jana made him some kind of banana dessert. JL was rolled out in an office chair, rather than a proper wheelchair. I highly doubt JL could enjoy the sweet confection made by his granddaughter, but it looked “good” on camera. I can’t find that clip anymore, and now I wonder if iTunes scrubs scenes, because I distinctly remember other clips that were controversial and somehow “disappeared” (ETA: I later found the clip, which is posted above, on Daily Motion). I also notice that at least one episode on iTunes is two minutes shorter than others from that season. Here are a few more comments from Reddit about JL’s last days…

As I was remembering this scene, I remembered my own father’s last days. I didn’t enjoy a harmonious relationship with my dad. I did, and still do, love him very much, but we had a lot of conflict in our relationship. I remember seeing him for the last time, and how heartbreaking it was. He was in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines. I remember hoping that his passing would be quick and dignified, and blessedly, it was.

A few days prior to my last visit with my dad, one of my sisters chose to send me a photograph of my father on his death bed. He was covered in an enormous CPAP mask and hooked up to machines and tubes. I remember being outraged that she sent the picture of him like that. I feel very sure that our mother would not have approved of it, and it was just a very manipulative, underhanded, disrespectful thing to do. Not only was it disrespectful to me, since I certainly didn’t need to see our dad on his death bed to know that it was time to come to Virginia and say goodbye, but it was also very disrespectful to HIM. I feel sure he would not have wanted anyone to take a picture of him in that shape and then send it in an email, where it could wind up in anyone’s possession. But my sister evidently felt that I “needed” a visual to drive home how serious the situation was. It really pissed me off (ETA: but mentioning this now doesn’t mean I’m STILL pissed off).

When that happened, I was very tempted to tell off my sister. But then I realized that if I told her off, it would make an already stressful situation much worse than it needed to be. So instead of telling her how I really felt at the time, I sent her a response that said something along the lines of, “Thank you for the update.” Then I wrote a scathing blog post, which I later deleted, because again– I didn’t want to create trouble, even though I felt justifiably pissed at the obvious emotional blackmail and completely unnecessary manipulative tactics she was, once again, employing. It was, yet again, another instance of someone being inconsiderate and disrespectful to me, while expecting me to accept that treatment without complaint. There must be something in my personality that makes people think this is alright to do. Then, when I stand up for myself, they treat me as if I’m the asshole.

And yet… as tacky, disrespectful, and distasteful as my sister’s choice to send me that picture of our dad on his death bed was, it was not nearly as awful as the undignified way JL Duggar was treated as his own death approached. I only hope he was even less conscious than he appeared to be in those last scenes of his life. Despite all the comments about how “wonderful” Grandpa was, in the end, it was all about the ratings and the money. And now, it seems like it’s all about maintaining control… as the Duggar children have all inevitably gotten much older and are wanting to live their own lives. We’re seeing that much of what was said in the early years of the Duggars on television was a lot of scripted lines. But then, that’s how it is in most families in which there is a narcissist at the helm. Everyone is trained to say and do the right things, or there will be hell to pay.

I know there are people out there– people within my family, former friends, former landlords, former employers and roommates and others– who don’t think highly of me. Many of them don’t like that I speak my mind– or “write my mind”, as it were. They would prefer that I didn’t remember, speak, or write about these things, because they are unpleasant and cast them in a bad light. I don’t go looking for information about what people think of me. I mostly assume that what people think of me is not my business, and looking for that information will only cause me pain. Moreover, I know that there are a lot of really great people in my life who can accept and love me for who I am and don’t expect a well-scripted “show”.

I guess the whole Duggar funeral dog and pony show kind of affected me on that level because it really felt so much like a big fake “show”. And while there’s no way I can know what kind of relationship JL and Jim Bob Duggar really had, what was presented on television did not feel very authentic. It reminded me of some of my own relationships, and how I’ve always been pressured to be someone I’m not for the sake of keeping up appearances.

It’s interesting how a discussion about four year old Spurgeon Seewald could lead me to think about JimBob Duggar’s late father, and then my own father. I still have a lot of baggage to unpack, I guess. It’s a wonder I have any friends, let alone an understanding husband. 🙂

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