When I began working in the corporate world in the 1970's, I wore skirts and blouses and modest-height high-heeled shoes, as did the rest of the female staff. If I added a pound or two to my petite frame, I would have known it right away. I'd have trouble zipping up that wool pencil skirt. My waistband would dig into my flesh, reminding me to steer clear of that Bavarian creme donut in the cafeteria. My shoes would pinch. It was nature's perfect feedback loop.
Back in the day, we didn't have any casual Fridays. When I worked on field projects, I could wear jeans, but here too, a spare pound or two would manifest itself instantly. Jeans in those days were not pre-worn and softened up. They were made to last, and to hold the line, especially the waistline, through all manner of abuse.
Somewhere along the line, clothing designers hit upon the magic of spandex, a polymer developed by chemists at DuPont. You may also know this miracle fiber as "elastane" or Lycra, which is now manufactured by Invista, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, acquired from DuPont. So yes: every time you enjoy the comfort of Lycra, it's another tiny little bit of money going to your friends at Koch Industries. Comfort, meet discomfort.
By 2010, an estimated 80% of all clothing that was sold in America contained spandex. 80%. No wonder we're so comfy. Spandex, even in very small percentages in a fabric mix, gives clothing just the right amount of stretch to provide comfort for those of us who aren't quite as svelte as we were in our younger days.
Somewhere along the line, whether as a result of Feminist influences, practicality, or the whims of the fashion industry, office attire for women morphed into pantsuits or pants and blouses, and footwear, now no longer on display, became clunkier and more comfortable. Men, no longer constrained by suits and ties, could unbutton that top shirt button. Spandex found its way into everything.
While our clothes grew more comfortable, our work hours expanded, and now it wasn't at all uncommon to eat our lunch at our desks in order to keep up with expectations of increased productivity. The proliferation of fast food made this a pretty simple turn of events. Grab a sandwich of the "roach coach" or drive out and get a burger and fries or microwave something with enough fat content to satisfy the taste buds.
After our longer and longer days at the office, we flopped on the couch after supper, and snacked until bedtime. Our comfy sweatpants and tee shirts never gave us one iota of feedback telling us that we were getting into the obesity danger zone. We loved our comfort food and comfort clothes, and added some comfort footwear to complete the look. Flip-flops, shower sandals, Crocs, and slippers let our feet spread out. Faithful footwear, they never pinched or rubbed out growing feet. Like a husband who assures us that, no, that dress doesn't make us look fat, we didn't seek any other truths. We shuffled along, oblivious to the growing burden we placed upon our toes, arches, and heels.
When we entered the age of telecommuting, we could deck ourselves out in these casual clothes and shoes for entire workdays, and we were only a few shuffling footsteps away from the fridge. If we were adding a pound or two here or there, no worries. We couldn't feel a thing. We had broken the feedback loop completely. We were free at last.
Until we stepped on a scale. Or sprinted, panting, through an airport, trying to make our connecting flight. Or been admonished by our doctors that we were pre-diabetic. What the hell had happened?
Follow along below the love handles for more...
I recently decided that my creeping weight gain had to be halted and reversed. For years, I told myself that it was no big deal. A pound or two a year. That was nothing. I wasn't fat, I was just... not quite tall enough for my weight. That rate of weight gain wasn't a problem... unless I kept it up for another 30 years, in which case I'd need the Jaws of Life to get out of my comfy chair.
I've lost 10% of my body weight since January, and am continuing my efforts to return to more healthy dimensions. It's started me thinking though. Now that I've formulated my quirky theory on some of the factors leading to creeping weight gain, I'm seeing things in a different light.
Whenever we find ourselves shocked, outraged, or aghast at the present state of affairs, we know, intellectually, that they didn't get that way overnight. Something changed at some point, setting in motion circumstances that would eventually reach a point where they could no longer be ignored. That tipping point might have been days or weeks ago, years or decades ago. Something happened, something that went unremarked at the time.
In chaos theory, "sensitivity to initial conditions" is the term used to help explain how seemingly minor - and distant - perturbations to the status quo can result in significant outcomes far away in time and space. This complex mathematical construct has been represented as the "butterfly effect" based on a ground-breaking paper by Edward Lorenz.
At a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1972, he gave a talk with a title that captured the essence of his ideas: “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wings in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?”As a meteorologist, Lorenz came at this issue from his studies of the atmosphere. In the mean time, the resulting field of chaos theory has been used to study phenomena ranging from climate change to the stock market.
The stock market example is one you can observe for yourself, thanks to electronic trading and the fact that individual investors can now participate in the market directly. Let's say a small tidbit of information (or disinformation) about a company hits the internet. The triggering incident might have been a cell phone call overheard in an airport or a stock symbol mis-typed on a blog. Within seconds, decisions are made: buy, sell, long, short, and rumors run rampant, disseminating, misrepresenting, and countering the information originally released. Trading volume for the stock starts to spike, triggering more attention, more traders pile on, and we're off to the races. Depending on the circumstances, the stock can skyrocket or tank.
I've long suspected that this phenomenon permeates the world of politics as well. The lamestream media realized this week that the Romney-Obama campaign has crossed some "ugliness" threshold that marks an all new low. Really? Nobody saw that coming?
The Tea Party, once a rag-tag group of "morans" called up from Central Casting by the Koch Brothers for the big crowd scene, seemed like an annoying but self-limiting phenomenon. Nothing to worry about. Now, the GOP establisment (and the rest of us) have a serious infestation on their hands. How did this happen? Were we asleep at the wheel?
Like our creeping weight gain, circumstances seem to conspire to sustain our general sense of oblivion. We don't have enough feedback loops built into the processes of our daily likes, and the mainstream media are at their "best" when trying to distract us with what passes for news. "Human interest stories". Good looking people gone missing. Hollywood infidelities. Scary headlines about very, very dangerous people or phenomena we need to worry about, with the information to be presented in the 11:00 edition of the news.
Real information becomes harder and harder to find in the "information landfill". It's in there, but you have to dig through a lot of icky stuff to find it. It's only when things have reached extremes that we snap out of our stupor and wonder what the hell happened, and how it could have happened on our watch. While we're trying to sort that out, somewhere, the next butterfly emerges from its cocoon and moves its wings, setting into motion events that will make us look back on today's woes with nostalgia.