Seven out of ten psychologists are just plain daft

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Perfect models make women "sick with envy", according to the latest research. Magazine pictures of Kate Moss, Elle MacPherson and Claudia Schiffer cause seven out of ten women to suffer from something called the Barbie syndrome - feelings of depr ession,stress, guilt and shame - and all it takes for this trauma to strike is three minutes looking at Cosmopolitan.

This disturbing new psychological discovery coincidentally arrived on my desk at the same time as the latest issue of Cosmo. I opened the magazine nervously, got close to the wastebin, and waited to be overcome. I think the sickness must be metaphorical.Or maybe I was looking at the wrong thing. The pictures of Eugenia Charles, Prime Minister of Dominica, who is 75, and Gro Harlem Brundtland, Prime Minister of Norway, 55, and far from a Twiglet, didn't fill me with any guilt and shame at all. I turned to the next article, which was illustrated by a woman with a jaw from a shaving ad talking about how she wanted to beat up men. No stress there, let alone a feeling that I wanted to look like Barbie, who would, let's face it, fall over if she was real.

Eventually I found a piece on Killer Babes, featuring the sort of coathangers in hotpants the psychologists are so worried about, and another on The New Supergirls, with pictures of 15-year-old Norwegians. Very pretty 15-year-old Norwegians, but Norwegi a ns aged 15 all the same, which is just not something I wake up in the middle of the night longing to be.

You wonder what it is about psychologists that they think these pictures make women so ill they get a syndrome. In the old days, trauma was something you suffered after a car crash or when your lover left, not from looking at Cosmo. (But psychologists

are very odd people: last week they held a conference to announce that executives don't like losing at stupid adventure games, and middle-class people feel nervous if they think they're going to lose their jobs). The American psychologists responsible

for the Barbie Syndrome said severely: "It's the media selling hope." Terrible, terrible; and, of course, women just can't cope. Unlike men who read all those car magazines and never fantasize about being big and macho with a Ferrari.

IT had to happen sooner or later: a book composed entirely of lists. Newspapers and magazines have been almost completely taken over by lists and what tough-guy journalists like to call bullet points, so now Dorling Kindersley has very sensibly publishedThe Top Ten Of Everything, so we can have the lists without all the boring prose that usually accompanies them.

Did Milton need lists, did Shakespeare have side-bars? I don't think so. But in the last week alone I have dutifully read lists of The Most Expensive Football Transfers Of All Time, The Most Outrageous Salaries of Directors Of Former Publicly-Owned Util i ties, The Top Ten Albums Ever, and Signs That Say Your Boyfriend Is Cheating. It's easy to see why lists appeal to writers; they avoid the need for conjunctions. And they give even extremely dull thoughts an aura of glamour.

I once worked briefly and ingloriously as the environment correspondent for a women's magazine which wasn't, as it turned out, at all interested in the environment. We resorted to a lot of lists. Threatened animals were always good, because you could have pictures of elephants. Dirty beaches too, because you could put in photographs of clean ones in Cornwall. After that, the rest of what had been billed as This Year's Campaign got a bit sticky, because the environment is actually rather complicated and scientific and involves people living in poverty.

As for why lists exert the curious fascination for readers that they evidently do, it's a more mysterious question. These are My Top Three Reasons: l We have the attention spans of fleas.

l We live in such a muddle, we need things organised.

l We are illiterate.

MY TOP Three Causes of Lists may be entirely misleading. In March 1992, Jeff Eller, one of Bill Clinton's staffers, began putting speeches and other Clinton documents on the Internet and "was surprised that people actually bothered to read all that stuff," as he tells the latest issue of Wired, the computer nerd's magazine. Eller concludes that there's widespread dissatisfaction with sound-bites and the glib summations of spin doctors: "People showed a real hunger for longer-form communications."

The other surprising thing about the Dear Bill messages on the Internet (a quarter of a million in his first year as President) was how positive they were. Opinion polls may rank him as one of the least popular presidents in living memory, but the e-mailis strongly in his favour. It could be that only Democrats use computers, but the administration likes to think that people on the Net are exceptionally well informed.

Last week John Major announced that he's considering surfing on to the information super- highway. Perhaps he hopes for his own Clinton effect; once voters read Those Green Papers In Full they'll see the point of the Cones Charter. Quick, give me a list.

ONE MINUTE you're living in a quiet street, the next it's an urban nightmare. The pub down the road, a non-event since we moved in, has been sold to a man who told our neighbours he was opening a "family pub", and has applied for a music and dance licence every night of the week (2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays).

For people who are in bed by 10.30pm and quiet in their habits, this is scary. I have written furious, tear-stained letters to planning departments and councillors and anyone else I can think of, but what really worries me is that builders are already constructing the dance floor.