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The Body Image Index

I've long thought that the body mass index, the oft-cited calculation of whether you're obese, is flawed -- after all, it doesn't take into account whether your extra weight comes from muscle or fat. As an (equally meaningless) alternative, I propose a different measurement, one that reflects how you actually feel. I call it the Body Image Index, and I wrote about it for O Magazine.

What do feelings have to do with numbers? Most women know that it is possible to immediately gain 15 pounds by eating one pint of Ben & Jerry's. And when it comes to your butt (which can enlarge six sizes in the wrong pair of jeans), the rules of physics no longer apply. 

We need a better way to quantify these fluctuations -- a formula that goes beyond your BMI and calculates the feel of overweight. So I propose the personal body image index (PBII).

The general idea is as follows:

• Start with your weight.  • Subtract seven pounds if you have just worked out.  • Add five if you've single-handedly finished a plate of guacamole and chips; four for macaroni and cheese; six for death-by-chocolate cake.  • Subtract 10 pounds if people nearby are fatter than you. • If you're wearing black pants, subtract two; if in a bathing suit, add eight.  • If you are more than seven years older than the group average or are surrounded by bikini-clad undergraduates with toned stomachs and cellulite-free thighs, add 20.

The Id and the iPod

Unlike CD collections, which exist primarily in homes and may be tucked away in bedrooms -- and so are relatively easy to keep private -- the iPod is carried in public, where it has the potential to expose all, quickly. Gone are the days of slow musical revelation, layers peeling away like clothing until a man and his music stand naked before you. On an iPod, everything's there -- songs for exercising, commuting, seducing. Taking your iPod -- and its playlists -- on a date is the equivalent of wearing your entire wardrobe at once, then holding up each piece of clothing for examination. "Here's what I wear to work out!" it says. "And in the meantime, check out my silk boxers!"

Granted, the iPod is not the first portable music device. The Walkman has been around for years. But really, what do the contents of a Walkman tell you? They only hold one tape. That's like deciding whether a guy is hot by looking at one eye. And besides, anyone who has made a mix for a crush knows that, when it comes to romance, music can be carefully manipulated. Selecting the perfect songs for your would-be lover is less a revelation of your soul than a careful construction of a public image that you hope will lead to bed.

During the long-gone days when I still carried around a white, second generation iPod (you know, like, two years ago) it occurred to me that by creating the iPod, Steve Jobs had inadvertently affected modern romance. The San Francisco Chronicle gave me space to elaborate.

The Chronicle also invited me to participate in a podcast about the piece.

How Michael Pollan Ruined My Life

Halfway through the semester, I learned a new word: orthorexia. It means having an unhealthy obsession with eating healthily, an irony that was not lost on me as I stood in line at the Berkeley Bowl watching my groceries be rung up. Wild, line-caught salmon, pesticide-free strawberries -- by now, those were normal. But organic ice cream? Was I really now concerned about the origins of my junk food, worrying whether a mint-chocolate-chip-producing cow had access to pasture? I felt myself burning with self-righteous anger at having to be so self-righteous. I wanted to know the answer to one question: after wreaking so much havoc on my own life, what, exactly, did Pollan eat? So I did what any rational person would: I demanded to see the contents of his refrigerator.

Michael Pollan was one of my teachers at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and don't get me wrong -- he is smart, thoughtful, a fantastic teacher and an all-around great human being. But, as I pointed out in the San Francisco Chronicle, he still ruined my life.

Sometimes a Backpack Engenders Exasperation

The idea that backpacks might need genders hadn't occurred to me until I started paying attention to CamelBak, the maker of these "hydration systems" -- that is, bags with internal water bladders. Assuming that men are the default option when it comes to sports, the company doesn't even bother to label its masculine collections as such. But unless the "Hunting" line and "Outlaw Series" are being targeted toward desperately dehydrated housewives, their intended audience is clear enough. A man who wears a CamelBak, they seem to say, lives life on the edge. Depending on what pack he chooses, he could be a Menace. He might be the grim reaper of Chaos. Sometimes, let's be honest, he can be a bit of a Rogue. CamelBak's "women's fit" line is, of course, kept separate from the Outlaws and the Hunters; in fact, it's listed on the Web site directly above "Just For Kids." Want to go on a rugged hike? Try the Dream. Check out the Charm's "great colors" (silver/pink, sky blue), or pick up an "adorable" Pixie, which takes "cues from the runway." If you're really feeling parched, try the Moxie. It comes in waterfall blue and, according to the Web site, "holds enough water for 2- to 3-hour hikes, rides, or trips to the mall."

I cannot stand -- cannot stand -- the stupid names sports companies give to their women's lines. Luckily in this case, the San Francisco Chronicle let me express my frustrations on the page.

Math for Fat Kids

"What better way to introduce simple addition concepts than with delicious Hershey's Kisses?" reads the description of "Hershey's Kisses Addition Book" at Amazon.com. (It's not to be confused with the "Hershey's Kisses Subtraction Book," the "Hershey's Kisses Multiplication and Division Book" or "Hershey's Fractions.") Your kid hates Hershey's? Try the "M&Ms Addition Book," "Skittles Riddles Math" or the "Twizzlers Percentages Book," in which space aliens descend on a classroom and, in an unexpected plot twist, demand Twizzlers in exchange for lesson plans. It's a strategy best summarized by "Reese's Pieces: Count By Fives": "Don't just play with your food," says the online blurb, "Learn with it!"

For this editorial in the Los Angeles Times about the "educational" marketing of junk food, I question whether it's really a good idea to use Oreos to teach kids math.