Category Archives: Media

Gender Dysphoria

Although it is not something I tend to openly admit to, one of my guilty pleasures is indulging in an episode of Hollyoaks every now and again. I have been watching the show on/off since I was younger, as it was one of the Soaps my sister would watch every day after school without fail.  It is easy to get absorbed with all the intertwining plot lines that are not at all unbelievable and characters that are not as all stereotypical or one dimensional. The reason I have admitted to being a fan of Hollyoaks is because of one of the storylines shed light on a condition I had previously known nothing about, but which has been more focussed on recently by the media, increasing public awareness.

Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person feels that they are trapped within a body of the wrong sex. Those with gender dysphoria may experience anxiety and a persistent discomfort about the gender that they were born with, or may believe that their gender identity is different from their anatomical sex. For example, a woman may be convinced that she is a male, despite having a female body.

The symptoms of gender dysphoria usually begin to appear at a very young age; however the behaviour exhibited, such as a child refusing to wear typical boys’ or girls’ clothes is a phase many children go through, but in cases of gender dysphoria, it persists into later childhood and through to adulthood.  Those with the lifelong conviction that they’re trapped in the wrong body are referred to as transsexuals.

In the UK an estimated 1 in 4,000 people are recieving medical help for gender dysphoria. . On average, men are diagnosed with gender dysphoria five times more often than women.

Treatment for gender dysphoria varies from person to person, as it is fully dependent on what the individual wants to do. Some may choose to dress and live as their preferred gender, whereas some may take hormones that alter their physical appearance. The majority of transsexuals choose to permanently change their biological sex, however a series of steps must be completed before they are able to do this, and they must be over 18. First the person must live as a member of the opposite sex, full time, for at least a year. After this, they would take either male or female hormones (depending on whether they wanted to become male or female) for at least a year – sometimes longer. After this, they could have surgery to become a man or a woman permanently: a ‘sex change operation’.

 The number of people with gender dysphoria is steadily increasing as awareness of the condition  heightens, however many still feel it is something they can not admit to as prejudice and intolerance towards transsexuals is not uncommon.

If you are interested in gender dysphoria, a new documentary on Channel 4 has just begun called “My Transsexual Summer”, tune in Tuesdays at 10pm.



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Increasing Organ Donations

As many will know, there is a major organ shortage currently (about 8000 people are on the waiting list) and encouraging a higher number of donations is a hot topic circulating around the news at the moment. This is because the government is attempting to come up with new ideas to encourage a larger number of people to donate organs.

The most recent possible incentive is that the NHS will pay for the funeral expenses (around £3000) of organ donors, portrayed to be like a “gift” for their generosity. A big cause of concern has been that this could open up trafficking of organs by people who are desperate financially; however, by paying for their funeral only, the government has tried to minimise this misapprehension as you will not be directly selling your organs individually for money.

The main argument against this is that people believe organ donation should be an entirely altruistic act – completely selfless, with no expectation of payment, and the funeral payment totally contradicts this. Many also believe that it won’t have a big effect as most people are not bothered about funeral expenses.

Personally, I believe the only way of increasing organs availability is by having an opt-out system (like Spain and Austria do), rather than an opt-in system, which England currently holds. This means that everyone is automatically signed up to donate their organs when they die but can choose not to participate, instead of the opposite. With this system, everyone will have to be educated thoroughly from a young age so that they can make the decision to pull out (but then again, what is the appropriate age for children to be able to make this decision?). They have thought about this system before but worry that the increase won’t be significant enough to combat the transplant demands and that it could possibly even reduce the number. Nonetheless, this would mean that organs of people who “never got around to” signing up aren’t wasted. It also considerably increases permission by family members who have the ability to veto a consent given initially by the donor when alive.

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The Human Face – Is Beauty Really In The Eye Of The Beholder?

I’m back with yet another TV recommendation: The Human Face which is, shockingly, about our face! It’s a 4-part series which aired on the BBC and presented by John Cleese (who’s just no Michael Mosley) that reveals the story behind everything related to the face: expressions, features and appearance, and celebrities using the help of true life stories to illustrate the points.

Though I was not immediately taken by this programme (mainly due to the cheesy and not very humorous “jokes”), I was fascinated by their 3rd episode: Survival of the Prettiest. The statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has been reiterated many times but this programme challenges this theory by revealing how the majority of people find the same features attractive. The prettier a face, the better health it implies, suggesting that the person is more fertile so a better mate. Call this vanity or just living in this superficial world, I was fascinated by what was seen as the most beautiful face: a combination of adult characteristics (like high cheek bones) along with baby ones (most obviously big eyes). Make-up is made use of in order to accentuate aspects of your face. One fact that astonished me was the reason for having “smokey” eyes:

The other thing that  intrigued me was, being a mathematician, the degree to which maths plays a part in deciphering the “perfect” face: the golden ratio (1:1.618) has been used to geometrically figure out all the proportions of the face to form a map of this face, known as the “Beauty Mask” (which are often used in plastic surgeries with facial deformities).

The other episodes are Here’s Looking At You where you discover the mysteries of identity and face recognition; Fame And Infamy which demonstrates what memorable elements agents look for in a face, Secrets And Lies displays how expressions communicate with people.

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The Brain: A Secret History – Moral Issues Produced By Experimental Psychology

Michael Mosley, once again, presents this 3-part BBC series on the history of the development of the brain, focusing on the extent to which some scientists are willing to go in order to test their hypotheses. These, sometimes disturbing, experiments (experimental psychology) have opened up an important topic for discussion – the moral problems posed by some tests which, though have benefitted us greatly by providing with the knowledge into how the mind works, have imposed a lot of cruelty on its subjects. This documentary gets the story from the partakers and scientists and (excitingly) reveals the original films showing this research, essential in medical history.

The first episode, Mind Control, touches on the subject that has circulated around numerous times: is there such a thing as free will? The early experimentations expose how one’s reflexes can be trained. This is what Ivan Pavlov suggested through his “Pavlov’s Dog” (shown above). This was then used to modify behaviour such as changing the sexuality of a homosexual (as was not acceptable then) by him viewing soft straight porn whilst electrodes implanted into his brain activated the pleasure centres in order for him to relate that pleasure with heterosexual actions. A new degree of mind control then emerged which was used during wars: brainwashing (such as the type which the Koreans used against the Americans). 

The second episode was my favourite because it was on a subject I’m deeply interested in and have been trying to find more about: Emotions. I haven’t been successful in figuring out much because our sentiments is the topic that is very “grey” in medicine as no one can be truly confident about it. Mosley centres on a few specific emotions, thought to form the basis of our feelings. The first is fear which resulted in the most controversial experiment in medical history: John Watson researched to see if fear could be induced into children from an early stage (“Little Albert” experiment due to the child being named Albert) by showing them an object and banging a loud noise nearby so they would associate the object with fear. His theories are now used in practice to fulfil the opposite aim: manage phobias by gradually increasing exposure to what you fear.

Love was the emotion that was thought to be impossible to study; the conventional hypothesis was that it was produced by carrying out your basic needs (ie. food). Harry Harlow was the first to test this presumption by providing baby monkeys with 2 substitute “mothers”: 1 made of wire but with a feeding system whilst the other only had clothing on it. According to the theory, the monkey should go to the one which can feed it but what occurred was once the monkey had fed, it went to the mother which could provide warmth and comfort of touch. A scientist who helped with the procedure supported it 100%, claiming that it was worthwhile a monkey-model of depression was produced from leaving monkeys in complete isolation, some even in a restricted area (“The Well of Despair”) for a year. Aggression was tested by an adult being deliberately violent in front of a child which led to the infant imitating the parent (and this experimental evidence is often used when debating violence in TV/video games). Moreover, the importance of emotions was illustrated in this programme because 1 man, whose emotion-controlling section had been removed during surgery, stated deaths wouldn’t bother him; the only thing preventing him from becoming a serial killer is the memory of not being one.

The closing episode is called Broken Brains, where abnormal brains are made of use of to work out aspects of the usual brain. For instance, localisation (deducing which parts of the brain was responsible for which functions) became known after Paul Broca realised which part of the brain controlled speech after removing the brain of a man who could only say one word. Mosley also investigates surgeries gone wrong such as where a woman got Alien Hand Syndrome (where her left hand continuously attacked her as the right hemisphere tried to overpower the left).

The one question which has been posed throughout the series has been “Should the disturbing experiments have been done?” which is an important discussion that imposes decisions about future research. Michael Mosley leaves with his opinion: “Yes. I do believe that the knowledge gained was worth the price that was paid.”

(Clicking on the episode will link you to where it can be watched)

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Children’s Craniofacial Surgery

A programme called ‘Children’s Craniofacial Surgery’ aired on BBC2 a couple of weeks ago. Upon watching it, I became extraordinarily interested in the concept of “what is normal?” – a quote taken from one of the Doctors in the show himself.

This is a programme which follows the surgeons of the Children’s Hospital Oxford and the young patients there who have disfiguring conditions. Surgeons, transforming both their quality of life and their appearance, can amend the children’s disfigurements. There were a huge variety of disfigurements in the programme and I was extremely intrigued as to how the surgeons went about the surgery in the ways in which for some cases, they would have to take huge risks in order to increase the benefits of the procedures.

A key factor, which made this programme quite upsetting and somewhat uncomfortable to watch, was how the parents had to deal with their children’s condition. Ultimately, a large majority of the surgeries the children must have are necessary for their survival but they also result in a potential radical change of their children’s features. Of course they know the procedure must be done in order for the survival of their child, but seeing the dramatic changes done to their beautiful child can be difficult to deal with.

Something else which greatly interested me from this programme, is that having a deformity can be life threatening, however other deformities simply have strong impacts on the visual appearance of the person. One of the patients, Harry, has Moebius syndrome, resulting in paralysis of the facial muscles preventing him from being able to smile. He decided to undergo ‘smile surgery’ to allow him to be able to smile. However, in cases such as Harry’s, he could survive without the surgery. This is a very fascinating topic as people often critisise those who have surgery for cosmetic reasons. However, people who have cosmetic surgery may feel the same way as Harry – uncomfortable with their appearance and therefore lacking confidence. Of course one could say that Harry was in more need of the surgery if you were to look at him and then at someone who for example wanted breast enlargements. On this note I think people need to consider the more psychological reasoning behind the surgery and not be so quick to judge. Surely if people are unhappy with how they look they should not be critisised for the number of times they go under the knife “irrelevantly”… Or should they?

Harry before the surgery:

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Inside The Human Body – A Journey Through Our Internal Universe

“Travelling through the body, tiny clusters of hairs loom as large as a forest and hidden chambers of the heart rise up like a vast cathedral”

Inside The Human Body is a BBC documentary, presented excellently by Michael Mosley, which reveals how our body performs astonishing procedures so as to continue living. What really grabbed me about this programme was the use of the most modern technology to create graphics and animations, supported by the newest scientific studies, allowing a visual illustration in order to take the viewer on the journey through all the processes occurring inside us.

This 4-part series revolves around one specific topic in each episode, starting off fittingly right at the beginning: Conception. Here it demonstrates the likelihood of a sperm fertilising the egg by following their pathway with the use of computer-generated graphics; the race being like the “X Factor for sperm: millions will apply – 85% of them will be useless” and the body of the woman creating clever obstacles so that only the best are chosen, the ones that survive. It also reveals the formation of a human face (for the first time in television history):

In the second episode, First To Last, Mosley depicts the fight of existence; how the body carries out innumerable little wonders to keep it living such as regulating your body temperature and when the body ultimately stops working. Building Your Brain, the next episode, portrays the development of the brain as you grow: it turns out that the older you get, the fewer brain connections there are which causes Michael’s son, 16, to claim “so it’s just downhill” (quite rightly so!), but this adjustment is necessary (and explains the reason teenagers take many risks). The final episode, Hostile World, demonstrates the methods the body uses to defend against all the different infections, revealing how we grow completely new skin every 3 months.

Not only does this show contain all the scientific detail about our body but, to exemplify this science, each episode is full of numerous life stories about extraordinary people from all parts of the world who have challenged their bodies as much as possible. It includes a woman pregnant with her 16th child (and wanting more!), the oldest conjoined twins, a woman who has eaten solely Monster Munch crisps for over a decade (even the same flavour), a young girl fluent in 11 languages, the “Ice Man” who can swim in freezing glacial lakes for up to 15 minutes, a blind man who rock climbed, fishermen who can see clearly under water and even witnessing a man taking his last breath. Moreover, it allows some surgeries to be seen such as the separation of the malfunctioning right side of the brain from the left of a 1 year old, arm transplants for a man who was in a fire accident and a heart surgery to regulate the contractions.

Unfortunately, I only watched this show very recently after a friend showed it to me so couldn’t recommend it earlier so all 4 episodes have aired already. Nonetheless, there are repeats happening and they can be watched on BBC iPlayer (only 5 days left before it deletes them though!) but all of them are on youtube:

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Bipolar Disorder Being Excessively Diagnosed?

This chronic mental illness, also known as manic-depressive disorder, has been getting recent media attention due to Catherine Zeta Jones being diagnosed with it (along with many other celebrities, including Stephen Fry and Russel Brand, already having it) and Charlie Sheen denying allegations that he’s bipolar, claiming he’s “bi-winning”:

Manic Depression entails a period of elevated mood swinging unexpectedly to a period of depression. The cause can be due to physical damage to the brain but is usually genetic; Lita and her 5 children have the illness – she explains how it is to deal with the everyday-struggle.

A recent article in the New Scientist told the story of Rebecca Riley, a 4-year-old who had bipolar disorder, overdosing on her medications and dying. It’s not known whether this was due to the parents giving too much to her deliberately or accidentally. This just added fuel to the already raised issues about the disorder being diagnosed too frequently, especially in children.

Mostly, the reason for overdiagnosis is because the symptoms, such as angst, low mood, deflated confidence, can be mistaken for the disorder. Though these are some of the symptoms, they need to go along with symptoms from the other end of the spectrum: elation, feeling important, being overactive. Another cause is the medicine for treating bipolar disorder is in high abundance which makes doctors more comfortable – they feel at ease with a problem they can solve.

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