Thu, Jul 04, 2013 - Page 9 News List

How discipline is rapidly transforming into the new decadence

From the 5:2 diet to Tiger Mothers, discipline is now the guiding principle, but is it a step too far when OCD and increased workloads become badges of honor?

By Jess Cartner-Morley  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Lorraine Candy, editor-in-chief of fashion magazine Elle, says that discipline “makes us feel more in control of our lives in a time when the recession defines us and how we live. The Elle reader [average age 28] is more thoughtful about her way of life and her purchases because her future may not be as rosy as the generation before. Discipline is part of her mindset now.”

In the age of discipline, gossip around water coolers in offices has taken a pious turn. Showing off about how drunk you were last night has been superseded by showing off about how many nights since you last drank.

When I was first doing working lunches, 15 years ago, a glass of wine was perfectly normal — such a thing is unheard of now. At evening events in the fashion industry, the meaning of the hand over the wineglass has gone from “I’m pregnant” (2005) to “I’ve got a job interview/meeting with the boss tomorrow” (2010) to “Can’t afford to look unprofessional in this economic climate” (2013). Among Candy’s readers, “sharing a great film, band or book is much more of a social currency on Facebook than saying how much they drank. That isn’t the driver for an evening out any more.”

Conversely, as Benson notes: “It has become far more acceptable to boast about going to the gym or running. The posting of one’s runs to Facebook is increasingly becoming a pressing issue of etiquette.”

Last month, a major US health magazine ran an article entitled “10 signs you may have OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder].”

It was a straightforward, well-meaning article attempting to tease apart character traits that mean you are more than usually careful or organized from those that suggest OCD. (Double-checking you turned the oven off is fine, but having to check exactly three times before you leave the house is a warning sign.)

What was striking about the article, though, was the visuals that accompanied it. The front page was illustrated by an expensive looking wooden rail on which hung a handsome row of shirts, pleasingly color-coordinated so that mid-blue segued into pale duck egg, through a cream check and into lemon. On the next page was an action closeup of a handwash, with elegant French manicured nails gleaming in the suds.

When did OCD get glamorous?

Only a few years ago, the layperson’s description for someone who straightened paperclips and laminated everything was “being anal.” It was an ugly description, with nothing remotely admiring about it, but perfectionism has rebranded itself, from being just a bit uncool to being “a Type-A personality” (essentially a way of saying “I’m Alpha, you’re Beta” while hiding behind psychological terminology), or “a bit OCD” — a phrase used these days as a kind of faux self-deprecating compliment. (“Don’t worry, it’s fine you’re late, it gave me a chance to clear my inbox. Me, I’m totally OCD about punctuality. I wish I could be more laid back, like you.”)

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