There were a lot of things to worry about this summer, for the anxiety-prone. A recessed economy, a miserable job market, the persistent recurrence of swine flu cases and the death of our nation’s most beloved crazy person made lounging on the global warming-heated beach almost stressful.
As though worrying about whether the cabana boy would remember your drink order wasn’t taxing enough.
Even with all this on our minds, the mass media couldn’t stop themselves from alerting Americans to the one epidemic that we hadn’t been spending enough time worrying about: cankles.
Cankles made an inordinate amount of headlines this summer, even on CNN, where coverage of Michael Jackson’s death and postmortem extravaganza occupied so much air time that the producers nearly had to export certain stories (“A Retrospective of Michael Jackson’s Vegetable Gardens,” “The Desperate Difference between Baby Dangling and Baby Dangling”) to the Home and Garden Television network.
A piece in the normally staid Wall Street Journal in July kicked off the media cankle craze, although it seems that cankles were first brought to national attention during last year’s presidential election, during which Hillary Clinton was accused of possessing them.
For those unfamiliar with the wide range of nicknames applied by insecure women about various aspects of their bodies, a cankle refers to an ankle that lacks definition from the calf, and instead blends into the higher part of the leg, forming a chubby stump.
The Wall Street Journal, in response to the seriousness of the trend, actually used a definition from urbandictionary.com to define the term. Strangely, the Journal did not use the Urban Dictionary definition of mortgage (“That weight around your neck that will never be alleviated until you: (1) DIE or (2) eventually pay off by the time you are 107.”) in a recent article about the fiscal crisis.
Granted, the article, titled “For the Body-Conscious, It’s Now the Ankle That Rankles,” was written by the same journalist who in early August wrote an article suggesting that Barack Obama was too skinny to lead the country because his workout program and lack of interest in sweets smacked of elitism to the obese masses.
But as soon as the Wall Street Journal printed the 1,120-word story on the front page of its paper, ABC followed with a story headlined “Cankles: The New Muffin-Top?” and Katie Couric even addressed the issue at the end of her broadcast. Gold’s Gym, in a tongue-in-cheek marketing effort, even declared June to be Cankle Awareness Month.
All of the news stories about cankles were at least slightly self-aware, as if the journalists writing them were perfectly conscious that insecure women are old news, but that a story about cankles would generate attention because cankles are a funny concept with a mildly clever nickname, like “frenemies” or “Obamamania.”
But because journalists must make their stories at least ostensibly newsworthy, each article also contained a slightly more disturbing component — namely, that there are women out there who really are worried about cankles.
So worried about cankles, in fact, that nutrition and fitness experts are showing up on the Today Show to tell Matt Lauer (a man who has surely lost the ability to produce testosterone) the best ways to tone those chubby stems.
These women are so worried about their ankles that when they lose hope in their ability to define their calves through exercise and diet, they pay $6,000 for ankle reduction surgery.
And of course, even though both men and women posses ankles, it’s never the men who obsess about how to best flatter, disguise, improve or reconcile with their unsightly lower limbs. The stories all focus on women who feel defeated by a body part that goes largely unnoticed by everyone but themselves.
Perhaps while President Obama works to reform our health care, he can work on creating an HMO that will cover cankle alleviation. But by this time, the media will have told women to worry about something new: Sausage fingers! Flappy ears! Uneven toes!
We’re better off trying to cure swine flu.
Laura Reeve is a senior majoring in public relations. Her column, “Folk Laur,” runs every other Wednesday.