The news: Microsoft spent the lion's share of 2013 backpedaling from the frustrating, invasive, and exclusionary aspects of its next-gen gaming system, the Xbox One, but the multinational corporation has finally found a way to recapture the hearts of its erstwhile fans: an electronic bra that prevents women from engaging in "emotional eating."
Let me say that again. Microsoft has invented a prototype bra that can prevent hysterical breast-havers from haphazardly wedging cronuts and full pints of Chubby Hubby in their gaping maws while mascara-stained tears stream down their delicate but contorted faces, because apparently, seeing ladies eat and have feelings at the same time is a real problem for the Redmond, Washington-based company.
The background: Let's get this out of the way. Most of the bra's developers are women. The authors of the paper describing the device, "Food and Mood: Just-in-Time Support for Emotional Eating," include the University of Rochester's Erin A. Carroll, Microsoft's Mary Czerwinsky, and the University of Southampton's m.c. schraefel, who prefers not to capitalize her name. They ostensibly made the bra in order to explore the role of electronics in shaping behavior, and not in a tone-deaf attempt to play into stereotypes about women's emotions that could easily be used in Kathie Lee Gifford's wine-fueled, Inferno-like torture of journalist Hoda Kotb.
The device works using a chest sensor, bra cups with electro-dermal sensors that detect endocrine activity, and an on-board EKG. Sure, a bra with an EKG in it could probably be better used to combat heart disease, which kills one in four women, but why do that when you can create a lingere equivalent of the Fitbit and nag people about noshing themselves tubby? After all, a Pavlovian bra is probably the next best thing to actually encouraging people to investigate, express, and cope with their emotions, or actively engage with others.
The takeaway: I get it. Affective computing is a cutting-edge field, and obesity is a real problem, and the Daily Mail isn't going to write about a bra that merely helps someone control their heart rate during panic attacks or that provides early detection of medical emergencies. (After all, here I am writing about the bra, and not the smartphone app listed in the selfsame paper.) But surely someone, in the development of a gendered undergarment that seeks to help women control their emotional behavior, must have stood back and said, "maybe this is not a good idea," or, "maybe we should put this in a different kind of garment," or "maybe this is reminiscent of our culture's long history of treating women's feelings and desires as a pathology, and then selling them 'medical devices' to help them cope."
Because the more I read about this just-in-time intervention for emotional eating, the more I feel like having myself a snack.