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An inside look at the 'mail-order bride' industry in America — it may not be what you expect.

You'd be surprised to learn how some relationships (maybe in your own social circles) came to be.

Mail-order brides are still around.

You thought mail-order brides were a thing of the past? A tired old trope relegated to downtrodden damsels in distress in ramshackle countries, preyed upon by any schmuck who could pull together the money to swoop up the bride of his choice?

You may be surprised to learn that international marriages facilitated by brokers and dating tourism sites are more common than you'd think, and they're not always the tawdry affair they get painted as.


As with most things in the world, these relationships are more nuanced and multifaceted than they seem at first glance. Sure, horror stories of fraud and abuse abound, and we'll explore those, too, in this two-installment glimpse into a world of which most of us have only started to scratch the surface.

Those gold nuggets were pretty, but they weren't much for companionship.

How did placing an ad for a wife or husband even become a thing? There are instances of the practice as early as the 1800s, when American frontier life was lonely for men trying to blaze a trail in the unsettled West.

"Ahoy, friends! Did you bring any women?" Image via G.F. Nesbitt & Co./Wikipedia.

The discovery of gold in the Western frontier led a mass migration of eager, optimistic men hoping to strike it rich. But the extreme lack of ladies was kind of a drag (at least for the heterosexual among them). American men in the West would take out ads in East Coast papers (and sometimes in other countries) and write letters to churches, all in the hope there'd be some available unmarried woman who was up for adventure and blazing a trail herself.

And sometimes women would place their own ads:

"A winsome miss of 22; very beautiful, jolly and entertaining; fond of home and children; from good family; American; Christian; blue eyes; golden hair; fair complexion; pleasant disposition; play piano. Will inherit $10,000. Also have means of $1,000. None but men of good education need to write from 20 to 30 years of age."
— excerpt from "Hearts West: True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier."

Once he'd sufficiently wooed her via their torrid pen pal affair (can you imagine how long they had to wait for the mail?), often the man would propose via letter and if the woman accepted, he'd pay her way to the West.

As usual, at some point, a clever entrepreneur noticed the trend of women with limited opportunities craving a chance at a new life and the men looking for [beautiful] women. And thus the "mail-order bride" — or as more gentle (and probably accurate) people would call it, "international marriage" — practice took off. It would become, over decades, a booming industry.

Flash forward to 2015.

Things look very different. Instead of being compelled to marry a man based on a few letters and a picture, technology has created a new dynamic. Consider it Match.com but on steroids and with higher stakes. And to be clear, the term "mail-order bride" is a loaded one — hotly contested at that. The connotation is ugly: that a woman is a commodity to be selected nearly at random or based on shallow measures and bought and sold with little agency of her own over the transaction. While there are disreputable agencies engaging in those practices out there in the world, in this piece, we'll be focusing on more reputable outlets. Such outlets typically eschew the term "mail-order bride" for obvious reasons.

There are two segments to differentiate between in the international relationship market — dating sites and marriage brokers. The latter is responsible for more of the tawdry concepts the media portrays, like picking out a wife based on broad criteria and paying a sum for a broker to arrange your union. But the former, dating sites, are an entry point into international marriages that often fall more on the side of the conventional, and with outcomes that may surprise you. Too often, though, relationships arising from international dating sites get conflated with "mail-order brides."

Truth is, international dating sites are a lot more like regular online dating sites than you might think.

That's a distinction that Anthony Volpe is quick to make when speaking about it. Volpe is the CMO of AnastasiaDate, one of the most popular sites in the world for men who wish to meet Russian women. AnastasiaDate began in 1993, when an American man and Russian woman, who met and married through a matchmaking agency, decided they wanted to facilitate relationships for others in the same way. Now they run similar sites for men who wish to meet women from all over the world: AmoLatina, AsianBeauties, and AfricaBeauties.

He makes the case that AnastasiaDate probably has more in common with a traditional online dating site than it does with an international marriage broker. He insists that the company is agnostic toward what kind of relationship two people embark upon once they meet, and AnastasiaDate is interested only in serving as a communications platform to serve many different relationship goals. Volpe breaks those goals down into four camps; human warmth and connection, flirtation and escape, serious relationships, and marriage.

I asked him about the commoditization of women that can happen, as demonstrated in the international dating documentary "Love Translated" — in it, men continually say after a nice date with a gorgeous woman that they're going to keep looking to see if there's a better option before they settle. Volpe balked a bit at that. "If we start with the presumption that whatever someone's ultimate goal is in dating — flirtation, escape entertainment, human warmth, serious relationship or marriage — they want to have the best experience possible. When people are presented with choices, the more choices they have, in some cases, the better."

The paralysis of too many choices. GIF from "Love Translated."

In some ways that's true. One has to stop and wonder if the seemingly endless choices can be paralyzing to someone who might be seeking idealized foreign romances out of an inability to connect in everyday spontaneous situations. But on the flip side, one also has to wonder if that dynamic is any different on AnastasiaDate than it is on, say, Tinder, or if both of those examples are just emblematic of how technology can amplify the shortcomings that can just be an aspect of human nature.

Volpe offers one way that his company differs from sites like Match.com — its verification system. He assures that on the women's side, they have partner agencies who confirm their identities via ID or passport. Vexingly, on the men's side of things, they only need a credit card for verification, which calls into question exactly how even-keeled the dynamics really are. If both sides' interests aren't equally protected, are both genders really whom AnastasiaDate considers its customer — or is one set actually more the product?

Josh and Ekaterina's story offers a glimpse into a success story for international marriages.

AnastasiaDate was kind enough to introduce me to a happy couple who married after meeting on the site. Their names are Josh and Ekaterina, who goes by Kate. Josh and Kate seem to have a pretty normal, if a little old-fashioned, kind of relationship. They connected in 2012 through the site, after Josh had decided that the dating pool in Akron, Ohio, wasn't "high-quality" enough.

"It didn't seem like in my immediate locality like in Akron, there was ... I mean, there were some quality people there but it was a lot harder to find. On AnastasiaDate it was a lot easier to see higher quality people."

They got serious quickly, marrying about a year later in Ohio with a small ceremony (Josh's parents are deceased and he has little family) and moving to the Northwest shortly after. In Russia, Kate was a physical therapist, a degree she was able to get for free. It afforded her an independent lifestyle with a modest apartment she was content with; she wanted her free time and money to go to traveling. She was on AnastasiaDate, she says, not to try to solve financial troubles (as the stigma around international relationships implies) but because she was really looking for a life partner. Josh says Americans are so convinced that this is the best country in the world that they often think people are just desperate to come to America no matter what, but depending on what you're valuing, in some ways, life in Russia is better. Kate agrees.


Josh and Kate on vacation. Image used with permission.

Is their relationship one of equals?

When it comes to being on even-footing financially (and economic parity often lends itself to equity in relationships, like it or not), some dynamics from America's financial model actually put Kate at a disadvantage now that she's here. For instance, she would love to practice physical therapy here, but to get an American degree, she'd have to take a loan she'd potentially be "paying back for the rest of her life" and it would take another six-seven years to earn the degree. To compound matters, it puts her at the heart of a conundrum many couples face when it comes to child-rearing. Josh and Kate are considering having children soon, and in the traditional values they both appear to hold dear, Kate's education would definitely take a backseat while she takes on the role of primary caretaker for their future kids. She's able to achieve some financial equity in the partnership via her work in translating, but Josh is the main breadwinner as a programmer analyst.

Still, Josh is sensitive to Kate's situation (being Russian in America, with a certain amount of dependence on him) and wants to make sure she's an equal partner in decision making. In his words:

"We make decisions together. The way I look at it, if someone's not happy, eventually they're going to leave. You don't want to put someone in a position where they feel like a prisoner or they don't have a say because if you do that eventually they're not going to want to stick around."

And Kate is pretty clear about how she likes to carry on with their relationship. Here's how she explains it (in pretty darn good, though not perfect, English):

"[It's a] cultural difference. In my country it was natural when you wake up a little bit earlier than your husband you make breakfast and you have breakfast together, for example. It's just natural for me. So I don't feel discriminated or something like this. I like this."

Kate and Josh's story is incredibly interesting, and they're not alone.

There are other great international marriage stories, including ones that did originate from marriage broker agencies that people would be tempted to refer to as "mail-order," where the couples feel secure and the marriages do what the best marriages do — make each other add up to more together than they could have been separately.

The more you know about international marriages, the more questions it raises about American dating.

One interesting thought rabbit hole that came out of talking to Josh and Kate and Anthony Volpe revolves around the contrasts between American dating culture and international dating culture. Josh pointed out that in American relationships, often times people kind of bounce from one experience to the next, not knowing exactly what it is they're looking for, and probably still hurting from the last relationship they had. He thinks for international dating, you have to know yourself better than that and get pretty clear about what you want. It stands to reason, if one is going to spend thousands of dollars on travel to meet someone (and isn't obscenely wealthy) that one would want to be pretty efficient about it and not waste their efforts.

And the questions to explore here are almost endless. What is the motivation for men on AnastasiaDate to seek foreign companionship? Is the draw an idealized hope of a woman with "old country" traditional [read: non-feminist] ways of thinking who won't challenge them — as they're finding some American women inclined to do? And how can that result in tragedy for women who might be easy targets for abusers? And what about when the woman only wants a green card or to scam a man out of money? In the follow-up article, we'll explore some of the caveats and nightmare stories from international dating and marriages.

But, in the meantime, it's worth giving your preconceived notions about international marriage arrangements another think.

Just like anything, there are shades of gray, nuances, and extremes of both good and bad experiences. Technology is more often than not a tool, and how good or bad it is depends on the person using it. When you think about it like that, international marriages don't sound so different from marriages that start from Tinder.

Photo courtesy of Girls at Work

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This article originally appeared on 02.25.21


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As if the social pressure wasn't enough, a child that age has to deal with the intensely awkward psychological and biological changes of puberty at the same time.

Jason Smith, the principal of Stonybrook Intermediate and Middle School in Warren Township, Indiana, had a young student sent to his office recently, and his ability to understand his feelings made all the difference.

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All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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Pop Culture

'90s kids share movies that will 'take you back to a better time'

It was a magical time when animals played sports and yet somehow things were just simpler.

YouTube/Upworthy photo illustration

Honey, I shrunk the kid named Matilda while jamming in space!

Everyone knows that '90s movies just hit different. From sports movies to rom-coms to even horror, there was an undeniable innocence, without being overly simplistic or juvenile. They didn’t have nearly the amount of money going into production as they do today, but somehow managed to transport us to magical places.

Movies of the '90s are so iconic that there have been several attempts to reboot beloved titles. Which, let’s face it, tends to be a fool's errand at a cash grab. These movies are so timeless that simply viewing the original is more than fine.

Not sure which movie to start with? You’re in luck—a Reddit user by the name of YouBrokeMyTV asked ’90s kids to share movies that took them “back to a better time,” and because the internet can be a wonderful place, tons of people responded with some beloved classics.

These answers certainly don’t make a definitive list (there are just so, so many gems) but they're a fun glimpse into what made '90s cinema so special. A nostalgic romp through memory lane, if you will.

Enjoy these 14 titles that just might leave you jonesing for a rewatch:

1. "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids"

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A perfect example of how '90s movies were silly, but smart at the same time. And oh so wholesome.

2. "The Sandlot"

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It taught us nothing about baseball, but everything about friendship, rooting for the underdog and (most important) how to make s’mores.

3. "Drop Dead Fred"

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Critics might have run this cult classic through the mud during its inception, but audiences fell in love with the bizarre charm of this story about a mischievous little girl and her anarchist imaginary friend. So take that, snotfaces!

4. "The Goonies"

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Everyone just wanted to set off an epic quest with their friends for pirate treasure after seeing this movie.

5. Tim Burton's "Batman"

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Before the superhero genre was the behemoth it is today, a quirky director and the dude who was best known for playing the creepy demon in "Beetlejuice" breathed new life into comic-book movies. Marvel might be the leader on creating stories with adult themes that are digestible for kids nowadays, but this DC film was the first of its kind. Plus, that soundtrack … forget about it.

6. "Hook"

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Pretty much any '90s film starring Robin Williams was an absolute gem, but this one in particular is timeless. His gift of balancing childlike humor with emotional gravitas lent itself so well to playing the now grown and cynical Peter Pan, who must learn to reclaim his joy (relatable, millennials?). It was a bang-a-rang-er, no question.

7. "Space Jam"

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It had Looney Tunes, it had aliens and it had Michael Jordan. That’s a winning combination.

8. "Matilda"

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I don’t think I’m out of line when I say that this movie helped a lot of kids make their way through difficult childhoods.

9. "The Parent Trap"

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Even '90s reboots were awesome. And how fun it is to see that Lisa Ann Walker—the actress who played Chessy the housekeeper—is not only yet again gracing the screens in NBC’s “Abbott Elementary,” but is also being revered as a style icon on TikTok for her ultra casual looks in the film. We all knew she was onto something with long button downs and shorts.

10. "The Land Before Time"

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No cartoon, not even “The Lion King,” was a better depiction of childhood grief. And yet, despite encapsulating tragedy, director Don Bluth still left viewers hopeful. The subsequent 14 (yes 14) sequels definitely pale in comparison to the original, but "The Land Before Time" continues to stand the test of time nonetheless.

11. "Richie Rich"

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The scene where they play tag on four-wheelers is simply iconic.

12. "Dunston Checks In"

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Man, the '90s were the golden age of animal-centered films. And not just monkeys either—we got sports playing golden retrievers and not one, but two movies starring talking pigs. What a time to be alive. These films were made before CGI had reached the levels it’s at today, and the authentic interactions between humans and creatures reached right through the screen.

13. "George of the Jungle"
george of the jungle, brendan faser

Watch out for the tree!!!

Giphy

Have I seen this movie at least 20 times? Probably. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of silly action films with bird puppets. It’s crazy to think that this role would eventually lead Brendan Fraser to "The Mummy" franchise, turning him into a household name. Though his career has had some tragic ups and downs, we are all grateful for the glorious comeback he’s been having.

14. Anything involving Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen
mary kate and ashley

Yes, they were professional detectives.

Giphy

Whether vacationing in London, Paris or Rome, whether playing magical witches or making a huge billboard so their father could find love … Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen offered zany, whimsical entertainment while wearing fun outfits. Sometimes, that’s all you need.