City Pulse

By Lili Eros-Sarnyai

In today’s image-obsessed, media-centric society, dissatisfaction with one’s body is almost a prerequisite to social acceptance. It is no longer enough to be healthy and feel good. Women the world over are lead to believe that true happiness lies not in having a successful career or a loving family, but in physical perfection: a body that is flawless, underweight, tanned and toned, and a face that is smooth, with high cheekbones, impossibly long eyelashes and full, sensuous lips; it is a Western ideal of perpetual youth and airbrushed beauty which plays upon our insecurities, mocking our natural “imperfections” whilst tantalizingly promising solutions: a nip here, a tuck there, a little augmentation, some strategic liposuction, a touch of Botox, a few weeks of starvation and we will be that much closer to resembling the photograph on the cover of a glossy magazine. Given these standards, it is hardly surprising that cosmetic procedures, eating disorders and self-harm – all methods of exerting temporary control over the post-feminist battlefields of our bodies- are on the rise.

In Bodies, Susie Orbach continues the polemic she began thirty years ago in Fat is A Feminist Issue, examining the myriad factors influencing this mass “body shame”, and offering psychological and societal explanations for the global tendency towards cosmetic self-hatred. With abundant and often shocking factual evidence, Bodies does not pretend to sugar-coat its subject; although this makes for interesting reading, the extremity of the examples may alienate some readers. A celebrated psychotherapist (she famously treated Diana, Princess of Wales for bulimia) focusing largely on body image and imagery, Orbach doubtless is an expert in her field. Yet what is unique to Bodies, and what makes it an essential read for anyone who has ever paused to consider why striving for the face of a twenty-something in your sixties is de rigeur, or why the infamous size 00 was ever created, are Orbach’s penetrating and pertinent cultural observations, her comments on society and her relentless pursuit of an explanation for our negative obsession with the body.

Originally published May 2009
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