The biology, culture, and vanities perennially orbiting the female body.
Motivated by specific behavioral and cultural observations, British zoologist and veterinary surgeon Bainbridge (Clinical Veterinary Anatomy/Cambridge Univ.; Middle Age: A Natural History, 2012) shares insightful musings on the nature and genesis of female physical dissatisfaction. He divides his exploration into three sections (The Body, The Mind, The World), each supporting different aspects of an argument stating that while the female body is unique, important, and precious, it is also guided and goaded by influential cultural and societal scrutiny. Flush with fascinating statistical data, the book’s introductory chapters spotlight the author’s animal biology background. In mapping human anatomy, Bainbridge examines the sexual dimorphisms of male and female torsos and the anthropological origins and evolutionary heritage of a woman’s curvaceous adipose tissue. Men emerge as key figures in determining what constitutes superficial attractiveness in the opposite sex, and they often contribute to an unmanageable fixation on body image for many women. Less effective and redundant is a section explaining the nature of appetite and size between the sexes and of the historic female “control systems” that make dieting willpower so elusive. Bainbridge focuses too heavily on the evolutionary theories of eating disorders and the “cult of thinness” rather than validating contemporary beliefs related to the complex mechanics of the human brain or to modern society and culture, which, to him, seem “disturbing.” Ultimately, the author concedes that regardless of clinical and social attempts to counter the trend and where exactly blame should be placed for perpetuating pathological female self-surveillance, women’s obsessions with their bodies will endure, even as they are “continually told that it is becoming too large, too small, too exploited.”
An articulate yet debatable and uneven survey of the endlessly beguiling female form.