A cogent, relevant look at the contemporary body in crisis.
British psychoanalyst Orbach (Sociology/London School of Economics; Susie Orbach on Eating, 2002, etc.) has written extensively on women and eating disorders since the 1978 publication of her classic Fat Is a Feminist Issue. She finds the current obsession with the perfectibility of the human body deeply troubling. We are assaulted daily by promises to cure obesity, skin ailments, sexual distress and signs of aging, she notes. “Body hatred is becoming one of the West’s hidden exports,” as are such attempts to resolve it as Korean girls undergoing the procedure to insert a Western eyelid. Orbach advances two theories about the collective crises de corps. There is no such thing as a “natural body,” she argues, since each of us is the product of a set of cultural and familial attachments that we carry in our bodies, “shaped and misshaped by our earliest encounters with parents and carers.” Secondly, she believes this is the last moment in history that we inhabit bodies “which are familiar to us”; cellular, surgical, biological and pharmaceutical enhancements promise (or threaten) to let us buy the perfect body the way we buy flattering clothes. Orbach looks closely at several extreme cases of body-mind distress, such as a man who could not be happy unless his legs were amputated. Several essays emphasize the importance of touch in infant and child development, contending that youngsters instinctively pick up the bodily distress that their parents carry. Orbach also chronicles the “countertransferences” she assumed while treating physically uneasy patients. “Body difficulties” are becoming more prevalent in the consultation rooms of therapists like herself, she comments. The demands we put on our bodies to perform and display produce “volatility and instability.” Beware, she warns, or our bodies will bite back.
The only flaw in Orbach’s reasoned, wise essays is that they’re so low-key they may not get the attention they deserve.