BIG IDEAS//small books

Susie Orbach




Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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Throughout the Western world, people have come to believe that general dissatisfaction can be relieved by some change in their bodies. Here Susie Orbach explains the origins of this condition, and examines its implications for all of us. Challenging the Freudian view that bodily disorders originate and progress in the mind, Orbach argues that we should look at self-mutilation, obesity, anorexia, and plastic surgery on their own terms, through a reading of the body itself. Incorporating the latest research from neuropsychology, as well as case studies from her own practice, she traces many of these fixations back to the relationship between mothers and babies, to anxieties that are transferred unconsciously, at a very deep level, between the two. Orbach reveals how vulnerable our bodies are, how susceptible to every kind of negative stimulus—from a nursing infant sensing a mother's discomfort to a grown man or woman feeling inadequate because of a model on a billboard. That vulnerability makes the stakes right now tremendously high.

In the past several decades, a globalized media has overwhelmed us with images of an idealized, westernized body, and conditioned us to see any exception to that ideal as a problem. The body has become an object, a site of production and commerce in and of itself. Instead of our bodies making things, we now make our bodies. Susie Orbach reveals the true dimensions of the crisis, and points the way toward healing and acceptance.


Praise for Bodies

"There was a time, believe it or not, when our bodies worked for us, instead of the other way around. In her new book, Bodies, British author and psychologist Susie Orbach examines how science, culture and globalization have upended our relationships to our corporeal selves, turning us from master into slave. Good looks and peak fitness are no longer a happy biological gift, she argues, but a ceaseless pursuit. The idea: People around the world—men included—now treat their bodies as vanity projects: every pore, curve and feature is an opportunity for self-improvement. Instead of a tool for production, the body is a production in itself. In our culture, beauty is an ambition like any other metric of success, and body hatred is the West's silent export. The evidence: How much do you need? When Orbach penned her first book 31 years ago, the bestseller Fat Is a Feminist Issue, bulimia and anorexia were barely on the radar. Now parents digitally enhance their kids' baby pictures, the cosmetic-surgery industry is growing by $1 billion a year, we can genetically screen our embryos, and scientists grow bioengineered organs in labs. The conclusion: As nips and tucks and tweaks become more acceptable, we may no longer treat the human body as a God-given accident of biology, but Orbach implores us to take some pleasure in our bodies as they are—to take them, she writes repeatedly, 'for granted.'"—Jesse Ellison, Newsweek
"A timely and powerful polemic . . . on the western obsession with achieving physical perfection."—The Guardian (UK)

"A smart and rich compendium of what is going on within and without our bodies today, its pages informed by Orbach's decades of clinical practice and research."—The Times (London)

"A cogent, relevant look at the contemporary body in crisis. British psychoanalyst Orbach 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."—Kirkus Reviews

"Orbach delves into the touchy subject of commercial exploitation of 'the body' and explores how modern culture is eroding individual appreciation of the unaltered human form. She uses specific case studies (often extreme) from her own practice to show the long term effects that can result from body dissatisfaction. From a man desperate to cut off his own legs to an abused child whose body stubbornly refuses to grow normally, examples of the price paid for negative body image abound in the text. Orbach delves also into the pop culture surge of cosmetic surgery and the long standing battle against our celebrity culture. She is at her strongest when relying on straight forward discussions of how bodies have been transformed from evidence of hard work to a 'form of work' themselves. Our bodies, she explains, have changed 'from being the means of production to the production itself'. Orbach’s text thus neatly provides yet another example of our national disassociation from reality. Bodies is a timely entry in the current analysis of reality versus fiction that seems to be steadily encompassing all facets of American life."—Booklist

"Noted psychoanalyst and feminist thinker Orbach, author of The Impossibility of Sex, Fat is a Feminist Issue and once-counselor to Princess Diana, takes a critical look at the modern notion that 'biology need no longer be destiny.' Rather than liberating individuals, Orbach contends that this has only made the body another competitive realm for personal achievement: 'The individual is now deemed accountable for his or her body and judged by it.' This 'obsessive cultural focus' leads to a host of psychological problems, making 'body anxiety' as fundamental a threat to the modern psyche as emotional anxiety (leading to self harm, obesity, anorexia, etc.). Body anxiety has also driven the beauty industry to become a $160 billion, fully globalized industry with customers from the U.S., U.K. and other advanced sector economies traveling abroad for discount reconstruction (Nose jobs in Tehran, eye surgery in Asia). Orbach provides a rich, nuanced context for the present moment, looking through time and across cultures at (among other topics) child rearing regimes, body-shaping techniques (tattoos, bound feet) and standard mechanical activities like walking. Orbach makes a powerful case that, because people today have been seduced by a one-size-fits all Western (celebrity) body image, we deprive ourselves—body, mind and soul—of the body’s most simple pleasures and rewards, up to and including sexual intimacy."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Read an Excerpt



Every day, my inbox, like most people’s, fills with invitations to enlarge the size of my penis or my breasts, to purchase the pleasure and potency booster Viagra and to try the latest herbal or pharmaceutical preparation to lose weight. The exhortations have fooled the spam filter and the popular science pages, which too sing of implants and pills to augment body or brain and new methods of reproduction which bypass conventional biology. Meanwhile young girls can go on the Miss Bimbo website to create a virtual doll, keep it ‘waif ’ thin with

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  • Susie Orbach comments on body image and the iconic Barbie doll.

  • Susie Orbach on GRITtv

    Susie Orbach's new book, Bodies, explores the role of the dieting and cosmetics industries in our visual culture and the world of marketing. The question is, can we fight back?



  • Susie Orbach

  • Susie Orbach is the co-founder of the Women's Therapy Centre in London and New York. A former Guardian (UK) columnist, she was visiting professor for ten years at the London School of Economics. She is a consultant and co-originator of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The author of a number of books, including On Eating, The Impossibility of Sex, and the bestseller Fat is a Feminist Issue, she lectures extensively worldwide.