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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body [Paperback]

by Susan Bordo
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Paperback, March 15, 1995 --  
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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Tenth Anniversary Edition Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Tenth Anniversary Edition 3.8 out of 5 stars (17)
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Book Description

March 15, 1995 0520088832 978-0520088832
In this provocative book, Susan Bordo untangles the myths, ideologies, and pathologies of the modern female body. Bordo explores our tortured fascination with food, hunger, desire, and control, and its effects on women's lives.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bordo explores women's obsessions with appearance, their struggles to control food and hunger, and the pressures brought on by a society that worships the ideal female figure.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

In dense, challenging, subtly argued philosophical essays, Bordo (Philosophy/LeMoyne College; The Flight to Objectivity, 1987- -not reviewed) offers a postmodern, poststructuralist feminist interpretation of the female body as a cultural construction in Western society, emphasizing eating disorders, reproductive issues, and the philosophical background. Many of the problems and ideas of contemporary Western society, says Bordo, derive from the ineluctable mind/body dualism of Plato, restated by Descartes. From the viewpoint of feminist theory (of which the author offers a useful history and critique), women have been identified with the body, which itself has been characterized as an alien, instinctual, threatening, passive, and false self in which the true self--the active and manly mind/soul- -is confined. In occasionally repetitive pieces--some a decade old, some revised from lectures--carrying titles like ``Are Mothers Persons?,'' ``Reading the Slender Body,'' and ``Material Girl,'' Bordo demonstrates how this identification is deployed in law, medicine, literature, art, popular culture, and, especially, advertising, which she perceptively decodes by showing how the most trivial detail (men eating hearty meals, women consuming bite-size candies) reveal cultural values and even pathologies. Following Foucault's archaeological technique, Bordo shows how the female body has migrated from nature to culture, where it can be controlled through dieting and altered through surgery--and where women are perpetually at war with it. A cerebral introduction to liberal feminist thinking that's humanized by the author's anecdotes of her own experience as a female body (e.g., confessing to the delights of making stuffed cabbage) and that demonstrates what it advocates: ``What the body does is immaterial, so long as the imagination is free.'' (Fifty- five b&w illustrations) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 362 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (March 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520088832
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520088832
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,146,229 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Susan Bordo is known for the clarity, accessibility, and contemporary relevance of her writing. Her first book, The Flight to Objectivity, has become a classic of feminist philosophy. In 1993, increasingly aware of our culture's preoccupation with weight and body image, she published Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classes today. During speaking tours for that book, she encountered many young men who asked, "What about us?" The result was The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private (1999). Both books were highly praised by reviewers, with Unbearable Weight named a 1993 Notable Book by the New York Times and The Male Body featured in Mademoiselle, Elle, Vanity Fair, NPR, and MSNBC. Both books have been translated into many languages, and individual chapters, many of which are considered paradigms of lucid writing, are frequently re-printed in collections and writing textbooks. Her newest book, The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April, 2013. A British edition was published in Janurary 2014 from Oneworld publishing. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her husband, daughter, three dogs, two cats, two cockatiels, and teaches humanities at the University of Kentucky.

For more information on The Creation of Anne Boleyn, come visit the book website: For news articles, contests, and interesting conversation with others, join her book facebook page:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic June 18, 2000
Unbearable Weight is a scholarly yet accessible look at the historical and current representation of women in history and in popular culture. It is an excellent look at society's objectification of the female body and the problems that can arise for women because of this objectification.
This book shines not so much as a linear collection of essays but as a reference for people who wish to study the marriage between feminism, western society, and its concentration on the female body. It has helped me to understand the media's role in my relationship with my body and in the amount of control that I have over it. "Unbearable Weight" has also been a great help in my research on this subject.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to better understand Western Cultures objectification of women's bodies through a feminist filter.
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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Susan Bordo is a Genius and this is a great book April 9, 1999
Unbearable Weight is brilliant. From an immensely knowledgeable feminist perspective, in engaging, jargonless (!) prose, Bordo analyzes a whole range of issues connected to the body -- weight and weight loss, exercise, media images, movies, advertising, anorexia and bulimia and much more -- in a way that makes our current social landscape make sense -- finally! This is a great book not just for academics but for anyone who wonders why women's magazines are always describing delicious food as "sinful" and why there is a cake called Death by Chocolate. Loved it!
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome- Highly Recommended December 1, 1999
Susan Bordo doesn't miss a beat in this work. Every sentence has a purpose and every paragraph is filled with valuable insight into the world of contemporary female bodies. This is a practical book for the curious consumer and the student of feminism alike. Her ideas about post-modernism are challenging and abstract, but reading Bordo will most likely open up a new world for you. It did for me and this masterpiece has become one of my all-time favorites. Best Wishes...
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing February 17, 2003
The one thing you want to keep in mind when purchasing this book: it's not a light read and it ain't supposed to be. If three syllable words throw you for a loop, stay away. If you feel every fat acceptance book you've read recently has insulted the depth of your intelligence, then read up! At the very least, you can't walk away from this book failing to be convinced that the world at large is at war with our bodies.
Warning: not a feel-good book! You'll be angry and start snapping at your husband, but righteous fury is where change begins.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, relevant, a must-read for feminists August 29, 2002
By A Customer
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Although a challenging read for me at times, this book was full of "aha!" moments. I think Bordo nails it when it comes to how the issues women's size and appearance are portrayed in the media. I recommend this book highly to other feminists and those interested in media literacy.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book was earthshattering! April 24, 2005
The first time I read Ms. Bordo's book, I was so into it that I didn't get enough sleep that night. This book tells us the brainwashing media and society use to control women as well as to maintain the power elite. If the elite, media or otherwise, didn't use impossibly thin, beautiful, made up blonde women to keep them divided and in control, the whole structure would have collapsed long time ago.

Thanks Ms. Bordo for informing me about this, for I've been in darkness for many years.
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Susan Bordo's "Unbearable Weight" presents a thoroughly researched, well-balanced, detailed and illustrative account of the female postmodern "body politic." Bordo explores myriad concepts of the body juxtaposed against cultural norms and expectations. For Bordo, the body has both natural and cultural meanings, and gender is a social construct defined by men. Anorexia nervosa is simply a "logical" protest reaction against male dominance and the constraints of female sex-role conditioning. No doubt, while women were not chained in the dark shadows of Plato's "Allegory of the Cave," they were, indeed, shackled outside it but silenced. I, too, like these women, was manacled and confined inside the cave of male social conditioning and what it meant to be a man. And I did not find kindred spirits there. What finally emerged outside the cave was a man with eyes without a face with his very own protest and autobiographical "Sisyphus and the Struggle Within" written inside the heart on stone. While the body is, indeed, a heavy "unbearable weight," it can be made light and bearable through conscious self-definition and identity, mental and intellectual transcendence. Though it poses great danger, it takes Sisyphean strength and courage to break free from, and revolt against the barriers of dominant social control and gender inequality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About 1/4 in and fascinated September 10, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I've never taken classes in feminism and this author has a really interesting take on body image and culture/media. I know this is a classic and I can see why. Very eye opening.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Feminist Introduction
An excellent text for younger adult women. As an older feminist, I found the book repeated what earlier writers have provided with greater intelligence and complexity. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Reader Melanie
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull book
VERY dull reading. I can not think of seventeen more words to say about this dull book. It was not worth the money.
Published 15 months ago by Pat Hartwell
3.0 out of 5 stars A good choice for gender scholars
An interesting read for those interested in gender and the body. I'm glad I read it but it is not in my core area of interests so not a particularly memorable read.
Published 16 months ago by Jason Crockett
5.0 out of 5 stars highly recommended-life changing!
This is my absolute favorite book on weight. It really opens your eyes and is so worth the read. I want to give it to everyone I know! Read more
Published on January 28, 2012 by shopaholic_online
1.0 out of 5 stars gender roles opress female more, since she is encouraged to be a...
It is the current gender roles that contribute to women being rape out of entertainment and control, domestic violence and pressure in media for women be submissive housewives, or... Read more
Published on January 7, 2012 by Truth sayer
3.0 out of 5 stars I feels as though apathy is setting in. (oxymoron?)
I would say that this book is written from an academic perspective. I could see it being read in an Intro. to Femnist Theory course. That being said I did like this book. Read more
Published on April 25, 2008 by Flannery
5.0 out of 5 stars Brutally honest, insightful, and most challenging read.
Susan Bordo's "Unbearable Weight" presents a thoroughly researched, well-balanced, detailed and illustrative account of the female postmodern "body politic. Read more
Published on July 27, 2002 by Billy Anthony Moore
Seemingly a random collection of personally motivated opinion, quotation, and "I don't know whut all!" (Shades of Herb Schriner. Read more
Published on June 25, 2002 by "lalo"
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