From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. 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.
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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 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. Orbach also delves into celebrity culture and its embrace of cosmetic surgery. She is at her strongest when relying on straightforward discussions of how bodies were once transformed by hard work, and are now a “form of work” themselves. Our bodies, she further explains, have changed “from being the means of production to the production itself.” Orbach’s timely analysis is a key addition to the growing discussion of what is becoming a national trend, the favoring of delusion over reality, a troubling tendency that is threatening to steadily encompass all facets of American life. --Colleen Mondor