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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body Hardcover – September 7, 1993

3.9 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bordo argues that anorexia nervosa and bulimia are logical, if extreme, manifestations of anxieties and fantasies fostered by a culture that worships the slender, fit body as a symbol of "virile" mastery over bodily desires. In her diagnosis, hysteria, anorexia and agoraphobia "develop out of the practice of femininity itself"; the female is defined by society as a passive, primitive object, while the male is seen as an active, conscious, striving subject. This philosophy professor at Le Moyne College in New York views women's addiction to plastic surgery, and both men's and women's body fetishism, in terms of a consumerist culture that attempts to deny inevitable bodily decay and death. Elsewhere in these brilliant, scholarly yet accessible essays, she analyzes images of men and women in advertisements, interprets the current abortion debate as an assault on the personhood of women and charts pop star Madonna's metamorphosis from voluptuous rebel to slender, taut, muscular icon. Illustrated.
Copyright 1993 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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 362 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1st edition (September 7, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520079795
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520079793
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,281,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shawna Lanne VINE VOICE on June 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
Half stellar, half obscure writing. It can be classic feminist or it can be abstruse academics. Simple enough, the female body as a projection screen for male culture--but Bordo doesn’t exactly call it “male” culture, and perhaps in so failing, opens the door to all the obfuscation.

Bordo’s Foucault filter is supposed to shape her analysis, but I doubt it does. It seems that whenever she cites him, she invokes a dense, sophist, and pretentious language which is foreign to her effective and lucid prose, and certainly alien to the vast majority of her readers who, if anything like me, begin to experience rather intense frustration.

This dissonance must be more than compliance to academic writing.
What I think is at stake here is Bordo’s difficulty with radical feminism. She says she invokes Foucault for the complexity of his thought, something both he and she fine lacking in Second-wave feminism. At points in her essays and lectures (which constitute this book), she even directly instructs feminism via Foucault.

The question is: what feminism is she instructing, what feminism does she find simplistic? It must be the very feminism that she herself chiefly adopts--liberal feminism. Radical feminism, with its deeper analysis and political stances, are what she avoids. Thus her need for and reliance on the academic star, Michael Foucault (as in Freud of old)

But what Foucault acknowledges is that same liberal feminism, one which either rejects or compartmentalizes feminist issues. How can it begin to address the female body as a projection screen if it denies that culture is male, or that the powerfully projective male sexual institutions of pornography, prostitution, and rape exist-- or, if at all, exists outside of mainstream culture.
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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. More appealing to less theoretical people.
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