Planet of the Shapes: Susie Orbach

This article is from 2009.

Planet of the Shapes: Susie Orbach

Susie Orbach tells Claire Sawers how the battle against body fascism is a never-ending struggle

In 1978, psychotherapist Susie Orbach wrote the bestselling Fat is a Feminist Issue, warning against dieting, and outlining the compulsive behaviour linked to eating disorders. Fast forward 30-odd years, and have we paid heed to her warnings? In her latest book, Bodies, Orbach reveals horror story after horror story: the six-year-old anorexic; the surge in bulimia on Fiji (after TV was introduced there in 1995); and the celebrity-fuelled rise in ‘pregnorexia’, where mums-to-be keep themselves dangerously underweight.

Beyond the terrifying trend for eating disorders, Bodies goes deeper and darker into our quest for physical perfection. Orbach describes leg extensions (by Chinese women feeling vertically inadequate), genital enhancements, boob job birthday presents for American girls turning 16, and chilling cases of body dysmorphia, recently seen in extreme form in Michael Jackson, the 21st century poster boy for bad body image. ‘We’ve never been under so much pressure to perfect and design ourselves,’ Orbach laments. But the more ridiculous and radical lengths people go to for thinner, musclier, daintier or sexier bodies; the more determined Orbach is to battle against the tide. She helped set up Dove’s ‘Campaign for Real Beauty’, and is convener of, an online magazine opposing cookie cutter notions of the ‘attractive’ woman. This visit to Edinburgh will let her air her views on modern vanity and raise worrying questions about our sense of self-worth.

‘Believe me, it’s a very hard struggle to challenge the notion of uniform, homogenised beauty,’ she admits. ‘But a growing number of young women now get a slight sense of ridiculousness about the fashion and beauty industries, and want to rise above it.’ Orbach’s own daughter, now 20, experienced her own sense of unease growing up. ‘She was raised in a weird household; always felt different from her friends,’ confesses her mum. ‘It was a place where we actually relished food, and we love our bodies. I mean, can you imagine?’

Susie Orbach, 29 Aug, 4.30pm, £9 (£7); 30 Aug (with Sara Maitland), 7pm, £9 (£7).

Susie Orbach

SOCIETY AND THE MODERN WORLD Might we be the last generation to inhabit bodies not routinely reconstructed by surgical enhancements? One of Britain's best-known therapists, Susie Orbach considers why we increasingly strive for physical perfection. What does it say about our sense of worth? In Bodies she raises all too…

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