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Non-fiction

Bodies by Susie Orbach

PhD is keeping me über-busy, but I have to admit I have never been this happy. However, my reading time has been cut to a quarter of what it was two months ago, and I’m struggling to find the will to read in my free time when I have spent the day reading and writing about my PhD, which is also on crime fiction. So, where does my personal reading stop and where does professional reading start? That could fill a post, so let’s leave it for now. But ,what I did notice is that I am in a mood for non-fiction, probably because I spent most of the day reading non-fiction and my mind has become too lazy two switch literary genre preferences by 10 p.m. So, while visiting the Feminist Center at my school, I decided to borrow a non-fiction book I had long wanted to read: Bodies by Susie Orbach.

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From Goodreads:

Esteemed Psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach diagnoses the crisis in our relationship to our bodies and points the way toward a process of healing.

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.

I first heard of Orbach thanks one of my favourite professors. She is interested in how bodies are represented in fiction and she brought us an excerpt from Bodies to analyze. What first called my attention is that Orbach is a psychoanalyst and that she treated Princess Diana. So, if you completely dismiss psychoanalysis from the beginning, this book is not for you. However, if you read it as one of the many ways in which to approach your body, then, you will find this book very interesting. I love applying psychoanalysis to literature, but I am quite reluctant to apply to my psychology, especially since Mr.B&R is a die-hard behaviorist and I have attended some of his lessons. So, let’s say this is a book to take with a pinch of salt, but a fascinating book anyway.

If you are a woman, have you counted how many times a day you reject your body? And how many times a day do you worry about the food-excercise combo? I have to admit, pretty much. Even though I wear a size 6 and I am a healthy and happy person. Orbach takes this conduct and exposes it for what it really is: a social construction that is undermining our relationships with our bodies. While reading Bodies, I discovered that we separate our minds from our bodies, as if your minds – ourselves – were something fixed and our bodies were completely fluid. Fat rolls? Go and join a gym! Wrinkles? Save some money for months to get Botox injections. And so on and so forth with every body feature of yours that you do not like. Well, it’s not so simple: according to Orbach our upbringing, our location and our minds reflect on our bodies and how they are constructed. I have to admit, I am not at easy with this theory, but I do support the idea of not thinking our bodies plastic anymore.

So, I would totally recommend Bodies. If you are not sure this theory will work for you, borrow it and skip the sections that blow your mind. However, it makes some great non-fiction reading and it partly alleviates the stress that comes from having a female body that – we are constantly told – needs to be fixed, bettered and embellished.

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10 Comments

  • susanosborne55

    What a lovely way to open your post, Elena. It sounds as if you’ve found your niche. I remember Susie Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue, a seminal text on women’s relationships with their bodies The advertising, beauty and fashion industries all have a lot to answer for.

  • Leah

    This sounds like an interesting, thought-provoking book, regardless of whether you agree with everything it says. Good luck with your PhD work 🙂

  • crimeworm

    I know I really should have read this, as it’s Susie Orbach – as Susan says above, she is greatly respected here – but I have to admit I haven’t and will look out for it. My friend’s ex is a long term sufferer of anorexia nervosa, and when taking their 10 year old son round the supermarket he noticed how concerned his son was that he was buying “bad” food (ie the usual stuff a dad cooks at weekends, unless he’s skilled in the kitchen – and David isn’t!) It was saddening and angering to think of the warped body image his mother was, unconsciously I’m sure, passing to a 10 year old.

  • lonesomereadereric

    Interesting idea about the separation of mind from bodies. Sounds like this book has some meaningful perspectives on our relationship to how we look. Also, intresting you are drawn to nonfiction at the moment. I always feel like I should read more.

    • Elena

      Me too, Eric, and this sudden interest caught me by surprise but I’m really enjoying it.

      I think you would love Orbach, because she posts some really interesting questions about mind/body. Didn’t you say one Sunday you were busy with a massage? 😉

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