22 of 26 people found the following review helpful
A meandering disappointment,
This review is from: Bodies (Big Ideas) (Paperback)
Having read the glowing reviews and synopses of this book in the Sunday supplements - all of which eulogised the richness, uniqueness and timeliness of Susie Orbach's Bodies (2009) - I was disappointed to find it a hodgepodge of unchecked statistics, extreme examples and a meandering analysis which peters out before it gains cohesive momentum. It might be that expectations were high - Fat is a Feminist Issue (1978) is a longstanding classic and Orbach is co-originator of Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty (as well as, incidentally, having been Princess Diana's therapist). And the broadsheets were perhaps willing this to be a book of great resonance - its starting points certainly make for easy copy. And its simple, stark cover already has the pretensions of an intellectual classic: A chipped, lipsticked porcelain doll represents the imperfect body; its bald head is hung in shame and its body pushed into the corner by an overwhelming sea of blue (suggesting, I imagine, that the environment surrounding the body shapes and defines it more than the material body itself does). This is a book that doesn't need marketing schnick-schnack on the cover, it'll sell by itself.
It is well-known that contemporary Western societies fetishize thin bodies and that the commentary on anorexia often simplifies the illness to a preoccupation with food. Or in Orbach's words: "Thinness has become an aspirational issue" and "is - falsely, I believe - promoted as a health issue in which the psychological underpinnings of appetite and thinness are bypassed". It has also been well reported that alarm over obesity in the Western world has been exaggerated and overstated, especially after the publication of Paul Campos's The Obesity Myth in 2004 and J. Eric Oliver's Fat Politics: The Real Story behind America's Obesity Epidemic in 2005. Orbach repeats the findings of these books, without hardly adding anything new (repeatedly in the book, I had the impression of an overreliance on established research and newspaper cuttings).
More problematically, Orbach regurgitates statistics from newspapers in the body of her text without having verified them. For example, she quotes that the diet industry was worth 100 billion dollars in the US in 2006, but the footnote offers no substantiation, stating simply that "This figure is used extensively". With statistics that vague, unreliable and unsubtantiated, it is perhaps wiser to not use them at all (or at the very least, reference the sources and calculations behind them). Predictably, many newspapers have taken up this "statistic" again, following Orbach's cue, and are quoting it as unambiguous fact.
And, finally, there is the story of Andrew: a father in his 50s who successfully convinces doctors to amputate both of his healthy legs so that he can automatically (and without speech) engender a longed-for sympathy in the eyes of strangers. Orbach's recounting of Andrew's body distress takes up nearly all of the first chapter, which purports to tell us of 'Bodies in Our Time'. But one or two very extreme case studies cannot convincingly be the basis for hypothesizing about the general situation regarding our relationships with our bodies. Ultimately, Andrew's extreme desire to self-amputate may well have more to do with individual childhood trauma than "our bodies being in crisis".
I have a feeling that this book strains to be one of those modern intellectual texts which, with a seeming lack of effort, unfold their insights to the reader. But such books (e.g. by Alain de Botton or Adam Philips) have usually been carefully structured with their "spontaneous" philosophisings smoothed into a cohesive, logically plausible sequence. If you try and mimic this "spontaneity" without the groundwork, what you often end up with is what you find here: a frustrating mish-mash of ideas.
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Initial post: 8 Aug 2009 13:45:36 BDT
Last edited by the author on 8 Aug 2009 15:03:47 BDT
Thank you for all the detailed reviews...I was thinking of buying this only to be sure that she (author) really didn't know what she was talking about...She wrote an article for the Guardian about 5/6 weeks ago...That did exactly the same...'Meandered disappointingly' only in far fewer words, thankfully...She was 'asked' to write a reaction to a dubious piece of research, that claimed Fat Celebrities were bad role models...Quite why she was asked remains shrouded in mystery, (unless to shamelessly plug this book, which judging from most of the reviews does need it...A new book with 30 year old ideas, 'yummy'), as for many she is neither celebrity nor even overweight...Phill Jupitus was also asked to comment at the same time, more appropriately you might say...The Guardian saw fit to edit, re-order and reduce his original article..I mention this, because I see chapter 3 is entitled 'Speaking Bodies'...The Irony...And BTW publishers if you're out there...FiFi needs another strap line...'The best selling classic that continues to revolutionize the way women view their bodies' so clearly, CLEARLY untrue.
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