Have you noticed that Brad Pitt is a little chunky? Or that George Clooney is just plain fat? You might think that both men are just right, unless you’re familiar with the World Health Organization’s BMI (Body Mass Index) standards.
Our near obsession with achieving physical perception is an epidemic, and according to Susie Orbach, “[W]e have entered a new epoch of body destabilization, and there is a new franticness surrounding the body induced by social forces….” Her new book, Bodies, explores this growing phenomenon with experienced insight and compassion.
Media images are often blamed for creating –through airbrushing, Photoshopping, and other neat tricks — an unrealistic perfection to which we’ve allowed ourselves to aspire. Let’s remember, however, that Rod Serling gave us fair warning of what was to come in episodes of The Twilight Zone such as “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” and “The Eye of the Beholder.”
Orbach details the case of Andrew, a physically sound man who found his legs so loathsome that he wanted them removed. We usually think of cosmetic surgery as an attempt to bring the body closer to society’s definition of perfect, so it would seem that Andrew’s desire to mutilate himself doesn’t fall into the same category as, say, rhinoplasty or breast implants. The common denominator is the perception that a body is not right as it is. According to psychologist Orbach, “body difficulties… are ubiquitous in our consulting rooms,” and the condition is spreading rapidly.
We view aging as a disability that must be repaired; we can’t abide smile lines or a slightly balding pate. But even the very youngest are not immune to this insidious disease. Websites such as hotornot.com encourage teens to post pictures of themselves so that site visitors can rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Parents are choosing to have their babies’ photographs digitally enhances in order to disguise all those pesky flaws.
And of course, there is financial incentive to keep us questioning our beauty. The diet industry gleefully enjoys profits from returning customers who make up the 95 percent recidivism rate. Finance companies “have found a lucrative market in lending up to a billion dollars a year to women for [cosmetic] surgery,” writes Orbach. We can’t deny that she is on target when she says “The body has become a casing for fantasy rather than a place from which to live.”
Susie Orbach is best known as the author of Fat Is a Feminist Issue (and perhaps also as Princess Diana’s therapist) and is a driving force behind the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty. The growing disconnect between real bodies and vinyl vixens is of great concert to Orbach, and she has hauled out the big guns in Bodies in a “pleas for us to rethink the body.” In Bodies, she carefully examines this disturbing and damaging pursuit of body perfection by looking at family influence, pop culture, and the spread of Western values to every nook and cranny of the world.
Bodies is an eye-opening and deeply disturbing exposé of the mass insanity that reigns over us all. Well-written and thoroughly researched, this book is disturbing in its ability to pinpoint the many ways in which each of us feeds the madness through our own unthinking actions and ingrained beliefs. Bodies is a wakeup call that we dare not ignore.