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Women living in ‘very bizarre moment,’ UK writer says


British psychoanalyst and author Susie Orbach poses at an unnamed location on Oct. 3, 2016.


Girls and young women are under more pressure than ever to achieve the perfect body in an oppressive social media-driven world that could never have been imagined by 1970s feminists, British psychoanalyst and bestselling author Susie Orbach said.

Forty years after the publication of her seminal book Fat is a Feminist Issue, the writer — who was once Princess Diana’s therapist — said that women are commodifying their bodies as they try to conform to false images peddled by online beauty influencers.

Girls as young as six are being conditioned to think about cosmetic surgery, with a host of industries fueling and profiting from body insecurity, she said.

Faced with the reality of modern life, many women are turning inward, obsessed with diet and fitness or embracing being overweight as a sign of rebellion.

“It’s much, much worse than we ever envisioned,” Orbach told reporters on the sidelines of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, where she was speaking about her new book In Therapy: How Conversations with Psychotherapists Really Work.

Orbach has recently been involved in a year-long international campaign to force Apple, Google and Amazon to remove cosmetic surgery apps targeting primary-school-aged girls, in which cartoon-style characters can be modified with procedures such as liposuction.

“This is not just a problem related to girls and women, and it’s very, very profitable if you can destabilize people’s bodies,” she said. “There are all kinds of industries both creating and feeding off these insecurities.”

Orbach, 72, said that the inevitable outcome is the creation of a society where women will divert their energy and focus inward, rather than trying to change the world.

“We’re so self-focused now, we produce our bodies, rather than live from them. Your body is your product,” she said.

“If you just dropped in on any conversation, the amount of mental space that people take up with what they’re eating, what they’re not eating, their yoga routine, is expressive of the level of distress in our society,” Orbach said. “It’s not about contribution, it’s about how I manage this horror I’m personally living with.”

Orbach has spoken about the liberation women felt from the late 1960s, when they began to challenge beauty pageant objectification and rebel against body expectations.

However, the pressures back then started later, not in childhood, she said.

“It happened at 18, it didn’t happen at six. You didn’t have girls and boys saying ‘Have I got a six pack?’ or ‘I’m too fat’ at six and seven. You didn’t have girls throwing up over the toilet bowl at nine,” Orbach said.

Reality TV shows such as Love Island, where sculpted single men and women compete to couple up and win a cash prize, are both a symptom and a cause of pushing body image on impressionable young minds.

“Can you imagine all that human energy used for something else?” Orbach asked.

And even while body insecurity has grown, waistlines have expanded, she said.

Orbach laid a portion of blame at the door of the food industry, saying that one obvious change in countries such as the UK now compared to 1978 is the proliferation of fast-food outlets.

However, she said the obesity crisis has also been driven by the relentless demands of living up to an impossible ideal.

“As long as you’ve had one dominant image — of skinniness, of slimness, of beauty — that is everywhere, you’re going to have people in rebellion against that,” she said. “Sometimes that rebellion is going to show in fatness.”

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