"The Place We Live": Susie Orbach Talks About Bodies

Psychoanalyst Susie Orbach is giving a whole slew of interviews to promote her new book Bodies. She makes some valid points — and some strange ones — about the relationship between capitalism, pop culture, and the body.

Perhaps Orbach's best ideas concern the ways we have come to look at our bodies. She tells Deborah Solomon at the Times,

What I am seeing is franticness about having to get a body. I wish we could treat our bodies as the place we live from, rather than regard it as a place to be worked on, as though it were a disagreeable old kitchen in need of renovation and update.

The idea of the body as a home to cherish, or at least to accept, flaws and all, seems radical, and, sadly, difficult to achieve. In the New York Press, Orbach offers some cultural reasons why it's so hard for us to think of our bodies as simply "the place we live":

[O]ur bodies have become a site for consumer activity. There are industries that are suggesting that our products should be our bodies. So we've got plastic surgery and cosmetic surgery. You've got a diet industry that's telling us to transform our bodies all the time even though if dieting really works, we would only have to do it one time. So dieting works on our failure.

This idea of the body as product, something that you invest in and that pays off with praise and sexual attention, is all over women's magazines. Sometimes it's subtext and sometimes, as in a recent Marie Claire piece about getting plastic surgery to save your job, it's just plain text. Orbach seems spot-on so far, but things get a little weirder when she talks to the Daily Beast. She says,

When I wrote Fifi [Fat Is a Feminist Issue], I saw mental problems or social issues being acted out on the body, but I now think that every act of cutting, every eating problem or extreme surgical procedure can be seen as the body attempting to let its presence and the difficulties around it be known.

She also says that, "the body's problems are forcing themselves into consciousness and they may be undermining our feelings of safety." It's an interestingly holistic point of view, but it's strange to think of plastic surgery as something the body does to itself — unless Orbach sees low self-esteem as coming from the body. Of course, it's artificial to completely separate our brains from our bodies, but it's also hard to imagine cultural messages working directly on our thighs. Maybe we're being reductive, but when it comes to all the bad feelings men and women have about fat, age, height, and shape, we still blame brains.

Her Beautiful Mind [New York Times]
What Drives Us To Hate Our Bodies? [New York Press]
Size Doesn't Matter [Daily Beast]