Pres­sure on girls for per­fect body ‘worse than ever’

The Borneo Post - Nature and health - - Front Page -

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, says psy­cho­an­a­lyst and best­selling au­thor Susie Or­bach. Forty years after the pub­li­ca­tion of her sem­i­nal book “Fat is a Fem­i­nist Is­sue”, the Bri­tish writer -- who was once Princess Diana’s ther­a­pist -- said women were com­mod­i­fy­ing their bod­ies as they tried to con­form to false im­ages ped­dled by on­line beauty in­flu­encers. Girls as young as six were be­ing con­di­tioned to think about cos­metic surgery, she added, with a host of in­dus­tries fu­elling and prof­it­ing from body in­se­cu­rity. Faced with the re­al­ity of mod­ern life, many women were 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 AFP 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 desta­bilise peo­ple’s bod­ies,” she said. “There are all kinds of in­dus­tries both cre­at­ing and feed­ing off these in­se­cu­ri­ties.” Or­bach, 72, said the in­evitable out­come was the cre­ation of a so­ci­ety where women would 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 added: “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. “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. But the pres­sures back then started later, not in child­hood, she told AFP. “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.” Re­al­ity tele­vi­sion shows such as “Love Is­land”, where sculpted sin­gle men and women com­pete to cou­ple up and win a cash prize, were 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 ques­tioned. And even while body in­se­cu­rity had grown, waist­lines had ex­panded, she said. Or­bach laid a por­tion of blame at the door of the food in­dus­try, not­ing that one ob­vi­ous change in coun­tries such as the UK in 2018 com­pared to 1978 was the pro­lif­er­a­tion of fast-food out­lets. But she said the obe­sity cri­sis had 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.” One of Or­bach’s chief con- cerns is how the mod­ern “gig econ­omy” has cre­ated a world in which peo­ple are en­cour­aged to mar­ket them­selves. “I think the ra­pa­cious­ness of late cap­i­tal­ism is re­ally a prob­lem,” she said. “We are see­ing our­selves not just as con­sum­ing cen­tres but brands. Young women are now be­ing en­cour­aged to see them­selves as brands, and in­flu­encers.” The dan­gers are even greater than in the decade after the pub­li­ca­tion of “Fat is a Fem­i­nist Is­sue”, when Mar­garet Thatcher and Ron­ald Rea­gan’s new ma­cho po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic era prompted a back­lash against fem­i­nism, Or­bach ar­gued. “It was a ter­ri­ble pe­riod, but this is a much worse pe­riod, be­cause women are al­lowed and are in all jobs, but they still have to look like dolls when they are go­ing to their jobs and they still have to emo­tion­ally look after ev­ery­one at work. “It’s a very bizarre mo­ment. I never ex­pected this.” – AFP

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