‘Bodies’ by Susie Orbach

Hello sunny windy world,

I recently read this book, by the author of ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’. My favourite parts in these kind of books are the case studies, such as the one in this book where a baby was taught how to associate touch with love, having had an abusive mother who had broken the baby’s legs. Once the baby ‘Ethan’ was out of plaster, he held himself completely rigid and wouldn’t accept touch. The process of re-learning touch went like this: the foster mother stroked the baby who is curled into a ball, using a fluffy rabbit, so using a safe object that isn’t actually her touch, a ‘conduit’. As she did this she crooned lullabies, eventually, the baby uncurled and accepted being held. Five months later he was able to smile! The stories are very memorable, whereas the facts are so forgettable.

However, to preserve some facts from the swamp of my brain I shall document them here:

1. Babies in a low tech hospital were placed next to their mother’s hearts for several hours a day, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 70 to 30%. This is known as the kangeroo effect!!! Or, kangerooing.  Brilliant name. Apparently the mothers body temperature adjucts automatically to what the baby needs, so everyone’s happy.

2.  From 2,000 to 5,000 times a week, we receive images of bodies enhanced by digital manipulation. Which seems excessive really.

3. Adults can process a facial expression and match it within thirty milliseconds-without being conscious of doing so. Wow, so just by glancing at a Heat cover I have already decided I am the model on the front, I don’t even have to buy it and read the articles to want to be the ‘ideal’.

4. In the March 2008 issue of US Vogue, the artistic retoucher changed 144 images: 107 advertisements, 36 fashion pictures and the cover. Again, excessive. At least someone has a steady job.

Phrases I like from the book include: ‘the rhetoric of empowerment’. We accept the ‘assault’ on us of images of perfection, and actually take them on board. We are then able to feel when we choose to have breast surgery, nose surgery etc, we are making a choice that benefits our well being as allowing us to be comfortable with how we look. So it becomes an empowering thing to do. Those moments in those make over T.V shows when the woman goes through hours of pain to emerge, butterfly like, from the chrysalis of bruises, and everyone claps her as she walks (gingerly) down the stairs. Sooo empowering. Another word for rhetoric: ‘bombast’.

Overall, I found the book moving and thought provoking, would recommend it. It’s focus on the body was really interesting, Orbach says, ‘the body is made, not born’. She challenges what we conventionally understand by our body.

To end with a quote, from the Ash Dickinson poem ‘The Skindustry’-

don’t you know, ‘reading Heat is a form of self harm’ ?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Gzbw_FX88s Link to Ash performing the piece.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/01/bodies-review-susie-orbach Guardian review of the book.


The Stirred quad is formed of Rebecca Audra Smith, Anna Percy, Jasmine Chatfield and Lenni Sanders.

Posted in Reviews

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The Stirred team at Reclaim the Night Manchester 2015
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