This week, a major summit is taking place in London to discuss the extent to which women are not only divorced from, but actively harming their own bodies. One of the speakers is Susie Orbach, author of the now-famous book, ‘Fat Is A Feminist Issue’ . In it, Orbach outlined her views on the reasons for compulsive eating, claiming that fat was not about food, but is instead a response to the way women are seen by others and how they see themselves.
Orbach argues that, in her experience as an author and psychotherapist, the situation has worsened since she published the book, thirty-five years ago. She comments in the Guardian, that:
What was considered really psychopathological when I started to work is now the norm…being hysterical about eating, eating only on the weekend, throwing up, hating your body, not ever feeling you can be relaxed in it, looking at yourself from the outside.
As a psychotherapist, she also notes that many of her patients are ‘much more involved in a production of the self than in living…young women who don’t really inhabit their lives or their bodies’. In addition, Orbach believes that many women struggle with managing desire. In this sense anorexia and compulsive eating stem from the same source – anorexics are afraid of desire so they try to kill it, whilst compulsive eaters pre-empt their desires before they start to feel such terrifying needs. All this is fed by a society which tells us to consume more and to give into our every impulse.
But perhaps our greatest issue is learning to accept who and what we are. As Orbach concludes,
I see young women – and a few young men – who come in with a notion of, ‘I’ve worked really hard, I’ve got this degree, I’ve got this scholarship, I’ve got this job, I’ve fixed my body, I’ve got the boyfriend. I feel empty. I’ve done all this stuff – which is the stuff that’s supposed to be about happy – but I don’t know how to live inside of myself.
It seems that, though our culture is great at telling us what we want and ‘need’, it can’t help us when we actually get these things. We’re being sold a lie. And there’s nothing worse than reaching your goals and finding it’s still not enough.