Suggested Reading: Unbearable Weight by Susan Bordo

Unbearable Weight

Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, Tenth Anniversary Edition

Susan Bordo (2004) University of California Press

This has been one of the most influential books on the body in feminist scholarship to date, and is also one of my personal favorites. I think Bordo tackles issues of weight and body size in Western culture much more convincingly than Gilman. If you are interested in the body and food/weight I highly suggest it!

From Publishers Weekly

Bordo argues that anorexia nervosa and bulimia are logical, if extreme, manifestations of anxieties and fantasies fostered by a culture that worships the slender, fit body as a symbol of “virile” mastery over bodily desires. In her diagnosis, hysteria, anorexia and agoraphobia “develop out of the practice of femininity itself”; the female is defined by society as a passive, primitive object, while the male is seen as an active, conscious, striving subject. This philosophy professor at Le Moyne College in New York views women’s addiction to plastic surgery, and both men’s and women’s body fetishism, in terms of a consumerist culture that attempts to deny inevitable bodily decay and death. Elsewhere in these brilliant, scholarly yet accessible essays, she analyzes images of men and women in advertisements, interprets the current abortion debate as an assault on the personhood of women and charts pop star Madonna’s metamorphosis from voluptuous rebel to slender, taut, muscular icon. Illustrated.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

In dense, challenging, subtly argued philosophical essays, Bordo (Philosophy/LeMoyne College; The Flight to Objectivity, 1987- -not reviewed) offers a postmodern, poststructuralist feminist interpretation of the female body as a cultural construction in Western society, emphasizing eating disorders, reproductive issues, and the philosophical background. Many of the problems and ideas of contemporary Western society, says Bordo, derive from the ineluctable mind/body dualism of Plato, restated by Descartes. From the viewpoint of feminist theory (of which the author offers a useful history and critique), women have been identified with the body, which itself has been characterized as an alien, instinctual, threatening, passive, and false self in which the true self–the active and manly mind/soul- -is confined. In occasionally repetitive pieces–some a decade old, some revised from lectures–carrying titles like “Are Mothers Persons?,” “Reading the Slender Body,” and “Material Girl,” Bordo demonstrates how this identification is deployed in law, medicine, literature, art, popular culture, and, especially, advertising, which she perceptively decodes by showing how the most trivial detail (men eating hearty meals, women consuming bite-size candies) reveal cultural values and even pathologies. Following Foucault’s archaeological technique, Bordo shows how the female body has migrated from nature to culture, where it can be controlled through dieting and altered through surgery–and where women are perpetually at war with it. A cerebral introduction to liberal feminist thinking that’s humanized by the author’s anecdotes of her own experience as a female body (e.g., confessing to the delights of making stuffed cabbage) and that demonstrates what it advocates: “What the body does is immaterial, so long as the imagination is free.” (Fifty- five b&w illustrations) — Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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