The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

“Navigating Our Culture’s Body Anxiety & Finding Body Confidence” ~ Q & A with SUSIE ORBACH

Susie OrbachSusie Orbach is a psychoanalyst, activist and author of many books including the classic, Fat is a Feminist Issue and her latest publication, Bodies. In addition to co-founding The Women’s Therapy Centre  in London and The Women’s Therapy Centre Institute in New York, Orbach serves as consultant and co-originator of the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty.  She is also convenor of through which she recently organized a series of international summits aimed at promoting body diversity and changing the way our culture turns individuals against their own bodies.

As an author and international body image activist, Orbach lectures extensively worldwide.  On October 2nd, 2011 we are excited to welcome her to The Center for Eating Disorders at Sheppard Pratt in Baltimore where she will be presenting a free talk for the community entitled, Navigating Our Culture’s Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence. You can get the details and reserve your seats for the event here.

In advance of her presentation, we asked Dr. Orbach a few questions about her upcoming talk and her responses are below.
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Q & A with Susie Orbach:

Q: The title of your upcoming talk at CED is “Navigating our Culture’s Body Anxiety and Finding Body Confidence”.  In your own words, how would you define body anxiety?  How do you define body confidence?

Susie: Body anxiety: Waking up and worrying whether it is going to be a good day or a bad day in relation to food; scrutinizing your body –dreading it will have the faults you see there, hoping it won’t; feeling pierced throughout the day with negative body thoughts; making plans to change the way you eat, exercise because you must ‘punish yourself’ and so on

Body confidence: waking up and feeling your physicality; reflecting on what you are doing that morning and what you might want to wear. Eating just what you want and relishing it when you are hungry. Moving your body because it feels good. Enjoying going about your life trusting your body will be there in a good way with you.

Q: In your opinion, where does the responsibility lie for this culture of extreme body dissatisfaction we have come to accept as the norm?  With whom does the responsibility lie to change it?

Susie: Big questions I hope to answer in my talk…The important thing is that whether in advertising, the media, food industry, the beauty industry, there are things we can to do change the situation. We need bold strategies from the individual, to the corporate to the political governmental

Q: What would you say is the biggest cultural myth that affects body image and/or weight struggles?

Susie: That the diet industry is on our side. It isn’t. It is part of the problem not the solution

Q: You have played an integral role in the creation of an international movement called Endangered Species.  What is the mission of this project?  In what ways has the project begun to accomplish its goals and what is on the horizon?  How can individuals contribute to the movement?

Susie: Come and join us one and all…set up a group in Baltimore, propose a project or join one of our existing projects. You are really welcome and needed.

Endangered aims to transform the culture that makes us afraid of our bodies and their appetites. We launched this year on the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. In London we are working with Parliament, with Girl Guides, with the Y, with many different Body Activist Groups – some in Fashion, some in education,  to take on those industries which grow fat on making girls and women, and increasingly men, feel wary of their bodies and their desires.

*Check out some great highlights from the Endangered Species Summits compiled by  Elena Rossini who is also the director of the upcoming documentary, The Illusionists.

Q: Many people, especially individuals with eating disorders, often struggle with intensely comparing themselves and their bodies to other people.  What do you think are the origins for this process and what roles do you see body competition and comparison playing in our society today?

Susie: Body competition is destructive and ubiquitous and not made easier by the cosmetic surgery industry, photo shopping and celebrity culture. Our visual culture is so full of images of people that don’t actually exist and it is very damaging.

Q: In your experience treating individuals with eating disorders and body image disturbances, what one piece of advice would you offer to individuals working towards recovery and body acceptance?

Q: Susie: Look back at pictures of yourself from a few years ago when you thought you looked awful (if you kept them), the odds are, you’ll find you were quite ok, lovely even. Then reflect upon the sad fact that you didn’t trust you looked ok then but you did so perhaps you have to risk feeling a tiny bit ok now…….

But in truth I wouldn’t give one piece of advice! It would depend on the individual….

Q: What keeps you hopeful that we will be able to push back against society’s damaging messages with regard to body satisfaction?  Do you think we will see real change in the way future generations relate to their bodies?

Susie: I am deeply pessimistic. But I also think: what choice do we have but to challenge the hurt and the vicious attacks on bodies. What gives me hope are the number of body activists out there – young, old, across cultures and class who are insisting on something more humane in relation to our bodies.

Q: After attending your community talk in Baltimore on October 2nd, what primary message do you hope individuals will take from your presentation and put into practice?

Susie: Gosh, that’s tough. We are all individuals and will take and give different things to the day and so what hits home will vary, but I hope it is the determination to make peace with our bodies.

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We hope so too.

Do you have your own questions for Susie Orbach? Join us in Baltimore on October 2nd for the chance to ask.  A reception and book signing will follow the presentation.  Attendance is free but seats are limited – don’t forget to RSVP.  Get details HERE.

Are you a treatment professional?  You may also be interested in the continuing education event taking place earlier the same day:

October 2, 2011 (8:00-11:00am) The Body in Therapy: An In Depth Look at Countertransference and the False Body with Susie Orbach, approved for 2.0 CME/CEU credits.  Download the program Flyer (pdf)

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