Give Us Back Our Bodies

08/03/2011 11:12 | Updated 22 May 2015

For those of us who have been banging on about women's bodies in various ways for several decades the hundredth anniversary of International Women's Day is a mixed celebration. Sure we've come a long way, but while we are outraged and appalled by reports of female genital mutilation, systematic domestic violence and sex trafficking, we are often more squeamish about addressing a problem so endemic and taken for granted, a problem so silently suffered by millions and millions of women, a problem that we would rather not name.

Body anxiety and body hatred – and it is that – let's not prettify it, are eating into the confidence of girls and women. Every morning, millions of women in the west wake up, check their stomachs and wonder if it is going to be a good day or a bad day in relation to food. They go to the mirror and are critical. They plan to go to the gym, run or do something to keep their body in check. Their bodies are not something that they embrace, but something to tussle with and over. They have grown up in an atmosphere where evaluating, fretting and transforming one's body is now the norm.

The body has become commercialised. Every surface of it is scrutinised. From labia to hair, from toes to neck, from bottoms to elbows, there are treatments to change the normal processes of ageing – whether one is young and is trying to look older or old and trying to look younger.

There is a great deal of money to be made through this discomfort. And if the discomfort can be marketed to younger and younger children, with makeup lines for six-year-olds, then the sense of bodies always needing to be paid attention to via products creates budding consumers for the beauty companies.

But of course it isn't just the beauty industry. The style, diet, cosmetic surgery, fashion, and fitness industry – and yes these are all industries bent on selling the maximum number of goods – are getting fat on girls and women feeling bad about their appearance.

There is no mystery as to why we feel so bad. A visual musak pervades our streets and our screens, promoting a uniformity of images of women which are both digitally 'perfected' and showing us in stances which have nothing to do with the activities of our lives. We are instead portrayed us as tantalizingly untouchable, and yet, totally desirable.

Girls don't see themselves reflected and so they try to change themselves to mimic what they see. Last Friday in London, young women from all over the country came together to show us what they are doing to combat this tyranny and to create a new visual culture. There was joy in the room as they showed their fight back and dared to love their bodies. We all vowed to stop the trafficking of body hatred throughout the world. It is not an easy struggle. It can be written off as trivial. But it isn't. We all know it eats away at us. That's why we are campaigning. Join with us to get our bodies back.

Susie Orbach is the author of Fat is a Feminist Issue, co-founder of Women's Therapy Centre and the Women's Therapy Centre Institute. She is an activist who has worked extensively towards helping women to improve their sense of self worth and their body image. Visit to learn more about her latest project and to join the fight to get our bodies back.


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