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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body
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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body

4.1 of 5 stars 4.10  ·  rating details  ·  1,007 ratings  ·  39 reviews
"Unbearable Weight is brilliant. From an immensely knowledgeable feminist perspective, in engaging, jargonless (!) prose, Bordo analyzes a whole range of issues connected to the body—weight and weight loss, exercise, media images, movies, advertising, anorexia and bulimia, and much more—in a way that makes sense of our current social landscape—finally! This is a great book ...more
Paperback, 10th Anniversary Edition, 398 pages
Published January 1st 2004 by University of California Press (first published 1993)
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Unbearable Weight is an analysis of the body in relation to culture. I expected to read about eating disorders and disordered body images, but instead discovered a new way of thinking about the body and culture. "Psychopathology, as Jules Henry has said, 'is the final outcome of all that is wrong with a culture.' " The author, Susan Bordo, takes "the psychopathologies that develop within a culture, far from being anomalies or aberrations, to be characteristic expressions of that culture; to be, ...more
Beverly Stewart
Dec 29, 2007 Beverly Stewart rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Women interested in understanding the cultural inscriptions placed on women.
I think that Susan Bordo takes usually difficult-to-understand theory and applies it to anorexia and body image. I turned to her because many women my age have decided to starve themselves. She mainly deals with younger women, but reading this has helped me understand the complexities of eating disorders-- from wanting control over at least one aspect of life to being bullied into cultural submission through the barrage of images projecting ideals of femininity, beauty, and success. This book is ...more
This was a very difficult book for me to finish. I started out engaged; her discussion about the history of the mind/body split was very interesting and the writing on hysteria made me want more on the topic. In general, I think this where she shines: the history of ideas. But as the book went on, it dragged. A lot.

It's very clearly a product of 1993, and in that way it's not anyone's fault I didn't always connect with the data points. That being said, this felt at times like a spotty example o
Nov 06, 2008 Lindsay rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: feminists, people interested in the history of attitudes toward the body
In the introduction to this collection of essays, Susan Bordo names Foucault as the primary influence on her thought, and on the ideas she explores here. As soon as I read that, I said "Oh, no. That's a bad sign," fearing that the book would be too postmodern for me. Happily, it's not. The writing is clear, engaging and fairly accessible (it can still be slow going, especially in the final three essays which deal specifically with postmodernism), and she does actually make recognizable, clearly- ...more
Unbearable Weight is made up of a series of interrelated essays that analyze different aspects of how the female body is viewed in the contemporary United States and that examine female embodiment as it is affected by those views. While each essay approaches female embodiment from a somewhat different angle, Bordo does have a main argument. She argues that the psychopathologies—such as hysteria, anorexia, and agoraphobia—that arise within a particular culture are protests against certain cultura ...more
This collection of essays is truly amazing and eye-opening. I really enjoyed every single one. Susan Bordo does a great job of creating a dialogue about eating disorders and highlighting the many issues that surround such topics in society today. She is able to recognize them for the difficult topics that they are while also making them incredibly easy to understand and bring the reader into the topic in a way that makes you question "Why haven't we looked at it like this before?"

Would definite
I've been thinking about Bordo a lot as I've been riding the bus during rush hour. The logistics of body and space and how it relates to expectations of women are frustrating. That I (and women) are expected to tuck and pull into ourseleves on our shared seats while the man sitting next to me sprawls out and is allowed culturally to take up more space. Bordo speaks to a lot of this (maybe not within this context) and applies it to the eating disordered. Interesting stuff. I'm going to kick my le ...more
Much better than the excerpts have led me to believe; I particularly enjoyed the chapter on reproductive rights and the critique of postmodern disembodiment in theory. Highly recommended and quite relevant.
Kailey Rhone
The topic of body image and its associated behaviors are efficiently preluded on the first page of Susan Bordo’s book through Delmore Schwartz’s poem The Heavy Bear. It introduces the dualism of the body; how it is both our being as well as an inescapable pest. It expounds on the idea that the body is a “brute” equipped with a primitive need to consume in order to feel fulfillment. Essentially, the body is heavy baggage for many people, constantly pulling downwards towards what it “needs”, but n ...more
Iskander M
I have never read more informative essay or collection of essays than this extremely illustrative book by Susan Bordo. As it happens usually with any book you will come with a one question and leave with a hundred other answers . This book is so to speak has become my crucial material of understanding of Western culture, feminism, and consumerism that shapes it.
Her analysis about the body in the culture is incredible. She opens up and explores how feminism and feminine body affects the culture.
Cara Byrne
This was a great read. Bordo's fantastic analysis of body politics helps me better understand the underlying cultural messages placed upon us through commercials, ads, and even Madonna's music videos (I'm pretty sure had this been written in 2013 instead of 1993, Bordo would have had a field day with Gaga's work). I'm also interested in references Bordo makes to children - from the dolls they are given to their early introductions to limiting notions of the female body. Personally, this book als ...more
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Noemi Vega
Bordo gives a critique of modern and postmodern conceptions of "body," "embodiment," and gender through the lens of Western Feminism, culture, and (intriguingly) "abnormal" eating behaviors such as anorexia, bulemia, and agoraphobia. I found myself thanking her for writing this book and elucidating discourse on concepts of the body.
Susan Bordo is one of my favorite feminist theorists, and I love the way she handles politics of the body. Though originally published in the mid 80s, most of her observations about advertising, anorexia, bulimia, and body image still stand.

I'm a bit of a Susan Bordo fangirl, and I love the way that she takes high theory and writes a book that is engaging, understandable, and influential. Her discussion of Foucaultian systems of control and the anorexic body are particularly spot-on, and I thin
Jul 12, 2007 Evie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anyone
Shelves: psychology
Susan Bordo's collection of essays about the feminine and the feminine body and the impact of culture upon both has made me rethink my own obsession with my weight and body. She explores eating disorders and the idea of "thin" or "slim" by placing them within a cultural contex: how does society, our belief systems, our history, our families, our commercials and commercialism contribute to our personal images of the physical ideal and our perpetual struggle to achieve this unachievable goal? This ...more
Fathom Panthere Iaguar
Aside from reaffirming my already-present beliefs concerning eating disorders as merely logical extremes to the current weight-obsession we have in our world today, this book introduced me to several other important facets of body-control (governmental, personal, social) including the appalling state of non-personhood that any woman becomes included in once they become pregnant. While somewhat dry, this book is nevertheless fascinating, and a worthy read whether you are just starting to think or ...more
Rereading this book, I am yet again fascinated with Bordo's reading of the thin female body. She situates this body in history, analyzing pervasive fears of the all-consuming, uncontrollable force of female bodies and female desire - and, in contrast, the masculine-gendered ideal of restraint and asceticism. One passage compares the frighteningly similar accounts of athletes, body-builders and anorectics. (Yet another reason for me NOT to work out & read theory instead.) For anyone tired of ...more
Way, way more academic than I had anticipated. I found myself rereading lines 2-3x. You definitely need some background in women's studies/philosophy to understand all the references to different philosophers and theories. It was so dense; it took me six months to complete.

The parts that were slightly more accessible in talking about mass media, culture and women were pretty interesting. Not sure I agreed with all of it, but it was presented in a way that at least made me consider it.
Lauren Shimanovsky
theory heavy, but interesting
Unbearable Weight is a journey into the impact of cultural messages. I have been reviewingthis book extensively on my website as it is having a great impact on me. Once having read Susan Bordo I will never be able to look at advertisements and even my own body, the same again.
Amazing book. She asks incisive and insightful questions and while I don't agree with her conclusions on everything, I deeply appreciate the issues she raises. It's a really dense read, but worth the work. I'm putting it on my "to-read-again" shelf, because there's so much to think through in there.
This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the pro-life/pro-choice controversy. I recommend "The Subjectivity of the Mother," an essay in which Bordo makes a compelling argument that we in the West privilege the life of the fetus much more than the life of the mother giving birth.
Nothing like a little heavy duty feminist theory after a long day at the office. Seriously, it took me a while to get into it, but once I did I was properly appreciative. Bordo deals with the things in the sub-title, with a focus on eating disorders. Very good stuff.
While I don't always agree with Bordo's interpretations, her thoroughly postmodern and culturally-grounded analysis of contemporary culture surrounding "beauty" is thought-provoking. I highly recommend everyone read this book.
Really fascinating discussion of popular culture, philosophical traditions and contemporary understandings of the body (largely within a "Western" social context). Hugely formative for the work I did as an undergrad
Every woman -- and man, really -- should read this book and have their minds torn apart and reshaped by Bordo's deft cultural analysis of the female body in Western culture.
My favorite professor in grad school wrote this book among several others. It is a non-fiction collection of essays that she wrote about eating disorders. Really good.
Oct 16, 2012 Stan added it
Best thing I've read on what are called "eating disorders." Essential reading for people who care about women who have contradictory relationships with food.
Jessica Zu
A lovely and pleasant read for class readings :) I recommend it to all who are interested in feminism :)
Ms. Dumonet
a thought provoking exploration of the culturally contructed ways women perceive their bodies
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Susan Bordo is known for the clarity, accessibility, and contemporary relevance of her writing. Her first book, The Flight to Objectivity, has become a classic of feminist philosophy. In 1993, increasingly aware of our culture's preoccupation with weight and body image, she published Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, a book that is still widely read and assigned in classe ...more
More about Susan Bordo...
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private Twilight Zones: The Hidden Life of Cultural Images from Plato to O.J. The Flight to Objectivity: Essays on Cartesianism and Culture Feminist Interpretations of Rene Descartes (Re-Reading the Canon)

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