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Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body

4.08  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,241 Ratings  ·  43 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, 400 pages
Published January 1st 2004 by University of California Press (first published 1993)
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Nov 15, 2009 Meg rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 24, 2016 El rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to El by: The F-Word
An interesting collection of essays written by Susan Bordo in the late 80s and the early 90s, focusing on the way women in Western culture view their bodies, and the idea of "perfection" as a feminine goal. In spite of being rather outdated (though the ads included throughout are pretty classic - holy shoulder pads, Batman!), the information is still, sadly, relevant today. Our media still dictates what is expected of women (and men) especially when it comes to what is considered not only normal ...more
Beverly Stewart
Dec 29, 2007 Beverly Stewart rated it really liked it
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
Nov 24, 2014 Kyley rated it liked it
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 it was amazing
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
Oct 11, 2009 Ren rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 21, 2014 Michelle rated it really liked it
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
Feb 04, 2008 Annette rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2012 Leseparatist rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, research
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.
Jul 30, 2015 Stan rated it really liked 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.
Kailey Rhone
Feb 10, 2015 Kailey Rhone rated it liked it
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
May 10, 2013 Iskander rated it really liked it
Shelves: general
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
Jul 13, 2013 Cara Byrne rated it really liked it
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
Mar 25, 2014 Elizabeth rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: womens-studies
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Noemi Vega
Jun 25, 2014 Noemi Vega rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 21, 2012 Ashley rated it it was amazing
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 it was amazing
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
The first two parts were really interesting and I could relate her theories to my personal life, but I was completely lost with the last part ("Postmodern Bodies") - maybe the theory was too heavy for me after all, although Bordo`s writing is very clear. ...more
Fathom Panthere Iaguar
Jun 10, 2008 Fathom Panthere Iaguar rated it really liked it
Shelves: radical-feminism
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
Nov 19, 2008 Ashley rated it really liked it
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
Nov 12, 2008 Jessica rated it it was ok
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
Mar 12, 2014 Lauren Shimanovsky rated it liked it
theory heavy, but interesting
Gouri Kapoor
Feb 13, 2016 Gouri Kapoor rated it really liked it
A must-read for those working in the field of Body and Women's studies. Bordo talks not just about how the pressure to conform to social norms sometimes results in eating disorders, but also about how women's bodies are viewed and contained in the society. The chapter where she uses case studies to highlight the fact that pregnant women are often just thought of as containers for the foetus and denied subjectivity even by the law is especially well-thought-out.
Gayle Noble
Feb 01, 2016 Gayle Noble rated it really liked it
An absolute corker of a book. Recommended for anyone who wants to discover the roots of Western culture's dysfunctional relationship with the physical body, especially the female body.

Whilst it was written in the 1990s, none of the essays seem particularly dated apart from a couple of pop references. In fact, the arguments Susan Bordo makes are more relevant today than ever.

Essential reading.
Feb 11, 2009 Amber rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 29, 2013 Beth rated it it was amazing
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.
May 25, 2009 Jonathan rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 18, 2008 Kati rated it really liked it
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.
Oct 14, 2011 Amanda rated it it was amazing
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.
May 02, 2007 Tessa rated it really liked it
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
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The F-word: April NON-FICTION selection UNBEARABLE WEIGHT 13 36 May 10, 2016 05:59PM  
  • Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression
  • Fat Is a Feminist Issue
  • The Fat Studies Reader
  • The Obesity Myth: Why America's Obsession with Weight is Hazardous to Your Health
  • Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture
  • Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image
  • Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism
  • Women and Madness
  • The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution
  • Transforming a Rape Culture
  • The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
  • Feminism FOR REAL: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism
  • Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men
  • Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body
  • For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts' Advice to Women
  • Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism
  • Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity
  • Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls' Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes
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
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