troubled bodiesIt seems that in much of the ‘anglo-saxon’ world, we have lost the facility of bodily communication we enjoyed in childhood. Children don’t seem to play together as much as they did, people tend to work alone. Has our society become so densely populated that we no longer know each other well enough to risk bodily communication. People crowd together on the ‘tube’, their bodies not quite touching, but they don’t communicate. Their eyes look at their mobile phones or stare into space, their expressions neutral or defensive. And if they inadvertently touch, they immediately apologise.

We are living in a narcissistic age. Perhaps in reaction to population density, people are focussed on personal achievement, being special in a crowded world. They advertise ourselves on social media. They desperately seek connection but at the same time, fear it. With an educational system geared towards self actuation; being or working together can be difficult.

One of the hardest problems is how to connect with people of different genders, ages, classes, races, languages. How can we bridge the gap between men and women when men are so often seen as aggressors and women victims? How can we learn to understand people of alternative gender identities? How can we connect with people of different races in a time of racial abuse and terrorist attacks? How can people bridge the inequalities of class and education? These are the existential problems of our time; the pain and the tragedy. It can be so difficult to negotiate connection.

Perhaps it is not surprising that bodies are so diverse and unstable. We not only have a range of unexplained bodily illnesses and a variety of gender identities, we have a surfeit of obese bodies that seem to express need and anorexic bodies that defend against intrusion, and assert self sufficiency. Food has become a challenge to the postmodern body

The feminist psychoanalyst, Susie Orbach, claims that girls grow up ashamed of their own body, perhaps mirroring their mothers obsessions with dieting. She describes girl’s bodies are provisional; they use gyms, diets and plastic surgery to reshape an unsatisfactory body, and clothes, hair styles, make-up and jewellery to refashion it. Their bodies are commodities to be exploited by the food industry, cosmetics industry, clothes industry and plastic surgery. Consumers from a very young age, they are driven to achieve that perfect body. The body, in turn, has become objectified and politicised; it does not so much express a sense of self; only an impression of the prevailing culture. There is a dissociation between being a body and having a body.

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