Pressure on girls for perfect body 'worse than ever'

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HONG KONG - Girls and young women are under more pressure than ever to achieve the perfect body in an oppressive social media-driven world that could never have been imagined by 1970s feminists, says psychoanalyst and author Susie Orbach.

Forty years after the publication of her seminal book Fat Is A Feminist Issue, the British writer - who was once Princess Diana's therapist - said women were commodifying their bodies as they tried to conform to false images peddled by online beauty influencers.

Girls as young as six were being conditioned to think about cosmetic surgery, with a host of industries fuelling and profiting from body insecurity.

Faced with the reality of modern life, many women become obsessed with diet and fitness or embrace being overweight as a sign of rebellion.

"It's much, much worse than we ever envisioned," Ms Orbach, 72, said on the sidelines of the Hong Kong International Literary Festival, where she was speaking about her new book In Therapy: How Conversations With Psychotherapists Really Work.

Ms Orbach has recently been involved in a yearlong international campaign to force Apple, Google and Amazon to remove cosmetic surgery apps targeting primary school-aged girls, in which cartoonstyle characters can be modified with procedures such as liposuction.

"This is not just a problem related to girls and women, and it's very, very profitable if you can destabilise people's bodies," she said. "There are all kinds of industries both creating and feeding off these insecurities."

She said the inevitable outcome was the creation of a society where women would divert their energy and focus inwards. "We're so self-focused now, we produce our bodies, rather than live from them. Your body is your product."

And even while body insecurity had grown, waistlines had expanded, she added.

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Ms Orbach laid a portion of blame at the door of the food industry, noting that one obvious change in countries such as Britain today compared with 1978 was the proliferation of fast-food outlets.

But she said the obesity crisis had also been driven by the relentless demands of living up to an impossible ideal. "As long as you've had one dominant image - of skinniness, of slimness, of beauty - that is everywhere, you're going to have people in rebellion against that," she said. "Sometimes, that rebellion is going to show in fatness."

One of Ms Orbach's chief concerns is how the modern "gig economy" has created a world in which people are encouraged to market themselves.

"I think the rapaciousness of late capitalism is really a problem. We are seeing ourselves not just as consuming centres but brands. Young women are now being encouraged to see themselves as brands, and influencers."

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