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Author: Pressure on girls for perfect body worse than ever

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Psychoanalyst Susie Orbach describes how beauty industry fuels and profits from body insecurity

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, said psychoanalyst and best-selling 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, she added, with a host of industries fuelling and profiting from body insecurity.

Faced with the reality of modern life, many women were turning inward, obsessed with diet and fitness or embracing being overweight as a sign of rebellion.

"It is much, much worse than we ever envisioned," Ms Orbach 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 year-long international campaign to force Apple, Google and Amazon to remove cosmetic surgery apps targeting primary school girls, in which cartoon-style characters can be modified with procedures such as liposuction.

This is not just a problem related to girls and women, and it is very, very profitable if you can destabilise people’s bodies.Best-selling author Susie Orbach, on the growing influence of cosmetic surgery

"This is not just a problem related to girls and women, and it is very profitable if you can destabilise people's bodies," said Ms Orbach.

"There are all kinds of industries both creating and feeding off these insecurities."

Ms Orbach, 72, said the inevitable outcome was the creation of a society where women would divert their energy and focus inward, rather than trying to change the world.

She said: "If you just dropped in on any conversation, the amount of mental space that people take up with what they are eating, what they are not eating, their yoga routine, is expressive of the level of distress in our society."

Ms Orbach has spoken about the liberation women felt from the late 1960s when they began to challenge beauty pageant objectification and rebel against body expectations.

But the pressures back then started later, not in childhood, she told AFP.

"It happened at 18, it didn't happen at six. You didn't have girls and boys saying 'Have I got a six-pack?' or 'I am too fat' at six and seven.

"You didn't have girls throwing up over the toilet bowl at nine."

Reality television shows such as Love Island, where sculpted single men and women compete to couple up and win a cash prize, are both a symptom and a cause of pushing body image on impressionable young minds.

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

Ms Orbach laid a portion of blame at the door of the food industry, noting that one obvious change in countries such as Britain this year compared to 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 have one dominant image - of skinniness, of slimness, of beauty - that is everywhere, you are going to have people in rebellion against that," Ms Orbach said.

"Sometimes that rebellion is going to show in fatness." - AFP