There was a time, believe it or not, when our bodies worked for us, instead of the other way around. In her new book, "Bodies," British author and psychologist Susie Orbach examines how science, culture and globalization have upended our relationships to our corporeal selves, turning us from master into slave. Good looks and peak fitness are no longer a happy biological gift, she argues, but a ceaseless pursuit.
The idea: People around the world—men included—now treat their bodies as vanity projects: every pore, curve and feature is an opportunity for self-improvement. Instead of a tool for production, the body is a production in itself. In our culture, beauty is an ambition like any other metric of success, and body hatred is the West's silent export.
The evidence: How much do you need? When Orbach penned her first book 31 years ago, the bestseller "Fat Is a Feminist Issue," bulimia and anorexia were barely on the radar. Now parents digitally enhance their kids' baby pictures, the cosmetic-surgery industry is growing by $1 billion a year, we can genetically screen our embryos, and scientists grow bioengineered organs in labs.
The conclusion: As nips and tucks and tweaks become more acceptable, we may no longer treat the human body as a God-given accident of biology, but Orbach implores us to take some pleasure in our bodies as they are—to take them, she writes repeatedly, "for granted."