PHOTO: Darius Bashar
Text: Alejandra Misiolek
In this post I am going to explore the phrase by Susie Orbach, a British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, writer, social critic and feminist, who has written much about Eating Disorders:
“There is no such thing as a body. There is only a body as an outcome of relationship. And that relationship is always culturally situated.”
Susie paraphrased another famous phrase by Donald Winnicot, who was an English pediatrician and psychoanalyst, influential in the field of developmental Psychology. He once said: “There is no such thing as a baby” meaning “a baby alone doesn’t exist.”
In other words, we are created or co-created in relationships. Our identities are formed through interacting and co-relating with others. And not only our identities or personalities but also our bodies.
And what does this actually mean?
The way the baby´s body is related to by the mother* will have profound influence on the making of the baby´s body or how the baby will relate to their own body. The mother´s way of relating to the baby´s body will be affected by the relationship she has with her own body, she will mirror the baby´s body through the lens of her own relationship to her own body. In other words, there is no such thing as a body, there is only a body as the outcome of relationship and the body is relational.
What about the culture? Isn´t it culture what affects us?
We could think that we are all embedded in the same culture however, not everyone has a complicated relationship with their body. So, there must be something more to it. And there definitely is! It is the mother who transmits the culture to the baby through implicit communication and the mother does not start apart from culture, she embodies it. It is the mother-figure who plays the role of a sound box – she is embedded in the culture that she processes, and she transmits her own perspective through the way she related to her baby.
Why is that important and how do we translate it into practice?
The lesson is that it doesn´t really matter what we tell our children, what matters more is what we teach them through how we relate to them, to their bodies and what example we set of relating to ourselves and our own bodies.
If I tell my children that they should accept themselves for who they are but then I am constantly on a diet, what I am actually transmitting is that they should be thin to be valid and loved.
If we take care of our body because we love it and not take care of it for it to be loved by others, our children learn to do the same thing. And we will also relate to the bodies of our children from this perspective – with respect and love.
To conclude, it is easier to operate on the explicit (communicate only verbally) level and to blame the culture for how frequent the eating disorders are and more difficult to look at ourselves as parents and work first on our own relationship with our bodies and ourselves to relate with our children and their bodies from this place. But this is what makes the huge difference!
*We talk about the mother to simplify but we mean any significant figure to the baby
Orbach, S. (2003). Part I: There is no such thing as a body. British Journal of Psychotherapy, 20(1), 3-16.
Ogden, T. H. (1985). The mother, the infant and the matrix: Interpretations of aspects of the work of Donald Winnicott. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 21(3), 346-371.