The Good Body


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Asceticism in Contemporary Culture

Edited by Letha B. Cole and Mary G. Winkler

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What are the reasons for the current epidemic of eating disorders, the increasing obsession with exercise, diet, and cosmetic surgery, the constant exhortations to look and feel good? This engrossing book examines our concern with the "good body" from a wide variety of perspectives, putting it in the contexts of contemporary culture and of ancient ascetic practices of self-denial. A range of experts—psychiatrists, psychologists, literary scholars, historians, a philosopher, a theologian, an anthropologist, and the former director of a center for abused women—join together to discuss why control of our bodies has become so important in contemporary culture and why society must provide its members with more positive ways to define and empower themselves.

The authors discuss issues that shed light on current attitudes toward the body, such as the effects of sexual victimization on body image, a report defining the behavior of battered women as a form of maladaptive self-denial, the influence of science on predominant notions of the "good body" (for example, the "biomedical" version of premenstrual syndrome), the legal restrictions on diet pills and supplements, Flannery O'Connor's "celebration of embodiment" in her final novel, Parker's Back, the impact of cultural ideals of masculine beauty on men, and much more.

Mary G. Winkler is assistant professor in the Institute for the Medical Humanities at the University of Texas School of Medicine, Galveston. Letha B. Cole, M.D., is assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine.

"This original, fascinating, and timely book will have wide appeal to those interested in contemporary culture and society, mental health, and feminist scholarship in anthropology, sociology, and psychology."—Sandra Bertman, Program on Medical Humanities, University of Massachusetts Medical Center

"A flawlessly researched, well-organized collection."—Los Angeles Times

"This book elevates eating disorders by reaching beyond current psychological theory and pop sociology. It links in a larger historical context attitudes and behaviors that associate certain physical characteristics with moral and aesthetic superiority."—Choice

"[These] essays encompass ethics, feminist psychology, history of medicine, philosophy of science, anthropology, psychiatry, theology, visual arts, and literature. . . . By interpreting asceticism as a phenomenon shared between body and culture, the essays give us a denser, more layered understanding of both."—Sally Gadow, Medical Humanities Review

"This volume is an interesting and stimulating effort to deal with a timely and increasingly important subject."—Ruth P. Zager, JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association

"The book crosses the boundaries between clinical medicine and cultural studies, ancient and modern, by stressing the importance of culture in the etiology of disease. These are fields which are rarely brought together by clinicians, and this book is all the more welcome for that."—Caroline Evans, Feminist Review

"This book examines our concern with the 'good body' from a wide variety of perspectives, putting it in the contexts of contemporary culture and of ancient ascetic practices of self-denial."—Adolescence

ISBN: 9780300183092
Publication Date: August 31, 1994
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4