The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

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9780679402978: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
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Girls today are in crisis--and this book shows why. Drawing on a vast array of lively historical sources, unpublished diaries by adolescent girls, and photographs that conjure up memories of the past, The Body Project chronicles how growing up in a female body has changed over the past century and why that experience is more difficult today than ever before.

Girls' bodies have certainly changed--they mature much earlier--but at the same time traditional social supports for girls' growth and development have collapsed. The media and popular culture exploit girls' normal sensitivity to their changing bodies, and many girls grow up believing that "good looks" --rather than "good works"--represent the highest form of female perfection. With an eye for the humor in as well as the pain of female adolescence, Joan Jacobs Brumberg shows how American girls came to define themselves increasingly through their appearance, so that today the body has become their primary project.  
  
With remarkable insight, Brumberg provides an account of what adolescent girls gained and lost as American women shed the corset and the ideal of virginity for a new world of dieting, sexual freedom, and consumerism. She explains how doctors and parents helped to promote an ideal of physical perfection that underlies the current preoccupation with the body and contributes to many of the social and emotional problems identified by Mary Pipher in Reviving Ophelia and by Carol Gilligan in In a Different Voice.
  
The Body Project describes the historical roots of the acute societal and psychological pressures that girls feel today, evoking important memories of girl culture as well as milestones of physical and emotional development, such as first periods, pimples, training bras, first dates, and sexual awakening. A vivid photo essay and excerpts from intimate diaries underscore how girls' attitudes toward their bodies and sexuality have changed in the last century. The Body Project is a superb book, gracefully written, filled with understanding, and very relevant to the lives of girls and women today.

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Review:

Adolescent girls today face the issues girls have always faced: "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?" Unfortunately their answers, now more than ever before, revolve around the body rather than the mind, heart, or soul. "The body is at the heart of the crisis that [Carol] Gilligan, [Mary] Pipher, and others describe.... The fact that American girls now make the body their central project is not an accident or a curiosity," writes Brumberg, "it is a symptom of historical changes that are only now beginning to be understood." The historical photos, thorough research, and political even-handedness make this a book of worth and sincerity. The Body Project is also comforting for women, adolescents, parents, lesbians, and male lovers of women--helping us sort out the roots of female insecurities, obsessions, and angst.

From the Author:

JOAN JACOBS BRUMBERG on The Body Project:

America's adolescent girls are in crisis. Growing up in
a female body is more difficult today than ever before
because girls' bodies have changed and so has
American society. Menstruation and sexual activity
begin much earlier and there is also much greater
emphasis on the body as a way of defining the self.
Using intimate materials drawn from the unpublished
diaries of American girls, The Body Project provides
a lively and engaging story of how growing up as a girl
has changed over the past one hundred years, and why
the pressures on girls are now so intense.

Girls today grow up believing that "good looks"--rather
than "good works"--are the highest form of female
perfection. In the past, greater maternal involvment and
more single sex groups, such as the Girl Scouts,
supported the whole girl, placing greater emphasis on
internal rather than external qualities. But in the
twentieth century, that "protective umbrella"
disappeared, popular culture became more powerful,
and expectations about physical perfection increased
so that American girls came to define themselves more
and more through their bodies.

Today, the body has become most girls' primary
project, creating a degree of self-consciousness and
dissatisfaction that is pervasive and dangerous,
leading to the social and emotional problems identified
by Carol Gilligan, Mary Pipher, and Peggy Orenstein.
For everyone concerned with adolescent girls--parents,
teachers, librarians, physicians, nurses, and mental
health professionals--The Body Project is a "must"
read because it puts so many contemporary
adolescent issues in historical perspective.

A fascinating photo essay comprised of photographs,
advertisements and postcards shows how girls and
their bodies have changed since the nineteenth
century. From corsets to body piercing, the book
demonstrates how the preoccupation with the body has
intensified and why adolescent girls and their bodies
have born the brunt of social change in the twentieth
century.

Although The Body Project acknowledges a problem,
it is still an entertaining read because it evokes so
many memories in the lives of girls and
women--particularly personal milestones such as first
periods, pimples, training bras, first dates, and sexual
awakening. The Body Project is perfect for generating
mother-daughter dialogue, and it is remarkable for its
insight about what adolescent girls have gained and
lost as American women shed the corset and the ideal
of virginity for a new world of dieting and body
sculpting, sexual freedom and self expression."

--Joan Jacobs Brumberg

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Other Popular Editions of the Same Title

9780679735298: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

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ISBN 10:  0679735291 ISBN 13:  9780679735298
Publisher: Vintage, 1998
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