The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

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9780679735298: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
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A hundred years ago, women were lacing themselves into corsets and teaching their daughters to do the same. The ideal of the day, however, was inner beauty: a focus on good deeds and a pure heart. Today American women have more social choices and personal freedom than ever before. But fifty-three percent of our girls are dissatisfied with their bodies by the age of thirteen, and many begin a pattern of weight obsession and dieting as early as eight or nine. Why?

In The Body Project, historian Joan Jacobs Brumberg answers this question, drawing on diary excerpts and media images from 1830 to the present. Tracing girls' attitudes toward topics ranging from breast size and menstruation to hair, clothing, and cosmetics, she exposes the shift from the Victorian concern with character to our modern focus on outward appearance—in particular, the desire to be model-thin and sexy. Compassionate, insightful, and gracefully written, The Body Project explores the gains and losses adolescent girls have inherited since they shed the corset and the ideal of virginity for a new world of sexual freedom and consumerism—a world in which the body is their primary project.

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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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9780679402978: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

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Publisher: Random House, 1997
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