9780679402978 / 0679402977

The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls


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Publisher:Random House, 1997



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About the book:

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 Drawing on a vast array of lively historical sources, unpublished diaries by adolescent girls, and photographs that conjure up memories of the past, The Body Project chronicles how growing up in a female body has changed over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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