Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book 61: The Body Project

The Body Project by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

When I took "Girls and Popular Culture," the professor occasionally referenced The Body Project. Since it was written in the ‘90s, parts of it seemed dated. Using various diaries, journals and other sources, Brumberg charts the changes in adolescence and being a teenage girl. She argues that in the 19th century, there was a larger focus on internal beauty, and as the 20th century progressed, this shifted to external much more. Instead of girls saying they wanted to behave in certain ways to improve themselves, they started talking about changing their appearance.

One of the points that she discussed which I think would probably be worth a book in its own is how these changes all coincided with commercialism and consumer culture – advertisers convinced girls that their products could help them with their flaws but also helped them realized they had these “flaws.”

Her main areas of focus are menstruation, skin, “body projects” including weight loss among other things and sexuality. At times I worried that she was going to start talking about the good old days and how teens were so much more protected but her conclusion didn’t argue for that. She does, however, believe that there needs to be more involvement considering the mixed signals girls get.

Brumberg continues a problematic trend present in many feminist writings: there are a few mentions of black girls and other ethnicities, but for the most part, it is very much about white middle class girls. I also felt it was dated in some ways, especially when she mentions popular trends like piercings and tattoos (granted I may be thinking more about college and early ‘20s than teens). Since she wrote this during the Clinton years, I’m sure the Bush administration’s policies have also affected some of the trends she was discussing, such as sex education. She doesn’t get into anorexia too much, but has written a separate book on the subject. Overall, she has some interesting things to say about female adolescence and its development over the past century, and the book has some good insights into the history of girls. However, for a more recent analysis of girlhood or young women, I would suggest Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.

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