I read this book for a women's studies class I took, and reviewed it
“The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls.” By Joan Brumberg, gives an ever-revealing look at the history of adolescent girls, and the physical and emotional changes they go through during this difficult time in their lives. The book also transitions into more present day issues that adolescent girls face, and points out that “living in a girl’s body is more complicated than it was a century ago,” (195, Brumberg). All aspects of puberty are discussed in “The Body Project,” including menstruation, skin care, sexuality, body image, dieting and the emotional toll it takes on young girls.
Brumberg says in her book, that a young girl’s life begins to change at the start of menstruation. In the Victorian Era, the medical world had the upper hand in menarche, and helped mothers educate their young daughters on the subject, through books and hygiene manuals. During this era, women were very embarrassed to talk about the female anatomy with their daughters, so they had to rely on doctors and literature to help their daughters understand what was going on with their bodies and the physiology behind it all. I got my period at the very young age of eleven. I didn’t tell any of my friends, I was very embarrassed about it. My mother was supportive, and first focused on my hygiene, like the mothers in “The Body Project” did. I was never informed about the emotional changes, mood swings, and anger spats I was about to endure. Had I been more aware, I think I would have felt a little more at ease with my new emotions, and hormone raging body.
Next came skin problems that gave girls bad anxiety, and made them extremely self-conscious. Brumberg explains that adolescent girls spend more time money and time worrying about their own faces, when they could be developing their creative and intellectual sides, which would serve them much better, by beyond looking just at their physical appearance. Brumberg compared girls of different ages and backgrounds, all having very similar insecurities about the acne on their faces. Each girl seemed equally upset about just a few flare-ups on their face, and acted like acne was controlling their life. Running home to put medication on their facial problem areas was a must for these teens, in hopes that the blemishes would be gone by the next day. I can definitely relate to the pressure of wanting to have perfectly clear skin when I was going through adolescents. It really did control my life as it did the girls mentioned in Brumberg’s book. I used to have really bad acne and remember not wanting to even attend school on certain days because my breakouts were so bad. It took the majority of my energy and focus. I felt very persuaded by images of airbrushed models in magazines that looked flawless. I think adolescent girls all over America felt like they had to live up to the these standards of physical perfection. Brumberg argues in her novel that it was skin care that started to justify medical intervention in the minds of middle class parents. Next came orthodontia, weight-loss camps, contact lenses, and then plastic surgery. This is where the author makes one of her main points about how American girls have developed so many issues about their external selves that they are creating a body project out of themselves.
Something that I found interesting that Brumberg points out in her book, is that compared to girls of the Victorian era, twentieth century girls have made the body their central, personal project (97). Girls today worry about every inch of their body, their curves, shape, size, and muscle tone; Brumberg says it’s because they believe that the body is the ultimate form of self-expression (97). In the 1920s, for the first time in history, teens started to really focus on their weight, and made many efforts through diet and exercise to stay thin. The voluptuous Victorian hourglass figure went completely out of style, and designers of the time period started making clothing that looked good on only very slender, tall, and somewhat flat-chested girls. Wanting to control one’s weight, in order to portray the perfect image, eventually led to a lot of eating disorders in many young girls. When I was going through my teenage years, I was fairly lucky, and never had a real weight problem. I was always an athlete, which helped keep my body toned and fairly slender, and I was a competitive gymnast as well. Looking back I wish I would have enjoyed my perfect body, but instead, I would just compare it to my peers constantly, and never thought that my body was as good as theirs’. Measuring up to the standards of the media, and my peers put so much stress on me, when I should have been worrying about more important things like school. I was never obsessed with what I ate, for some odd reason I liked food too much to deny it, but I did over exercise, and at age 23, I still have some muscles from all the hours I put in the gym during high school.
Brumberg talks about a lot of issues concerning adolescent girls throughout her book, and although I only addressed a few of them that I found most interesting, I think that it is very important that she discussed every aspect of adolescents, and all the pressures placed on young girls to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. Reflecting back on this book, I want to say that I really enjoyed reading it, and it made me realize that for decades girls have been going through so much trouble while developing. I remember feeling very alone with my problems when I was younger, especially because I got my period at such a young age, but this book made me feel less alone, and a little less crazy so to speak, about how obsessed I was with my personal looks. I think that if I had any thing to question, it would be about adolescent today, and how (at least in my home, and the homes of my peers) we had not only pressure to look amazing, but also to be amazing, through school activities and academics. This issue was not addressed in the book, and I think that it should be, about how American girls are expected not only to be thin and beautiful, etc, but to also make the honor role, be captain of the cheerleading squad, and get into a good college. There are new pressures placed on young girls now, added ones. I wonder if the author has considered those new present day pressures, of the clique of: it’s not good enough for you to just be a doctor anymore, you have to be a very sexy doctor. To me, that’s an important issue that I grew up feeling, that I had to be wonderful in every aspect of my life.