Body Project

Brumberg, Joan Jacob. The Body Project. New York: Random House, 1997.

Reason read: Mothers have a special New Year’s Resolution. I’m not a mother, but I know one who has made some good promises to the new year. Read in her honor.

The Body Project is centered on female adolescence and body image. Probably the most fascinating aspect to The Body Project is Brumberg’s collection of diaries she used as research for the narrative. She could draw on the experiences of Victorian era girls as if she had interviewed them just yesterday. She is able to compare perceptions throughout the ages and the changing times. There is special attention paid to how mothers relate to their daughters. Take for example, menarche and menstruation. When mothers teach their daughters about the process they talk about how to “take care of it” meaning the bleeding, but rarely do they explain why the blood is happening in the first place. Brumberg cites a distinct disconnect between menstruation and fertility. Mothers even do not fully explain what is physically happening to their daughters’ bodies.
It’s as if Brumberg needs to be that mother figure for young girls. The Body Project has a whole chapter on acne: pimples and blackheads, calling it the plague of youth or a sign of poverty. Not only is the history of the treatment of acne covered, but how marketing took advantage of the plight of teenagers with unclear skin. Eye opening for me was when Brumberg addressed masturbation and the misconception it causes acne. I have to admit, I never heard of that. Wasn’t the theory you would go blind?
Another body project is more well known – the desire to be thin. One girl didn’t want to attend Mount Holyoke for fear of gaining weight. She had heard the food was quite good but her goal was to lose weight, not gain it.
A word of warning: Brumberg focusses mainly on middle class girls and all of her reporting is from mid-nineties statistics. Despite that, it is an interesting read.

As an aside, before I even cracked open the pages of The Body Project I said to myself, I bet you anything Brumberg is going to mention Madonna and within 50 pages, boom! There was Madonna.
Another aha moment, I did not know the Girl Scouts of America was the first group to systematically teach menstruation to young girls.
As another aside, Brumberg discusses the changing age of consent and the need for girls to be “sexy” at younger and younger ages. Kisa and I were watching a video from an emerging all-girl band and wondering how old they were. I predicted some of them hadn’t experienced menarche yet for they didn’t look a day over ten or eleven years old. Their seductive poses were well beyond their ages.

Quote worth quoting, “…A body is a proxy for the self…” (p 128).

Author fact: at the time of publication, Brumberg was a professor at Cornell University teaching Women’s History and Women’s Studies.

Book trivia: This is specific to my copy of The Body Project. It looks as though an animal chewed through a chapter for there are claw marks and several pages have gaping holes.

Nancy said: Pearl said to read Brumberg with Reviving Ophelia (Pipher), Queen Bees and Wannabes (Wiseman), and Schoolgirls (Orenstein) as they all “address teenage girls’ problems with both society and themselves” (More Book Lust p 227).

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Two, or Three, are Better Than One” (p 226).