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A Message from the Author
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 Using intimate materials drawn from the unpublished diaries of American girls, The Body Project provides a lively and engaging story of how growing up as a girl has changed over the past one hundred years, and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