Choice Outstanding Academic Book
“The Body Project is at once rigorous and very accessible. Brumberg’s use of the intimate voices of girls’s diaries opened a wonderful discussion about sexuality in my women’s studies seminar. Students could see what was distinctive about their generation’s assumptions. In short, they could see themselves as part of history.” —Professor Joan Hedrick, Trinity College, and author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Life
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 Drawing on a vast array of lively historical sources, unpublished diaries by adolescent girls, and photographs that conjure up memories of the past, The Body Project chronicles how growing up in a female body has changed over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 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 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.
PRAISE FOR The Body Project:
“Brumberg writes beautifully: her generous use of direct quotes from girls’ diaries makes this an interesting, lively, and moving account of girls’ worries and obsessions about their bodies and their sexuality. The book is a call to arms; our girls are in trouble and Brumberg offers provocative suggestions for change.” —Ruth Streigel-Moore, professor of psychology, Wesleyan University; past president of the Academy for Eating Disorders
“This book should help us all make sense of the body-image concerns girls and young women face today, and should serve as a companion to those interested in female development.” —Dr. David Herzog, director, Eating Disorders Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital, and associate professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
“The Body Project is a very informative, interesting history of how girls were raised and perceived by themselves and others. Each chapter provides a concise chronology of events and mindsets of many different issues. . . . I would recommend this book to anyone who works with girls of any and all ages as it provides good insight into not only the past and present perceptions, but implications and recommendations for the future.” —Jana Lambert, The School Psychologist: A Publication of the New York Association of School Psychologists
“The Body Project is an extraordinary culmination of a decade of historical and contemporary research on American girlhood. It is a joy to read because Brumberg is masterful at combining historical archival scholarship with lively insights from past and recent personal diaries and memoirs. One of my favorite narratives illustrating the commercial identification of menarche with ‘sanitary hygiene’ is the young pre-menarcheal girl earlier in this century who explained to her friends that she could not come out to play because she was ‘practicing Kotex!’ While today’s girls would be more likely to say they were ‘practicing Tampax,’ there remains a cultural continuity in America that links a first menstrual period with personal hygiene rather than with a social ritual linking menstruation with the promise of fertility.” —Alice S. Rossi, Ph.D., Harriet Martineau Professor Emerita of Sociology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
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The author of Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa, Joan Jacobs Brumberg is a Stephen H. Weiss Professor at Cornell University, where she holds a unique appointment teaching in the fields of history, human development, and women's studies. Her research and sensitive writing about American women and girls have been recognized by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She lives in Ithaca, New York.
Awards Brumberg has received include the Berkshire Book Prize for the best book by a woman historian, given by the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women (1988); the John Hope Franklin Prize for the best book in American Studies, given by the American Studies Association (1989); the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for the best book in the area of gender and mental health, given by the Society for Medical Anthropology (1989); and the Watson Davis Prize for the best book in translating ideas for the public, given by the History of Science Society (1989).