The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (1997) by Cornell University Professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg is one of the books that popped up as recommended for me on Amazon one day. It looked pretty interesting, so I put it on my wish list, thinking I’d get around to it eventually. I finally did, and it was not what I expected. In fact, I found it to be a fairly tedious and frustrating reading experience–although the last couple of chapters picked up a bit. To be fair, this book was published in 1997, over fifteen years ago. Even giving allowance for the passage of time, however, most of Brumberg’s conclusions were not supported. Her argument was hard to follow because she wrote vaguely about sexual ethics and identity without specificity or definition. Instead of finding and writing about information that could make a practical difference, it felt like Brumberg took her various topics of research and shoehorned them into a book.
I was intrigued by Brumberg’s introduction. She used young women’s diaries throughout history to explain that back in the 1890’s women didn’t write in their diaries about how they wanted to improve their bodies, but instead how they wanted to improve their character: “In 1892, the personal agenda of an adolescent diarist read: ‘Resolved, not to talk about myself or feelings. To think before speaking. To work seriously. To be self restrained in conversation and actions. Not to let my thoughts wander. To be dignified. Interest myself more in others.'” While today girls are worried about their looks, their clothes, their weight, etc. Adolescent girls deal with a significant drop in self esteem as they try to figure out who they are with numerous pressures from peers and advertising. Brumberg argued that this is made worse because girls get their periods earlier, are sexualized earlier, and have less protections than in the past.
Click here for the rest of my review.