THE BODY PROJECT: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

THE BODY PROJECT: An Intimate History of American Girls

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A troubling overview of how today's adolescents have come to view their bodies as the projection of their worth, and how sexual permissiveness can be not only confusing but dangerous. ""More than any other group in the population, girls and their bodies have borne the brunt of twentieth-century social change,"" says the author. Victorians may have denied the body, but they celebrated ""character,"" with an emphasis on ""good works,"" according to Brumberg (Women's Studies/Cornell; Fasting Girls, 1988). The focus today has shifted to ""good looks,"" with teenage girls trying to gain acceptance by slimming and sculpting and even piercing their bodies, decorating them like ""urban aboriginals."" Using diaries from 19th- and 20th-century adolescents to illustrate the changes in the way girls view themselves, Brumberg looks at menstruation (onset has dropped from late teens to as early as 11 or 12 years old), slimming, obsession with body parts like breasts and thighs, and virginity. The author finds some surprising markers of when adolescents (and their mothers) began to change focus from inner to outer beauty. For instance, as mirrors became commonplace in American homes at the end of the 19th century, so did attention to complexions, at a time when pimples were becoming signs of inattention to cleanliness and ""low social class."" Mass production of brassieres in cup sizes A, B, C, and D in the 1930s made adolescents feel even more self-conscious and inadequate about their developing bodies if they did not fit the standard sizes. Discussing virginity, the author is concerned that girls are set adrift with few emotional supports in a sexually oriented culture that applauds a perfect body. A brief but moving picture of how adolescent girls may have jumped from the frying pan of Victorian constraint into the fire of an era in which anything goes, as long as you don't have thunder thighs.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0679735291
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Random