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Book review: The Body Project

June 8, 2009

The Body Project

Modern women are obsessed with their bodies – their weight, their skin, their clothes, their body hair, etc. But have women always been that way? When did these ‘body projects’ first take hold as mainstays of female life in America? The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg sets out to answer these questions and more. It is a wonderfully honest and thoughtful look at the way that American women have viewed their bodies from the late nineteenth century until the present. Brumberg delves into dozens of personal diaries to bring us information about every major issue that has shaped girls’ lives in the past century. The chapters cover everything from menstruation, to acne, dieting, bras and sexuality. Did you know that at the turn of the century most people thought that acne was related to moral impurity? So if you had a lot of blemishes, it was assumed that you masturbated too much, or were otherwise sinful. As the germ revolution progressed, the predominant view changed to seeing acne as a sign of poor hygiene and thus began the market for special soaps, scrubs and other facial products.

From corsets to body piercing, The Body Project 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.

For those of us involved in the body positivity community, Brumberg’s study gives vital background and historical information about the movement we’re involved in. She explains why girls’ bodies are scrutinized to such a large degree in our society by chronicling the changes that have occurred over the past century. I would highly recommend this book. Brumberg manages to strike a nice balance between academic research, personal anecdotes, and definite feminist leanings. The Body Project would be a great read for anyone who enjoys this blog.

If you read my update post about the documentary “Oral Sex is the New Goodnight Kiss,” the statistics that I used from 1979 were from this book.

Click here for more information about the book and the author.

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