Monday, October 3, 2011

Ms. Magazine's Top 100 Feminist Non-Fiction Countdown: The Body Project (100-91)

Photo Courtesy: The Body Poject (.com)
Ms. Magazine asked it's readers one of the best questions ever: what do you suggest for the top 100 non-fiction feminist books? I certainly gave my suggestions! Making the list at number 100, one of my suggestions and I'm sure suggested by many others, is a book by a local author Joan Jacobs Brumberg, The Body Project. I remember reading this book for a women's studies class I took during my undergraduate studies.

Cornell University Science News gave a great summary of what the book is about: The 250-page book begins with a review of the new biological timetable (in which menstruation occurs, on average, at 12 instead of 16, as it did 100 years ago) that governs the bodies of today's girls. 

Brumberg points out that girls today are likely to be sexually active before the age at which their great-great grandmothers had even begun to menstruate. She compares the Victorian view on menarche with today's and chronicles the diminishing mother-daughter dialogue, the disappearance of single-sex groupings and intergenerational mentoring and discusses how these trends endanger today's teen girls.

She shows how recent social trends have shifted discussions on puberty and menstruation away from mothers to doctors and the sanitary product industry who focus on hygiene rather than on fertility and how these trends exert "excruciating pressure on those body parts that the world can see."

Brumberg then presents a social history of acne, pointing out how skin care was the first of many different body investments made by middle-class parents to achieve a new ideal of physical perfection in their daughters; orthodontia, weight-loss camps, contact lenses and plastic surgery all followed. "American girls could not help but internalize this powerful imperative [for physical perfection] and, in the process, they developed their own, even more compelling, body projects," writes Brumberg.

She shows why contemporary girls have become so worried about their shape, size and muscle tone and discusses "breast buds," brassieres, figure control, dieting, clothes shopping, body piercing and genital piercing. "In a culture, where everything is 'up close and personal,' it should not surprise us that some young women today regard the entire body, even its most private parts, as a message board," Brumberg writes.Such trends have led to sexual coercion of young girls, the demise of chastity as an ideal, the waning of virginity, the rise of sexually active girls throughout middle America and dwindling parental power. Although girls enjoy a new world of sexual freedom, Brumberg says, it is fraught with hazards since many girls are also victims of a century of change in sexual mores and behaviors.

Photo Courtesy: Ms. Magazine
It seems impossible to discuss how women experience the world without discussing body image. Since the book was published over a decade ago in 1997, the issues are still extremely relevant today. If you are tired of constantly being bombarded with the unrealistic expectations of beauty standards check out my tumblr account for images celebrating women (& men) of all sizes! There is a link always at the top of this blog, you can also follow me directly on tumblr if you have an account.

The other books listed are:

99. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America by Lillian Faderman
98. Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United States
by Eleanor Flexner
97. Bitches, Bimbos, and Ballbreakers: The Guerrilla Girls’ Illustrated Guide to Female Stereotypes
by Guerilla Girls
96. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development
by Carol Gilligan
95. Mysteries of the Middle Ages: The Rise of Feminism, Science & Art from the Cults of Catholic Europe
by Thomas Cahill
94. Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
by Melissa Harris-Perry
93. James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon
by Julie Phillips
92. Reading Women: How the Great Books of Feminism Changed My Life
by Stephanie Staal
91. Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work
by Deborah Tannen

Have you read The Body Project? I own the Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, but haven't read it yet. Have you read any of these books in the 100-91 list? Do you agree or disagree that any of these should be suggestions? Comment below or email me

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