Heavily illustrated with photographs to depict changing views of American womanhood over the decades, The Body Project traces the shifts in how girls think and feel about their bodies now that they menstruate and lose their virginity at much earlier ages than ever before and try to cope with a consumer and media-driven culture that "seduces them into thinking that the body and sexual expression are their most important projects."
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,
Contact: Susan Lang
Cornell University News Service