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The Body Project


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About the Author

Joan Jacobs Brumberg is the award-winning author of Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa and The Body Project. She is a Stephen H. Weiss Professor at Cornell University, where she holds a unique appointment teaching in the fields of history, human development, and women's studies. Her research and sensitive writing about American women and girls have been recognized by the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the MacDowell Colony. She lives in Ithaca, New York.

Awards Brumberg has received include the Berkshire Book Prize for the best book by a woman historian, given by the Berkshire Women's History Conference (1988); the John Hope Franklin Prize for the best book in American Studies, given by the American Studies Association (1989); the Eileen Basker Memorial Prize for the best book in the area of gender and mental health, given by the Society for Medical Anthropology (1989); and the Watson Davis Prize for the best book in translating ideas for the public, given by the History of Science Society (1989).


Brumberg (women's studies, Cornell; Fasting Girls, LJ 3/1/89) notes in her present study that while girls today reach menarche at about age 12, several years earlier than a century ago, they do not mature emotionally or intellectually at the same early age. They are also extremely vulnerable to social and economic pressures to define themselves in terms of their bodies and to become sexually active, often with disastrous consequences. To counter such pressures, Brumberg calls for more societal support and nurturing of girls. This work complements such studies as Lyn Brown and Carol Gilligan's Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girl's Development (Harvard Univ., 1992), Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls (LJ 4/1/94), and Peggy Orenstein's School Girls (LJ 8/94). Appropriate for public, academic, and women's studies collections.‘Patricia A. Beaber, Coll. of New Jersey Lib., Trenton

The Body Project is a very informative, interesting history of how girls were raised and perceived by themselves and others. Each chapter provides a concise chronology of events and mindsets of many different issues. The events throughout this century have provided girls with increased freedom and knowledge; however, it has also brought about more risky situations and possibly even more self-consciousness about their bodies and appearance. We, as school psychologists, play an important role in helping adolescent girls (and even preadolescent females) realize that their bodies are not the most important aspect of themselves. They should learn to be proud of their accomplishments, character, and intelligence, and that external beauty is not a reflection of who they are as human beings. This may not be an easy task, but we, along with the rest of society, need to take these small steps in order to attempt to make a difference. I would recommend this book to anyone who works with girls of any and all ages as it provides good insight into not only the past and present perceptions, but implications and recommendations for the future as well. --The School Psychologist: A Publication of the New York Association of School Psychologists

YA‘From the most private method of sanitary protection to the most intimate place to pierce one's body, this history of feminine hygiene and fashion records young women's obsession with looks and how society has channeled and manipulated them to reflect the values of the times. From diaries, journal articles, advertising, and doctor's records, the author has amassed information about mainly middle-class American girls of the 19th and 20th century that shows how they have been raised first by overprotective, repressive adults to play a submissive role in society and, more recently, to be consumers in an ever-widening marketplace. From skin cream to dieting to figure-altering garments and body piercing, physical enhancements in the last 200 years are reported. Beginning with an account of Abigail Adams's concern about the early maturation of her 11-year-old granddaughter in 1806 and progressing to descriptions of today's independent young women grappling with numerous options of dress and sexual conduct, a thought-provoking social history is revealed. The author begins and ends her treatise with a passionate argument for advocacy for today's girls who are preyed upon by the media and allowed dangerous sexual options without emotional maturity and are lacking the protective umbrella of moral guidelines and supervision provided by earlier generations. Young women will enjoy the numerous photos and will have a giggle about the corsets and belts of earlier times. A fine choice for mother-daughter book groups.‘Jackie Gropman, Kings Park Library, Burke, VA

Contributing meaningfully to the alarm-sounding of Mary Pipher's Reviving Ophelia, Brumberg (Fasting Girls: A History of Anorexia Nervosa) examines‘ through the lens of the adolescent female body‘the crisis of confidence faced by girls in today's hypersexualized consumer culture. From the sanitizing and commercializing of menstruation to the rise of dermatologists, training bras and anorexia nervosa, the changing ways in which girls' bodies have developed over this century‘and society's changing attitudes about that development‘are sketched vividly and with candor. The average age at menarche is now 12, Brumberg explains. In the 1800s, menarche usually occurred at 15 or 16, today's average age of first intercourse. This earlier physical maturation is accompanied by a steep increase in autonomy over dress, sexual activity and other areas unthinkable in Victorian times‘but, the author makes clear, such accelerated maturity comes at a cost. Brumberg argues forcefully that, rather than facilitating emotional or intellectual maturation, "contemporary culture exacerbates normal adolescent self-consciousness and encourages precocious sexuality." In a somewhat jumbled conclusion, she advocates multigenerational dialogue to help girls establish a standard of sexual ethics. Brumberg's meticulous documentation includes copious personal diary accounts from adolescent girls. Photos. (Sept.)

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