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Empowering.... to a certain extent
on January 17, 2005
I read a lot of "woman-centric" books, and, while this is certainly a worthy project as well as a generally interesting book, it doesn't quite measure up to essay collections such as The Bitch in the House or Old Wives' Tales. (I would like to be able to give it three and a half stars, but rounded it up to four.) The authors of these essays are extremely diverse racially, ethnically and in their backgrounds and lifestyles. For this reason alone, it is an important read, because it provides valuable cultural insight into the "beauty myths" surrounding demographics other than middle-class white women.
One of the essays I enjoyed most was "The Butt: Its Politics, Its Profanity, Its Power" by Erin J. Aubry, a funny and articulate examination of the important and often culturally-loaded role of the butt in African-American (and "white" American) culture. There are, however, a wealth of other essays, that, as another reviewer pointed out, seem to repeat themselves--women hating their bodies from childhood and the ensuing struggles. The variation of this theme becomes less powerful after reading it over and over again. This concept is one that is almost "played out", to a certain extent, in that it has already been discussed and dealt with, even in mainstream media. While undoubtedly a real problem with negative consequences, if you are familiar with these themes, it doesn't make for groundbreaking reading.
Additionally, while there are a few essays (such as the very interesting "Strip" by Diana Courvant) that allow for necessary complexity and, to a certain extent, uncertainty regarding the issue of body image, there are a few that I found a bit too judgmental in the opposite direction. That is, there isn't always an acceptance of *choice*--an admission that it's okay for women to want to wear make-up or high heels if they want to, just because they like the way it looks, not because it's dictated to them by society. In other words, whether a woman wears sweatpants or haute couture, her attitude towards herself could be reverent or ashamed, or an awkward space in between; a woman has a right to define her identity as she sees fit for herself, not as EITHER a painted, smooth, hairless Barbie OR a barefaced, unadorned, utilitarian womyn.