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Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body Hardcover – April 17, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It is no longer enough for girls to be good, says journalist and teacher Martin in her debut book. Girls must now be perfect, and that need for perfection is played out in women's bodies. But beneath the high-achieving "perfect girl" surface, seven million American girls and women suffer from an eating disorder; 90% of high school–aged girls think they are overweight. Drawing on more than 100 interviews with women and girls ages 9–29, Martin constructs a cultural critique of a generation of girls steeped in the language of self-control. "If I'm not thinking about my body or calories, I'm probably sleeping or dead," a 14-year-old confesses. Such heartbreaking quotes fill the book and fuel Martin's anger. In chapters devoted to the influence of "porn culture," the role fathers play in shaping their daughters' self-image, eating disorders among athletes, the narrowly circumscribed role of women in hip-hop and more, Martin explores the forces that drive young women to sacrifice themselves on the altar of perfection. A self-described perfect girl, Martin brings a personal perspective to the topic. If occasionally overambitious in her reach, Martin has a valuable mission: calling on young women to harness their intellectual and emotional energy and learn to enjoy their bodies, "imperfect" though they may be. (Apr.)
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'Great news! The vexed knot of eating disorders, body image, and self-esteem gets updated with fresh analysis and new examples for a new generation. Courtney Martin's takewill bring insight to a whole new group of teenagers and young women.' NAOMI WOLF, author of THE BEAUTY MYTH 'An engaging and heartbreaking account of the tragic circumstances girls and women find themselves in today as they struggle to find a body they can feel secure with.' SUSIE ORBACH, author of FAT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE '...a smart and spirited rant that makes for thought-provoking reading.' THE NEW YORK TIMES --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; First Edition edition (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743287967
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743287968
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,020 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Courtney E. Martin is the award-winning author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women called "a hardcover punch in the gut" by Arianna Huffington and "a smart and spirited rant that makes for thought-provoking reading" by the New York Times.

She is also a widely-read freelance journalist and regular blogger for Feministing. She is a Senior Correspondent for The American Prospect Online and her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Newsweek, and the Christian Science Monitor, among others.

In addition, Courtney consults with social justice organizations throughout the nation, including the Ms. Foundation for Women, the National Council for Research on Women, and the Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict. She has conducted workshops for the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty throughout the nation.

Courtney also co-wrote the life story of AIDS activist Marvelyn Brown, called The Naked Truth: Young, Beautiful and (HIV) Positive. She is currently at work on a book for Beacon Press about ten people under 35 creating innovative social change and an anthology for Seal Press about the moments that made young women feminists.

In addition, she has essays in many anthologies, including A 21st Century Ethical Toolbox (Oxford University Press), and Declare Yourself: Fifty American Talk about Why Voting Matters (Greenwillow Books, HarperCollins).

She has been on Good Morning America, the TODAY Show, the O'Reilly Factor, and MSNBC, and spoken on radio programs and at colleges, non-profits, and parenting organizations across the nation.

Courtney has an M.A. from the Gallatin School at New York University in writing and social change and a B.A. from Barnard College in political science and sociology. She is a Woodhull fellow and part of the Progressive Women's Voices Project at the Women's Media Center. She was awarded the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics in 2002 and was a Resident at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center this summer. Courtney also founded The Secret Society for Creative Philanthropy, just named one of the NEW York 100.

When she isn't working, which is not nearly enough of the time, she is walking in Brooklyn's Prospect Park or conspiring to create unselfconscious dance parties with her amazing friends.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Kimberlee Auerbach on April 27, 2007
Format: Hardcover
You know about eating disorders. Who doesn't? You might have a friend who eats every other day. Another friend who throws up after lunch. You, yourself, might eat a whole pint of ice cream late a night while watching Buffy reruns and hate yourself for it afterwards. So, what will Courtney Martin's book do for you? Why this book? Why now? Well, I'll tell you. Courtney is the first non-expert, non-psychologist, normal girl, outraged and passionate, to write about the subject. Reading her book feels very insider. She got the real dirt, the stuff people don't talk about or admit, and it never, not once, feels exploitative. She interviews her subjects with love, compassion and empathy and gets to the bottom of this very real, very dark phenomenon in our culture today. In order to change, we have to make the dark light (not to butcher Jung). That is what Courtney Martin does. She makes the dark light and urges women not to settle for self-hatred. If you do hate yourself, don't worry. She won't judge you. Reading her book feels like the hug you never got, like the "you're beautiful no matter what you weigh" that you never heard. I guarantee you will feel beautiful by the end of this book and be inspired to change.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Diane K. Danielson on June 9, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I have to disagree with the reviewer who disliked the author's youthful perspective. While I'm an older Gen X'er, I understand that the world has changed since I was young and each generation rebels in different ways against the one before. I happen to prefer books about young women written by young women, as it gives insight to their generation that I could never have.

I also didn't think that the author blamed older feminists for their eating disorders, or claim that Generation Y is the first generation to truly suffer from issues with food. She acknowledges the rise of male eating disorders as well as in older women, but explicitly states that she was focusing on young women and all the factors that they process which may or may not be attributable to the fact that there are many more young women and girls starving themselves, than we (the older generations) know about. I personally found the feminism discussion interesting and hope to hear more from the author on this topic in the future.

I was particularly interested in the book because the group that seems to be most susceptible to eating disorders are the very same over-achievers that many of us are hoping will finally trample on the remains of the glass ceiling. But, how can they do that if they don't eat????

I actually liked the anecdotes about the author and her friends. I found these at times to be even more engaging than the focus group results. As noted, the author is a wonderful writer, which helps the book unfold as more of a story than a chronicle of a disease. And, despite the fact I can't relate to the world she grew up in, I saw many parallels and even recognized a few of my own unhealthy attitudes about food.

I urge anyone who has as daughter or a friend, or who personally may have either flirted with (or battled with) an eating disorder pick up this book.
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Format: Hardcover
To say I was blown away by Courtney E. Martin's Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, would be a huge understatement. I've read lots of books on eating disorders, having gone through a bout of anorexia and bulimia in college, and struggled with "disordered eating" and body image issues ever since. Martin's tone hits the perfect edge between journalistic and compassionate; one never gets the sense that she is talking down to her readers or has conquered all these issues and is now looking at them from a distance. By including her own stories and those of her peers, she personalizes the issue, as both someone who's been "on the edge" of developing an eating disorder as well as someone caring for people with eating disorders. One of the most poignant moments here, in fact, is when a friendship ends over one woman confronting another over her eating issues.

Martin is angry, but also hopeful, and, most of all, non-judgmental. Clearly, she doesn't like what she sees but rather than direct her wrath against her subjects, she takes a more nuanced, helpful approach. She feels for her subjects even as the culture (including families, friends, peers, coaches, and media) around them pushes them forward. She wants them to succeed, but not at all costs. In fact, in the last chapter, she praises these starving girls for their strength, albeit a twisted kind of strength. By highlighting the ways girls cut each other down and size each other up, Martin brings some needed honesty to the ways women try to please each other, and how harsh we can be about our own kind.

There are so many brilliant insights here, I cannot document them all.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C. Beggs on February 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The only thing I can say is that this book has changed my entire mindset and has been the only thing that has ever helped me in my struggle with anorexia and binge + overexercising tendencies. Written by a woman of OUR generation, I have never heard from someone who truly understands the mindset of the girls of today - the girls I have grown up with - how much pressure is put on girls nowadays to be perfect. Throughout reading the book (which I finished in 1 day), the author's words gave me chills because never have I encountered words that so accurately describe EXACTLY what goes on in my mind. I have struggle with anorexia for over 7 years now, been in and out of therapy, antidepressants and various treatments - and nothing has ever truly helped. But THIS book, has! If I could, I would spend all my savings to buy copies of this book to give to every girl who has ever struggled or is struggling with body image or an eating disorder. I soo urge you to buy Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. Learn to no longer be enslaved by eating disorders and to disconnect who you are from how you look, because even if you WERE perfect - you will not be happy. Life is full of choices and messiness that many of us try to avoid by restricting our food or narrowing our world to encompass only our looks and the word NO - but inevitably, we cannot control the world, we cannot control everything and honestly, some of the world's greatest gifts - love, fun, spontaneity, relationships - are worth the risk of shedding our perfect girl mentalities!
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