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The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls Paperback – August 19, 1997

66 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Adolescent girls today face the issues girls have always faced: "Who am I?" and "Who do I want to be?" Unfortunately their answers, now more than ever before, revolve around the body rather than the mind, heart, or soul. "The body is at the heart of the crisis that [Carol] Gilligan, [Mary] Pipher, and others describe.... The fact that American girls now make the body their central project is not an accident or a curiosity," writes Brumberg, "it is a symptom of historical changes that are only now beginning to be understood." The historical photos, thorough research, and political even-handedness make this a book of worth and sincerity. The Body Project is also comforting for women, adolescents, parents, lesbians, and male lovers of women--helping us sort out the roots of female insecurities, obsessions, and angst.

From School Library Journal

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
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (August 19, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679402977
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679402978
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #995,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joan Jacobs Brumberg is the author of "Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa" which won the Berkshire Prize in history and the John Hope Franklin Prize in American Studies, among other awards. "The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls" which won the Choice Award from the American Library Association and "Kansas Charley" the true story of Charles Miller, a seventeen-year-old orphan who was hanged in Wyoming in 1892 for a horrific double murder committed when he was only fifteen. Joan Jacobs Brumberg is Professor Emerita at Cornell Univesity and she lectures widely on all of her books and the social issues they cover. She is represented by Jodi Solomon Agency in Boston. You can also visit for more information.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Hugo Schwyzer on August 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
Joan Jacobs Brumberg has attracted her share of controversy for this book and her earlier work in the field of "body history". The criticism lies largely in the fact that Brumberg does not fit easily into the pro-sex feminist/anti-sex traditionalist dichotomy that characterizes far too much of the discussion about young women's sexuality and body identity these days.
Using diary excerpts as her core sources of evidence, Brumberg charts the changing relationship between young women and their bodies over the past century and a half. Though the material on the 19th and early 20th century is fascinating, useful, and accessible for a general audience, the high point of the book comes over the final two chapters, which cover the period from the 1960s to the 1990s. Unlike cultural conservatives in the feminist world (think Christina Hoff Summers or Gertrude Himmelfarb), Brumberg is deeply appreciative of the enormous benefits of the sexual revolution, especially in terms of the availability of sexual information and the growing willingness of our society to see women as active sexual agents. On the other hand (unlike a Naomi Wolf), she is troubled (and rightly so, in my opinion) by the eagerness of our culture to sexualize and exploit the bodies of adolescent women who are simply not prepared to cope with the emotional, social, and physical impact of early sexual experience.
In her final chapter, Brumberg writes: "Although I applaud the social freedom and economic opportunities enjoyed by the current cohort of high school and college girls, their "autonomy" seems to be oversold, if not illusory.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Melissa Wright on July 6, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book was referenced in a text that I read regarding teen sexuality, and since the reference sounded interesting I found a copy of it. Brumberg discusses here what she calls the "body projects" of teenage and adult women and how these projects have changed over time. By "body projects" she means what women are focused on changing about themselves at a particular place in history, whether it be the face, the body, or their sexuality. In describing these particular projects the author goes into detail about the history of menarche and menstruation, acne, and the hymen while also discussing the history of the social aspects of virginity and how female sexuality was (and is) perceived and discussed within a family and society.

I really enjoyed reading this book for many reasons. First, it is rare that you can find a well-written social history text that covers such a variety of subjects. Second, the author uses diary entries from women from many different time periods to elucidate her points, and reading the first-person accounts of Victorian women can be very entertaining ("They thought what?!") while also enlightening and educational. Third, the author makes a major point to remind the reader that girls today are maturing earlier in a world filled with sexualized images and messages yet we are denying them education as to how to safely use these new bodies they have developed. She describes how we are doing our girls a disservice by not assisting them with creating their own moral codes and standards, which I very much agree with. I would suggest this book to any woman, especially a woman who has a daughter who is (or will be) a teenager. The dialogues that Brumberg suggests need to happen, and reading this book may spark that realization in all of us.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By on September 22, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is one of those all-too-rare precious books that makes a complex, carefully-researched historical argument accessible and contemporarily relevant. As a history professor at Rollins College, I used THE BODY PROJECT in my "Women in the Modern U.S." course in Spring of 1999. The book was a stunning success; it really hit home with our young women, far too many of whom, I discovered, are struggling with eating disorders, sexual pressures, and all kinds of insecurities about their appearance. Young men commented that reading and discussing the book was an eye-opening experience that helped them better understand and empathize with their female friends. Brumberg's historical analysis of girls' body issues and their roots is brilliant and useful. It opens up conversations that we really need to have--throughout society but perhaps on college campuses in particular. History instructors will be especially pleased at students' response to Brumberg's use of diaries as primary sources. Because students can relate to these sources--indeed, most have created such sources themselves--Brumberg's book helps them understand and appreciate historical methodology and historical actors. I especially value the elegance with which Brumberg upsets the progressive, "you've-come-a-long-way-baby" preconceptions about women's history. In the end, she makes us all think more critically about the fantastic and inspirational!...Interesting and more importantly HELPFUL in understanding why girls do certain things...Offers a unique perspective on women that people do not often hear...I was so captivated by the research she's done...Brumberg has compelling ideas and theories behind our society's socialization process. The issues that she addresses are quite relevant to concerns of many students on this campus."
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