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The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls Paperback – September 1, 1998

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Editorial Reviews


"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

From the Author


America's adolescent girls are in crisis. Growing up in
a female body is more difficult today than ever before
because girls' bodies have changed and so has
American society. Menstruation and sexual activity
begin much earlier and there is also much greater
emphasis on the body as a way of defining the self.
Using intimate materials drawn from the unpublished
diaries of American girls, The Body Project provides
a lively and engaging story of how growing up as a girl
has changed over the past one hundred years, and why
the pressures on girls are now so intense.

Girls today grow up believing that "good looks"--rather
than "good works"--are the highest form of female
perfection. In the past, greater maternal involvment and
more single sex groups, such as the Girl Scouts,
supported the whole girl, placing greater emphasis on
internal rather than external qualities. But in the
twentieth century, that "protective umbrella"
disappeared, popular culture became more powerful,
and expectations about physical perfection increased
so that American girls came to define themselves more
and more through their bodies.

Today, the body has become most girls' primary
project, creating a degree of self-consciousness and
dissatisfaction that is pervasive and dangerous,
leading to the social and emotional problems identified
by Carol Gilligan, Mary Pipher, and Peggy Orenstein.
For everyone concerned with adolescent girls--parents,
teachers, librarians, physicians, nurses, and mental
health professionals--The Body Project is a "must"
read because it puts so many contemporary
adolescent issues in historical perspective.

A fascinating photo essay comprised of photographs,
advertisements and postcards shows how girls and
their bodies have changed since the nineteenth
century. From corsets to body piercing, the book
demonstrates how the preoccupation with the body has
intensified and why adolescent girls and their bodies
have born the brunt of social change in the twentieth

Although The Body Project acknowledges a problem,
it is still an entertaining read because it evokes so
many memories in the lives of girls and
women--particularly personal milestones such as first
periods, pimples, training bras, first dates, and sexual
awakening. The Body Project is perfect for generating
mother-daughter dialogue, and it is remarkable for its
insight about what adolescent girls have gained and
lost as American women shed the corset and the ideal
of virginity for a new world of dieting and body
sculpting, sexual freedom and self expression."

--Joan Jacobs Brumberg


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (September 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679735291
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679735298
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

61 of 64 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 lawheeler@rollins.edu 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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