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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social history doesn't get better than this!
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...
Published on August 6, 2001 by Hugo Schwyzer

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A point of view...
Quite an interesting book for a sociological aspect of feminine attitude through the body and through the late 19th and 20th century. There is a lot of material, though, that the author seems to have some problems to express properly. Some ideas are truly lacking proofs to be believed (private diaries are not enough) and the author makes many assumptions and...
Published on July 8, 2000 by Patrick Perreault


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60 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Social history doesn't get better than this!, August 6, 2001
By 
Hugo Schwyzer (Pasadena, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (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." Young men tend to only applaud young women's autonomy when it leads to sexual availability, not when it leads to the decision to postpone sex; advertisers certainly only applaud young women's autonomy when it leads them to buy their products, not when it leads them to question consumerism itself.
The more I hear the stories of my female students, of all races and socio-economic backgrounds, about the prevalence of eating disorders, their anxiety about their own bodies, and the pain of our casual and exploitative "hook-up" culture, the more I realize that Brumberg is right when she notes, in her conclusion, "more than any other group in the population, girls and their bodies have borne the brunt of 20th century social change, and we ignore that fact at our peril." It is not anti-feminist to want to protect young women from sexual and commercial exploitation; indeed, it is the essence of what it means to believe in women.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sad but True, July 6, 2005
By 
Melissa Wright (San Antonio, TX United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (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
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex, accessible & contemorarily relevant history, September 22, 1999
By 
lawheeler@rollins.edu (Winter Park, Florida) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (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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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intimate and Interesting!, July 1, 2005
By 
HLR (Plum Village) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
Joan Jacobs Brumberg's The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls is a fascinating read. As an teacher and researcher on the field of young women and coming of age, I am quite pleased by the wealth of information, both scholarly and anecdotal, I learned from this book. Brumberg fleshes out an in-depth analysis of girls' body projects from the 1800s to the present day and supplements her vast research with diary accounts from young women throughout history.

While I enjoyed this book, I did find a few parts to be undeveloped or perhaps glossed over. I am at odds with Brumberg's analysis in the section on "Pierced Parts." She seems to make rather hasty and unfounded conclusions about the symbolic significance of piercing among teenagers. I did not feel as though Brumberg was informed enough on the piercing phenomenon. On a positive note, this part of the book (and many others) will generate a lot of interesting discussion when I use it in the classroom. We will have to fill in the gaps Brumberg has left behind.

Speaking of gaps, I also wish--but I can certainly understand the limitations and confines of academic research--that Brumberg had devoted more of her book to an analysis of the body projects among non-white women. While she did offer some interesting information on the body projects of African American, Jewish, and Latina women, I found myself aching for more than just a few token pages.

The topic of women and their bodies has long been a benchmark of feminist inquiry and discussion. Brumberg's contribution to this topic, and her conceptualization of it as "the body project," provides new insight into an old yet persistent problem in our society. A fascinating and highly recommended read.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why "beautiful on the inside" doesn't seem to matter anymore, January 18, 2006
By 
Deanna Breglia (Orlando, Florida) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
What happened to American girls, to women, over the past hundred years, that caused a quantum shift in how they present themselves to the world?

Intelligence, spirituality, charity and volunteerism, and skills for all things domestic were once revered. The most popular girl in her class wasn't the prettiest girl. The girl considered best for marriage had the qualities desired for a wife and mother and not what she looked like on her husband's arm.

We are all victims of this shift.

I admit I first noticed this book on a shelf in a train-station bookstore because of the flat, tanned belly on the cover. We've become a society obsessed with pieces and parts and appearances of the pieces and parts rather than the beauty of the whole person. Our self-esteem is measured by the numbers on the scale or the size of our jeans or the clarity of our skin.

Over the past six years, I've reread this book a few times, and always find a new point that rings true.

In her revealing (yet not surprising) sociological history Blumberg uses the best and most frank sources to illustrate her case: the private diaries of young women, from the Victorian era to present day (the late 90's). Blumberg theorizes that it's the media and consumerism that are the biggest contributors to the shift and uses excerpts from the diaries to make her point.

Blumberg focuses on middle-class Caucasian girls circa 1998, and perhaps the book needs an update to focus on a broader demographic as well as address the influence of the internet which has since become an increasingly important factor in the socialization and self-awareness of young women.

I think this is a decent book for a teenage girl, but I'm not sure it will have much of a positive influence. Girls are constantly being fed about how they should look and what products they should buy to achieve beauty.

It's a better book for a woman in her 20's or 30's who might want a better understanding of why we've become the way we are.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Comprehensive History of Women's Self-Image through Time, April 16, 2002
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
This book was amazing! It is easy to read and so informative. It covers women from the Victorian age up to modern time using case studies to show the changing views about their bodies. I reccomend this book to young girls, teens, and mothers. A wonderful work!
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative Read about the Body Images of Women, June 5, 2000
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
I considered the Body Project an informative read about how the body images of women have changed from the modest Victorian era to the now much more liberal period of the late twentieth century. I learned that there has been a massive transition from the past to the present. Its amazing that feminine products such as bras and tampons that women now consider ordinary were in fact only created in the 1920's. Brumberg comments that women have made a shift from internal character to external beauty, and she wants to initiate a reversal. This was ones of her main points, and whether or not Victorian women focused on internal chracter, it is important to realize now how prevalent the image of external beauty has become and its negative effects. Throughout the book she provided visual insight though pictures, and real life perspectives from a variety of girls' diaries. Overall, she creates a informative portrait of the body images that women have had to endure and continue to endure.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History of our modern obsessions, November 5, 2003
By 
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
This book was an amazing journey that helped me understand the underpinnings of the modern American woman's relationship with sexuality. By tracing the roots of our modern traditions to their Victorian foundations, Brumberg educates the reader and also paints a stark picture of the way young girls have started to come into their sexuality in the past few decades. She argues that girls today are out of sync, that their bodies develop before they are emotionally ready to deal with issues of sexuality. She further asserts (and proves, in my opinion) that the historical move away from home-based economies and social structures has robbed modern girls of vital mentoring from their adult female relatives. This lack of female mentoring leads to the confusion and insecurity that anyone who watches MTV cannot deny is rampant today. This book is an important read for educators, parents, and anyone interested in unerstanging how (and why) young women today experience sexualization by a culture all too ready to exploit their insecurities for profit. All in all, a fascinating and very readable study of a crucial subject.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A point of view..., July 8, 2000
By 
Patrick Perreault (Montreal, Quebec, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
Quite an interesting book for a sociological aspect of feminine attitude through the body and through the late 19th and 20th century. There is a lot of material, though, that the author seems to have some problems to express properly. Some ideas are truly lacking proofs to be believed (private diaries are not enough) and the author makes many assumptions and subjective comments (ex: the body-piercing/homosexuality attempt). But never forget that a book is a point of view from one person only... However, it makes a very good companion to the different "Hope in a Jar",by Kathy Peiss, a book published around the same time and much more enjoyable if you want to learn more (being man or woman, feminist or not) about life of women in America. Recommended anyway! :)
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding a Cultural Obsession, April 23, 2007
This review is from: The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls (Paperback)
Topic: - The book is the author's historical perspective, suggesting there are ever increasing visual evaluations and body standards being placed on American Girls.

Commentary: - The book does an excellent job of bringing attention to the messages girls are constantly bombarded with from all forms of media, advertising and cultural rules, messages that try to persuade them their body should have certain attributes and not have other attributes. It outlines how with each new generation, new social visual ideals are added. From shaving legs, to waxing, to eyebrow control, to hairstyles, to overall weight, to muscle tone, to bad breath, to body odor, to feminine hygeine, to piercings, to tattoos, to teeth straightening, to belly button length, to breast shape, to teeth whitening, and on and on.

Writing Style: - I thought the premise and supporting facts of this book were excellent, but if I have to fault one aspect of the book, it is that the writing sometimes lost my attention - this occurred even though I greatly care about the issues discussed in the book.

What would have made this book better?: - There is an inherent conflict in these issues: How do you make "not being a pawn to these social pressures" interesting and sexually attractive? One of the main draws that advertisers and social forces use is: IF you perfectly control your body and develop these many attributes, THEN you'll be more well liked, treated better, more in control, or more sexually attractive. For the book to have been even better, it needed to spend more time promoting non-conformist beauty ideals and conceptual frameworks.

In other words, it needed to do more to show how NOT persuing a "body perfect" can lead to better social relationships, understanding, attractiveness, etc. It's not enough to tell a person, "Don't do that." It's better to show them how alternative paths can produce more fulfilling and better outcomes. This is because women are constantly bombarded with the opposing messages of: "Make your body perfect" and you will receive _____ (fill in the blank).

Why did I write this review?: - I read this book about a year ago, and I didn't feel compelled to write a review. But one of the attributes of a great idea or a great book of ideas is the longer the ideas are considered in your brain (the more evidence and scenarios you evaluate using those ideas), the more those ideas resonate with 'truth' or significance.

Like most people, I use the internet often. I'm just sickened by the frequency of visual beauty ads. From wrinkle creams, to Stry-Vectyn, to Bo-Tox, to acne-fighters, and every other blemish or age-fighting cream, lotion, or potion. The same messages are coming from T.V.

Dove has launched a "Real Beauty" campaign, where they show women with "non-ideal" body types and weight ranges. And while I can admire some of the premise, which is: "Beauty is broader than the narrow definitions of supemodel advertising," I am also saddened as Dove, a cosmetic company, has also introduced the suggestion: Older women and non-ideal women need to spend more money on our beauty products. Olay's campaign of "Fight crows feet . . . on your elbows and your legs" is creating additional Body Projects for women to be concerned about.

Given the constant messages and pressures American women receive, I expect most women have dealt with an eating disorder or OCD mindset about their physical appearance. After reading this book, I admire every woman who has managed to overcome our culture's body obsession and who has found a way to moderate their eating habits and perceptions of their body.

I recommend at least scanning this book to find any topics of interest. Hopefully, young women who have read this book will be more able to recognize the unnecessary demands and often unreachable standards being asked of them. Hopefully they will learn to define their beauty, and the beauty of the women around them, using more non-body-defined benchmarks.
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The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg (Paperback - September 1, 1998)
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