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The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,805 Ratings  ·  172 Reviews
"Timely and sympathetic . . . a work of impassioned advocacy." --People

A hundred years ago, women were lacing themselves into corsets and teaching their daughters to do the same. The ideal of the day, however, was inner beauty: a focus on good deeds and a pure heart. Today American women have more social choices and personal freedom than ever before. But fifty-three percen
Paperback, 214 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Vintage (first published August 19th 1997)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Jul 25, 2008 Eli rated it liked it
Though this book was definitely interesting, I found it rather troubling in the end-- and not for the usual reasons. Brumberg came off in the final chapters as not being very sex-positive ("the emergence of a right to sexual expression can be as problematic as the right to smoke cigarettes" [142]), which is fine, but it was then that I started noticing some specious citations. For example, on page 203 of the pictured edition, Brumberg remarks parenthetically at the close of a paragraph that "in ...more
Aug 06, 2007 Siobhan rated it did not like it
Intended to reveal the history behind the struggles of adolescent girls in terms of body image and self-identity. Instead, it is a micrcosm of exactly what is wrong in this field of research-it focuses solely on white, middle-to-upper class young women, "to simplify things". Just another exmaple of a researcher who refuses to get dirty-failing to address issues of race and socioeconomic status and their entaglemant with body image and self-identity.
May 19, 2012 Katie rated it it was ok
2 1/2 stars. Not entirely a waste of time, but way more disappointing than I thought. I really wanted to love this book, but just couldn't get there. The concept was a good one: Providing historical information from adolescent girls' diaries/journals to discuss the history of our changing body consciousness. However, the diaries often seemed forgotten, and that was disappointing. In addition, I felt that Brumberg added a bit too much of her own opinion/judgments throughout the text, which took m ...more
Books Ring Mah Bell
Apr 07, 2010 Books Ring Mah Bell rated it it was ok
Shelves: womens-interest
We are obsessed with bodies and perfection as a culture.

We are willing to inject ourselves with toxins, go under for massive surgery to have things implanted/pulled/trimmed/tucked in and sucked out... We are willing to swallow pills, starve and/or puke to lose weight. We are willing to spend massive amounts of money on products for hair, skin, nails... We are willing to go into a salon and have a stranger wax hair off our crotch or bleach our assholes.

We are unwilling to cut ourselves some damn
Rabbit {Paint me like one of your 19th century gothic heroines!}
This is a okay book for body politics in feminism. While I don't agree with everything there are a lot of good and valid points. It does focus heavily on cis-gendered and white women, so lacking in diversity and intersectionality weakened the narrative.

There were a lot of interesting points made, but there were quite a few "meh" and "why" moments, so 3 stars seems to be the happy medium.

I'm not sure if keeper or not, so a re-read will have to determine that.
Mickey Schulz
Dec 01, 2011 Mickey Schulz rated it liked it
Shelves: women-s-studies
I like her premise, but think she suffers a bit from bending the evidence to fit her thesis. I think a better thesis than "sexual liberation is making girls stress out about their bodies" is "sexual liberation is causing girls to stress out about their bodies in DIFFERENT ways than before." In a history of "beauty" that includes being corsetted until it deforms your internal organs and taking daily doses of arsenic to be pale and wan enough for the current style, I don't find dieting to the extr ...more
Apr 18, 2016 Jenny rated it it was ok
This was interesting but left me often feeling frustrated. The author looks at changes for adolescent girls from the Victorian age to present day. She begins by discussing menarche and how the average age to begin periods has decreased but girls are not more emotionally or intellectually advanced. She focused a lot on media and most girls today know the medical side of periods and know what to do/what products to use but not enough attention is given to explaining what a peri ...more
May 07, 2011 Genevieve rated it it was ok
I wanted this to be a better book than it was. The tracing of developments in the ways that girls' bodies in America have been socially regulated over the past century or so is pretty interesting stuff, but I was constantly frustrated by the complete lack of political analysis that the author brought to her narrative. While she does attend to the ways in which ideas about appropriate female bodies, beauty and hygiene were shaped by marketers with products to sell, Brumberg details these in an od ...more
Mar 18, 2013 Chris rated it liked it
Shelves: feminist
Interesting in some areas, in particular when dealing with menstruation, but it loses something towards the end.
Oct 03, 2007 Sarah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
half-way through, and this is fascinating, albeit occassionally uncomfortable stuff.
uncomfortable is an understatement. the story is a tragedy, really. and then it sinks in that it is a tragedy that i have lived (and continue to live). it's one of those books that i wish more people who should read it would read it, but they probably won't. though it was in the late 90s - not that long ago - it seems things continue to decline in the realm of young girls and it's incr
Kendra Beth
Feb 15, 2010 Kendra Beth rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Female leaders, teachers, mothers, women
Recommended to Kendra Beth by: Library... Amazon :)

"By 1995 American women and girls were spending more than $100 million on "cellulite busters," at $60 a tube."

"Liposuction has become the most popular kind of cosmetic surgery in the United States."

"I really had little to teach them (adolescent girl students) about what it means to live in a culture of unrelenting objectification where women's bodies are used to sell everything..."

"One million teenage girls get pregnant in America every year... only 45% of the pregnancies come to term and are ca
Actual Rating: 2.5 Stars

In this book, Brumberg examines the one hundred years of history between 1895 and 1995, and how society’s attitude has changed toward young women. She asks the question, even though we are now free of corsets and have more rights, do we really have it any better than our Victorian ancestors? To answer this, she cites passages from diaries of teenage girls dating back to the 1800s, research, and anecdotes from her own experiences as a teen and a professor.

One of her first
Tara DeMaderios
Feb 17, 2009 Tara DeMaderios rated it really liked it
I really liked this book, although I thought most of the first chapter was pointless, boring, dry, and irrelevant. However, I kept reading because I was told this was an excellent book by a friend whose literary opinion I highly value and trust. It was over all a good book. It evoked an intimacy with me as a reader, because growing up in the United States as a girl causes some universal emotions and experiences that this book clearly hits on. Mostly it gave some historical perspective on viewpoi ...more
Jennifer Kelly
I did like the historical/personal diary aspects of the book; although I would have liked more diary entries and other first-hand accounts of female adolescence. Unfortunately, as other reviewers have mentioned, there is a rather reactionary bent - as if the author pines for Victorian principles (or, at least, 1950s social controls placed on girls and young women). Very nearly reminds me of reading the uber-conservative The Marketing of Evil , whereupon, the both authors seem to believe there w ...more
Aug 07, 2015 Devan rated it liked it
I read the reviews on this book before I actually attempted to read it, like most of the reviews I agree that the book was alright, not great, but not terrible either. I definitely think it was interesting enough, for I learned a bit about history, and it even had me thinking of my own upraising and how I handled menstruation as a child. The more I thought about it, I agreed with her input that young females don't really understand what a period stands for. As a child, when I first started my pe ...more
Apr 17, 2016 Becky rated it it was ok
Shelves: book-club
I feel torn about this book. It was an interesting read, in some parts, but I feel confused about the overall message. First it starts out with histories of how average, middle class, (think caucasian for the most part), girls have had changing experiences from Victorian times until the late 1990's when this book was published, in the areas of their bodies specifically with menstruation, skin care, weight loss, and sexuality. To me, the author seemed to suggest that Victorian times were better. ...more
Heather Olson Beal
Jun 11, 2011 Heather Olson Beal rated it really liked it
Very interesting read. I agree with some of the criticisms here, but overall, was very interested and learned a lot about the changes in the ways adolescent girls view their bodies. Definitely recommend to anyone with daughters. A lot to think about--whether you agree with the authors' conclusions or not.
Aug 17, 2014 Sharayah rated it really liked it
Through research of advertisements, medical publication, magazines, and personal diaries, Joan Jacobs Brumberg chronicles the thoughts of American women about their own bodies from Victorian ideals to now. She does an excellent job unpacking the assumptions that modern day women take to be natural, and exposes the damaging patterns that have emerged from increased sexualization of young girls. Brumberg closes by making the case for advocating for young girls by exposing them to the multitude of ...more
Dec 21, 2013 Rachel rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a really interesting book for anyone who is a woman or knows a woman. It talks about how girls' body images have changed over the decades. It focuses mostly on middle-class white Americans, which makes me curious about other people's experiences of body image.
Jan 04, 2009 Kimberly rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I didn't agreee with everything that the author said, but it was really an eye opener. It really is hard being a girl. A must read for anyone with daughters.
Dec 06, 2015 Theresa rated it liked it
An opinionated read on the progression of body perception, women's rights, and sexuality. It did shed light on historical rituals and beliefs (such as the belief of women being unable to utilize both ovaries and brains simultaneously) as well as on the negative effects of motherly silence throughout adolescence and puberty. If anything-it has encouraged me to be open about my experiences as a woman and to communicate these challenges to a younger generation. We also need to be aware and aid in a ...more
Dec 12, 2013 Bookworm❤ rated it it was amazing
I recommend this book to every one men and women.
Apr 14, 2016 Kelly rated it it was ok
Shelves: ut-book-club
2.5 This book was interesting and I liked learning about how women dealt with female issues during the 1800's and early 1900's and how odd some of the medical practices were. I also think that big businesses; hair care, skin care, feminine hygiene, underwear, etc are all using girl's insecurities to sell products. This book was written almost 20 years ago and I kept thinking how it needed a chapter on how pornography has changed and influenced girls over the years. Overall the book was just ok. ...more
Mieke Mcbride
Jan 15, 2016 Mieke Mcbride rated it really liked it
I teach about "body projects" but had not bothered to actually read this historian who coined the term until this last semester. Body projects are basically the work we do to make our bodies look how we want them to look (which is of course heavily influenced by society). Weight loss, acne creams, make-up, dying gray hair-- all body projects. Brumberg is a historian who had access to teen girl diaries from the last 100+ years and she documents the ways teens about their bodies. Turn of the centu ...more
Susan Bazzett-griffith
Jun 30, 2014 Susan Bazzett-griffith rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book; the research is incredible, and anyone with an interest in women's history, as well as those involved in feminism would likely also find it fascinating. The idea that over the centuries women's bodies have become "projects" rather than simply bodies due to pressure to control them with various grooming rituals, hygiene, diet and exercise, etc and how that has left many generations of women unable to separate how they feel about themselves and sex versus how they feel ...more
Sep 04, 2011 Cassy rated it liked it
This book was interesting because I liked seeing how females viewed their bodies over the centuries and Brumberg really brings some interesting points to the table. Women used to have a network when it came to moving from adolescents into adulthood. It wasn't something that they experienced themselves. Girls mothers were involved as were women friends that were older than them. This network has all but disappeared. The other disconcerting thing is how young girls become sexualized in our time. Y ...more
Dec 24, 2009 Robin rated it really liked it
This book is a historical overview of the way young women view their bodies and how they’ve sought to change them, from the Victorian Era to the early 1990s. The historical trends from the early 20th century through the 1920s, the 1960s and to some degree the 1980s are fascinating. However, since this book was written in the late 1990s, by nature of time some of the later history lacks the same perspective.

The author weaves personal stories taken from young women’s diaries throughout the years
Feb 06, 2011 Katie rated it really liked it
From a sociological and feminist perspective, this book is fascinating. It tracks the history of American girls from the 19th century onto present day (although present day was 1997), and Brumberg does an excellent job explaining her theories on what happened in our world - in society, family life, medicine, etc. - that made these girls the way they are.

She examines the question of whether we are in fact liberated because we no longer need to wear whalebone corsets and stuffy dresses, whether w
Susannah Perkins
Oct 16, 2011 Susannah Perkins rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, feminist
A thoroughly researched and heartfelt history of the biological and cultural changes in American girls' bodies and sexualities over the past century. Brumberg writes with a lot of emotion but also with a lot of really interesting sources, from nineteenth-century doctor's pamphlets to magazine advertisements of the 1950s to diaries of girls from many different decades.

Her message isn't a fashionable one and, initially, made me uncomfortable as a sex-positive thinker; she argues that despite the s
Liz Wright
May 19, 2008 Liz Wright rated it really liked it
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 int ...more
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English 11 Nonfic...: Student Paragraph- Angela Richardson 1 3 Dec 07, 2012 10:51AM  
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Joan Jacobs Brumberg is a Professor Emerita of Cornell University, where she has been teaching history, human development and gender studies since 1979. Brumberg lectures and writes about the experiences of adolescents throughout history until the present day.

In the subject area of Gender Studies, she has written both about boys and violence, and girls and body image.

Joan lectures widely on all o
More about Joan Jacobs Brumberg...

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