The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls
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The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

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3.8 of 5 stars 3.80  ·  rating details  ·  2,158 ratings  ·  151 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...more
Paperback, 214 pages
Published September 1st 1998 by Vintage (first published August 19th 1997)
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Community Reviews

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Eli
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
Siobhan
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.
Katie
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
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...more
Mickey Schulz
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
Genevieve
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
Sarah
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...more
Chris
Interesting in some areas, in particular when dealing with menstruation, but it loses something towards the end.
Kendra Beth
Feb 15, 2010 Kendra Beth rated it 5 of 5 stars
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...more
Kaylee
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...more
Tara DeMaderios
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
Heather Olson Beal
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.
Sharayah
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
Rachel
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.
Kimberly
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.
Bookworm❤
I recommend this book to every one men and women.
Susan Bazzett-griffith
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
Cassy
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
Robin
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...more
Katie
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...more
Susannah Perkins
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...more
Liz Wright
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
Liz
Although this book provided a lot of solid information about the medicalization of women's bodies (and the related policing of women's bodies), the information is (at this point) dated, and doesn't delve much into the reasons why girls and women engage in these "body projects" (i.e. - worrying about weight, breast size, "going too far," etc.), aside from cursory mentions of advertising and changes in the "moral standards" parents impose on children.

There were parts of this book, in fact, that ma...more
stephanie
doing a re-read seemed logical; i was in the mood for good history written for the masses.

such a fascinating concept, especially in the way the book is structured, i am impressed by brumberg all over again (though sometimes the history is weak and i wish i was reading something more academic).

really want to re-read Marianne and the Market after this, so that i can do a sort of cross-cultural comparison . . . but it really is amazing how society changed in so many ways once women were viewed as...more
Rachel Skinner
Crisis of Confidence and Character

Throughout time women have had insecurities with their bodies-either it’s too big, too pale, or just not perfect. In The Body Project: an Intimate History of American Girls, Joan Jacobs Brumberg discusses not only the dangers of self-deprecation but also their origin. Brumberg contends that a girl’s relationship with her body is “at the heart of the crisis of confidence” (23). Girls have put aside their characters and made their bodies their main project, making...more
Marla McMackin
In The Body Project (1997), Joan Jacobs Brumberg explores the changing experience of female maturation in the years between the 1830s and 1990s. She gathers rich detail from diaries written by generally white, middle-class American girls to tell the story of how their relationship to their own body has changed. In pairing these personal accounts with medical guides and other primary sources on prevailing trends, Brumberg presents a convincing argument that a combination of biological and cultura...more
Rachele
The viewpoints in this book can be easily disputed at first glance but I agree with the author. It makes sense that young girls in the 20th century became subject to more focus on their bodies and sexuality. Through commercial and entertainment influences. Sadly, our society spends less time educating girls and bringing them up with self esteem and power over their own bodies. Obviously, teaching girls to have a positive body image and control over their sexuality would be beneficial. We don't n...more
Lani
Sep 12, 2008 Lani rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: women
My most recent retail therapy resulted in the purchase of 2 obnoxiously feminist books - The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls and The Beauty Myth. Having just barely started the Beauty Myth, I can already see that the Body Project was more up my alley.

The "Body Project", according to the author, is the lifelong pursuit of physical perfection that has been expected of women - young women in particular - for years. The book doesn't really question the existence of this pursuit...more
Joslyn
Oct 24, 2007 Joslyn rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone interested in the comparisons between victorian and modern women.
I think that this book had a good premise; the author was on the right track, but the points in her argument were not as striking, persuasive or logical as I thought they would be. She spent a great deal of idealizing the Victorian Era in which women supposedly focused more on inner beauty than outer beauty (which is why they laced themselves into restrictive corsets and even more restrictive gender roles?)I disagreed with Brumberg's assertion that women then were not focused on their inner selv...more
E
This book was rather disappointing after all it claimed to be: an in-depth study of beauty images thrust upon girls throughout history. Instead, Brumberg comes off as surprisingly conservative. While her criticism that today's hyper-sexualized commercial culture demands too much that girls sprawl and show skin is indeed provocative and valid, her solution is a return to the good old days of puritanism when the ban on skin meant, as she claims, a focus on girls' character. I beg to differ. Purita...more
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English 11 Nonfic...: Student Paragraph- Angela Richardson 1 3 Dec 07, 2012 10:51AM  
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87050
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
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