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Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  1,230 ratings  ·  149 reviews
"Why does every one of my friends have an eating disorder, or, at the very least, a screwed-up approach to food and fitness?" writes journalist Courtney E. Martin. The new world culture of eating disorders and food and body issues affects virtually all -- not just a rare few -- of today's young women. They are your sisters, friends, and colleagues -- a generation told that ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 17th 2007 by Free Press
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3.78  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,230 ratings  ·  149 reviews

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Jan 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
I don't know why I ordered this b/c I hated the excerpt in Bitch. The author consistently uses language that suggests she is speaking for ALL women who struggle with eating disorders and body image issues when she's really speaking for a very select few that share her stereotypical version of these problems:

"We win scholarships galore, science fairs, and knowledge bowls, spelling bees and mock trial debates....We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivat
Jan 16, 2008 rated it did not like it
This was horrible. It made me feel bad about food, people, society, myself. The author wrote as if it were a thesis and while the writing isn't bad, it's just a bunch of borderline-anorexics complaining about their bodies. There aren't any suggestions for improvement or statements on how society could improve, just a lot of "___ sucks."
Bonnie Samuel
Jan 28, 2015 rated it did not like it
I originally gave this book two stars, but I had only read about a quarter of the book before putting it down, thinking I wouldn't go back to it. I continued reading anyway, and based on the new material, had to downgrade my review to one star. The author lost me completely when I got to the part where she calls Britney Spears a "virgin-slut" before referring to her role as a mother as a "not that convincing performance". Madonna is also a "slut", Foxy Brown a "glorified video ho" and Lil' Kim i ...more
Aug 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: soc-psych-health
Putting this on the "read" shelf is kind of a lie, because I only got a third of the way through before I had to stop. Apart from the prose being clunky, histrionic, and inexplicably riddled with curse words, the material itself is a hot mess.

I was expecting concise exposition peppered between groups of case studies, and, indeed, this is what the book's intro would have you believe you're going to be getting, too. But instead, I had read maybe 8 pages of 'case studies' by the time I got to page
Dec 12, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: health, feminism
Eh. The writing is pretty lackluster, relying heavily on I, I, I, we, we, we. Martin tries to speak for all women, using sweeping generalizations, trying to show us how good, and how bad she is. She had Hispanic boyfriends in high school (oh my!), but of course, she still got straight As. She was smart AND drank Forties. Oh boy. Overall, I think she was embarking on an interesting project in this book, but it was just a whirlwind rampage through the low self-esteem of women, and didn't offer any ...more
Jessica Valenti
Feb 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Full disclosure: Courtney is a good friend of mine. That said, I think this book is fabulous...personal, beautifully written and - while about a sad subject - hopeful.
Mar 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016, non-fiction
This book had some great insights that I really appreciated--it put into words things I have often felt. Here are some quotes:

"There is not a finish line. This weight preoccupation will never lead us anywhere. It is a maniacal maze that always spits you out at the same point it sucked you up: wanting."

"We are conditioned to believe that everything is within our grasp, that the only thing between us and perfection is, well, us."

"Even if you don't feel like you have a disease, the quality of your
Sep 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
I applaud Martin for writing about this topic and for following her urge to talk about eating disorders so that they will stop consuming young women. However, there was a lot missing from this book. I agree with Martin that while our mothers' generation felt the pressure to be "good girls", our generation feels the pressure to be "perfect girls." What Martin doesn't examine is how this demand to be perfect is a result of a thoroughly narcissistic society.
I feel like Martin was trying to talk ab
May 06, 2008 rated it liked it
I have mixed feelings for this book. (Drat, I just returned it to the library so I can't look up quotes properly.) Either way, Courtney E. Martin makes it clear what subset she's looking at, while at the same time I also think that isolates a lot of people who have eating disorders or eating disordered tendencies. While it could stem from control, not everybody has the opportunities as Martin did growing up. Even her attempts to show it showed socioeconomic and racial lines seemed delegated to o ...more
Jul 15, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: couldn-t-finish
It is apparent from the introduction that the author has no idea what she is talking about. She based her thesis on anecdotal evidence! "So I wondered, why is it that all my friends either have an eating disorder or have disordered eating?" Shut up, you eating disorder dilettante.
Elevate Difference
Jan 10, 2009 rated it liked it
Who doesn’t want to be perfect? We’re bombarded by images of perfection every day. Mothers are expected to work full-time, do more than their fair share of housework, volunteer for PTA fundraisers, and dazzle everyone at the local bake sale with their homemade peanut butter cookies. Our celebrities aren’t just actresses or singers anymore; now they do both, while simultaneously designing their own clothing line and serving as goodwill ambassadors to third world countries. Young girls are encoura ...more
Aug 17, 2012 rated it did not like it
I couldn't even finish this book. In fact I got to page 80 and got so sick of it that I had to stop. This book claims to stand up for girls of all backgrounds when really it talks about only straight, slim, white middle class, high achieving girls whose struggle with their self esteem stems from a need for perfection. They apparently believe being fat to be the worst thing one can possibly be (talk about privileged). Martin generalises enormously and appears to be blaming the parent's for their ...more
This book is so wonderful. It focuses on the unspeakable: how much women hate their bodies. What we are ashamed of we are silent about. Courtney Martin lets it all out: how food marks us as good or bad. How exercise marks us as good or bad. How our paycheck and resume marks us as good or bad. She encourages us to stop criticizing ourselves because our disordered eating and hateful thoughts are at the worst killing us and at the least stunting our potential.

The last chapter was the most inspirin
Jan 02, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I found this depressing and disappointing. The author relied heavily on generalizations. First she tells us that she doesn't know any women who don't spend way too much time thinking about food and how it makes them good or bad, how she doesn't know any women who aren't weighing every calorie. Maybe she needs new friends. I know we've moved away from a culture where food is the heart of the home and people pick and choose their foods for health, for flavor and for pleasure, but yes, there are ma ...more
May 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
vomititious heteronormative book on anorexia that is promoted as a book for ALL females to read. this book is only applicable to white, middle to upper class, heterosexual females. the author makes dangerous assumptions and has no credible researchers to back up what sh...e is arguing. women of color are a blip in the book. there is no information on lesbian anorectics and a whole chapter on "what men want." she uses the adjective anorexic and a noun for most of the book and transitions to the n ...more
Roxanna Banana
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm pretty sure I hated this. I thought the author was only aware of the struggles of rich white girls. She vaguely mentioned that there were young women of colour who are also beginning to struggle with body image and eating disorders. I just found it poorly written, and it was not anything new that other books haven't handled in a more realistic fashion. I would NOT recommend this.
Aug 06, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Women!
Wow. She talks about the twisted thought process of every young woman in America. (and many young men). I'm so glad she explosed the dirty secrets of many "perfect" girls. Not only do many have eating disorders, but most just look perfect and are struggling with deep issues, and self hatread.
May 18, 2013 rated it liked it
It was long and repetitive but glad I read it. Truly I don't think this many women hate their bodies but I'm old and could be wrong. The perfectionist connection was interesting. She the writer certainly did her homework.
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Anyone who has had an eating disorder or is close to someone who did/does should read this.
Jul 15, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 16, 2018 rated it did not like it
I have a bunch of issues with this book but mainly it's the way she almost suggests that having an eating disorder makes you smarter/better than other people by constantly associating it with perfectionist/type A personalities. You don't have to be smart to have an eating disorder! Having one doesn't make you smart! Not everyone with food issues is a high achieving narcissist. Any part where she talks about hip hop is super white and cringey. It's at its best where she is just doing journalism, ...more
May 14, 2013 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
The underlying message of the book is a positive one. Women need to stop pressuring each other into unhealthy behavior; they should be more open, accepting, and less judgemental. A number of girls and young women from different socioeconomic and racial backgrounds are feeling pressure to be thin. The desire to be thin is linked to the desire to be perfect; a desire born out of the last wave of super-woman feminism. We are not recognizing milder forms of unhealthy behavior. We need to talk about ...more
Apr 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Well, I have to say, I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would, plus Martin writes for feministing, my fave feminist blog of all time. (And, since this is going to be wordy, I would recommend it to any female friend, just because the subject matter is SO important and Martin writes well.). I first read an excerpt of it in an issue of Bitch from last summer, and got extremely annoyed when Martin lumped in "hot yoga" as one of the things this new generation of crazily perfectionist girls ...more
May 28, 2010 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Courtney E. Martin is upper class, white and can't stop talking about herself.
...and how she hung out with "wannabe thugs" in her middle school, and went by the name, "Ghetto Booty."
There are so many "I's" and "We's" at the beginning of her sentences it drove me nearly over the brink.
As I was reading her book, I kept wondering, "Why didn't she just write her own autobiography?" And then I realized that if this were book were in the autobiography section, and wasn't supposed to be about 'third
This book was interesting. I have experience with an eating disorder, so this book covers a perspective that I'm already familiar with. Courtney Martin doesn't provide really anything new here when you consider the amount of pre-existing research on eating disorders. The writing is good, but the book really isn't anything special. This book does, however, provide plenty of catchy quotes. If only the entire book was as interesting as its best passages. Overall, I agree with the idea behind Perfec ...more
Aug 06, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I wanted to like this book…and I did really enjoy many chunks of it. I think I was waiting for the: Here is what you can do to start improving your own self image and here are things we need to change to help the next generation build a positive self image from the get-go. That just never really happened.
I think a great number of Martin’s points are excellent. The world is full of women who are not satisfied with their bodies and it is accepted that we NEVER should be…we should always be wishin
May 11, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is one of those feminist books that falls almost into the category of narrative nonfiction: having interviewed more than 100 young women on the topic, Martin analyzes the social factors that go into self-starvation and its many related manifestations.

It's an admirable feat to make a book on such an unhappy topic an enjoyable read, but her analysis, her dynamic writing, her
openness and passion make this so incredibly interesting--instead of just depressing. There's none of the weight of Re
Lisa Mettauer
Sep 08, 2009 rated it liked it
I read about anorexia. I think it’s because ages ago when I was a nurse, an anorexic woman was admitted to my floor. She was so thin, it hurt to look at her. That was way before anorexia was widely known as a disease and we had no idea what to do with her or how to help her. How inconceivable that someone would want to starve themselves. The few days she was with us stayed with me over the years and so I’m drawn to books about it.

My latest was Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Striking New
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
*Tapping into the hunger for life*

Despite the author being in her mid-twenties---no, *because* the author is in her mid-twenties---this book provides a hard-hitting and authentic look at the struggles of a generation of girls who have been encouraged by others to be anything, yet have pushed themselves to be everything. Filled with the wisdom (and language) that can only be known and passed on by one who has grown up in a culture bursting with eating disorders and food/fitness fanaticism, Perfe
Mar 29, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to andrea by: Women and Children's First Intergenerational Feminist Book Club.
Three and a half stars, really.

It was difficult to separate my own blinding frustration with the issues discussed from the book itself. This is less the author's fault and more reflective of how much I've read up on the topic of body image in past few years. The "perfect girl/starving daughter" metaphor is somewhat overplayed. It's an apt way of describing the internal dichotomy so many young women struggle with in modern times, but, by the eight reference, the repetition became overkill.

A frequ
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Courtney is a weekly columnist for On Being, a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation, podcast, and Webby Award-winning website. Her newest book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream explores how people are redefining the "good life" in the wake of the Great Recession.

Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, the Christian Science Monitor,
“We are a generation of young women who were told we could do anything and instead heard that we had to be everything.” 37 likes
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