June 10, 2010 by SheBeJack
“Over the course of the twentieth century, girls’ bodies have been a critical index of our social and economic life, in ways that we are just beginning to understand. The rise of scientific medicine, the decline of parental and community supervision, the triumph of a visual consumer culture, and the changing nature of intimacy in our society are all encoded in their youthful flesh, and in the social problems they now face.”
Joan Jacobs Brumberg gives it straight in her book, The Body Project. The Body Project was published in 1997, which I realize by today’s standard of internet time means to some that it’s not worth reading. Yet, Jacobs Brumbeg identifies key areas we still struggle to talk about, let alone fully understand, like the expectation of flawless skin, maintaining Christ-like vigilance over caloric intake, keeping menstruation (an unsanitary little secret) at bay, piercing body parts, the disappearance of virginity, and the general merging of what was once two separate ideas; ‘body image’ and ‘identity’.
You don’t have to be an expert or a parent to see that her discussion and research (conducted in part by reading the diaries of young girls over the last century) remains relevant, not only to young girls, but to parents, educators and our culture at large. The author even steps on the hallowed ground of parenting and adult responsibility, reminding us that the roles of mothers and grandmothers have changed in both good and bad ways. She challenges the notion that women and girls are better off today than they were during the Era of laced-up corsets. At least in the Victorian Era, girls had a clearly identified and intimate community of women surrounding them.
I found myself wanting to ask Jacobs Brumberg all kinds of questions, questions you might find worthy of considering as well. Should I ever have the privilege of meeting her, I have my notes ready.
- Tattoos en Masse. You speak about piercings but what do you think about the mass adoption of tattoos by women today? And why do you think that there is no cultural-slang equivalent of a ‘slut stamp’ for men?
- Disappearing Diaries. Your research was conducted through the documented history of girls’ diaries. It seems most girls today have replaced their diaries with text messaging and Facebook. Are we losing the first-person documented history of girls?
- Good Works. You speak of ‘Good Works vs Good Looks’. The Millennial generation is known for valuing ‘good works’, for volunteering and being involved in social causes. Do you think this is progress or is it just a higher level of expectation…Good Looks AND Good Works?
- Parental Responsibility. We hear a lot about helicopter parents who swoop down to be involved in every aspect of a child’s life today. And yet, when it comes to actively engaging and cultivating a young girls sexual development, we hide or get angry if we are challenged even in the slightest ways. How do you think this can improve?
To read and appreciate this book fully, you have to set aside your emotional reactions. letting your rationale give credence to such well-researched and articulate examination. It hits hard in places we assume we’ve overcome, but the truth is for as much as we have made a cultural passtime out of nard-stomping all things taboo, there are still issues, very important issues, we can’t bring ourselves to chat about over coffee.