book review

“The Body Project” by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

Brumberg, Joan Jacobs. The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls 
Random House, 1997
Hardcover, 267 pages
ISBN 0-679-40297-7

Joan Jacobs Brumberg teaches in the fields of history, human development, and women’s studies at Cornell University. In this cultural and historical study, she describes how growing up female has changed over the last century and how, in the current age of consumerism, the experience is more difficult today than it was before.

Drawing on historical sources that include unpublished diaries of adolescent girls, Brumberg argues that modern American and western European society have removed the umbrella of societal conventions that protected Victorian girls as they grew into womanhood. Today, she says, we allow young adolescent girls more freedom without the safety net of conventions that would shield them from the provocative sexuality that modern commercialism and peer pressure place them under.

Ultimately, this is a story about what it means to grow up in a female body, and the ways in which girlhood in America has changed since the nineteenth century. But it also explains how the pressures on young women have accumulated, making girls at the close of the twentieth century more anxious than ever before about their bodies and, therefore, about themselves. 

(pp. xxv-xxvi)

Brumberg is no dry scholar. Written in a lively, accessible style and copiously illustrated, this book will appeal to anyone interested in social and cultural history. And it should be required reading for parents of young daughters.

© 1999 by Mary Daniels Brown

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