#14 done - Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

From the defunct Babes and Books blog where a bunch of friends challenged each other to read twenty books in one summer:

This was yet again, another good book that doubled as a memoir. I think we need to create a new genre of non-fiction/memoir for books like this. Courtney E. Martin uses her own experiences and observations as the base for discussing body image & eating disorders in our country today. She also weaves in a discussion on today’s feminist movement & sexuality.

One thing that I noticed is that Martin & Siegel credit and cite the Woodhull Institute for not only supporting their writing, but also as an example of how feminism should work. You know, good supportive intergenerational mentoring, good supportive writers, and all the happy happy joy joy stuff we all dream about. Hmmm…and I know that my mouth often gets me in trouble, but I have to wonder how wonderful this institute really is and how fabu these women (mentors not Martin & Siegel) really are. Of course, I’ll never know because it’s a lot of freakin’ money to attend one of those retreats! Maybe my years of eye-balling product placement has made me a cynic for big “thank yous” in books.

OK, back to the book.

It was pretty good in laying out the issues. BUT since Martin isn’t an expert, we get a lot of assumptions backed up by citing professionals. My science background makes me leery of being too far from the source. But her writing makes up for it all. She is not a traditional writer - which is why I really liked her writing. When you read this, you’ll swear she’s right next to you telling you all of the information over a cup of mocha.
And that’s where it got hard. All these issues hit so close to my heart & soul that I often had to put the book down for my own sanity. I post-it’d this book to death. Here are some of my favorite passages:
  • (Addressing the criticism that she’s not an expert) The risk of having critics, I realized, could be no greater than the risk of losing more young women - metaphorically or physically. And so I sat down at my computer and did the only thing I know how to do when I am in great pain and feeling powerless: I wrote. (p. xii)
  • Many young women I interviewed admitted that they knew intuitively their mothers hated their own bodies or, worst-case scenario, their own lives..”I think mothers saying lines like ‘my thighs look huge in this’ takes a toll on the daughter because unconsciously you look at yourself and see your mother’s shape and start having the same issues with it, even if you really aren’t built the same way.” (p.45)
  • But for all our twentieth-century savvy, we are still swooning, celebrity-entranced…Even if we intellectually think they are full of shit, pop stars still capture our collective imagination. We like to make fun of them. We like to critique their clothes and their dance moves. And unfortunately, yes, sometimes we still like to emulate them. (p. 125)
Martin attacks the problems acknowledging full well that are “guilty pleasures” are killing us. I’ve heard time and time again over the summer that we need to take a stand & stop buying celebrity magazines. Stop watching entertainment news. Etc. Etc. But we don’t. We are in a time of war, a very depressing war, not just because it is war, but because we were deceived into it. Of course we want to point to BritLindPar and say, “At least we’re not that dumb/skanky/pathetic.”

I do take offense to her observation that her generation is “devoid of grand, sweeping social change.” Martin is 26ish and I think her generation is too young to have a grand sweeping change. I also think they WILL bring about some of the most sweeping change to society since the second wave. The LGBT rights movement will come to fruition under not just the leadership of her generation, but because of the parenting they received from those just ahead of me. I sincerely believe this and that is why the fights we struggle with now will be resolved once the old homophobes die out.

The biggest weakness of this book is that since Martin is still in her 20s, the real analysis ends there too. But I would recommend this book to anyone, but especially women over 30 trying to get a grip on today’s teenagers & girls. It’s a frightening look at our future women and what we might be doing to our own daughters.