Thursday, January 10, 2008

Review: Body Drama

As the product of a quasi-hippy household, I learned the "facts of life" at a ridiculously early age. I'm not sure how the conversation was initiated with my mother - probably it stemmed from her being pregnant with one of my siblings - but I do remember that my reaction was "gross." I think my mom was *pretty* easy to talk to about body stuff, insofar as it can ever not be totally and completely embarrassing to talk to one's mother about these things, but I'll tell you what: I sure do wish this book had been around when I was going through puberty. Remember Our Bodies, Ourselves? (Yes, I am THAT. OLD.) Well, this is like that for the pre-teen to early twenties set. Only better, in some ways, because it specifically addresses some of the really tricky, stupid stuff that girls have to navigate now that they didn't have to in earlier generations. (For example, the whole concept of "waxing" was pretty new in my high school years, and you can FORGET about crap like "Brazilians." Nobody did that or even thought about it.) Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers is written by Nancy Redd, a former Miss Virginia who went from a shapely, body-loving teen to a yo-yoing, body hating young adult, partly as a result of beauty pageants. Having graduated from Harvard with a Women's Studies degree, she wanted to create a resource for young women to let them know that their bodies are "normal and OK."

Needless to say, I love that goal and this book tackles it with gusto. It's divided into five sections: Skin, Boobs, Down There, Hair/Mouth/Nails, and Shape. Each section is illustrated with photographs of real women, covering every kind of question and situation that a teen or pre-teen girl could be curious about and way too embarrassed to ask anyone about. Got back zits? There's information for you. Stretch marks? Page 50. You can revel in 99 nicknames for boobs on page 75 (some of which I may start adopting myself, as soon as I can choose between "wonder twins," "dumplings" and "quantum heaps"). The "down there" section includes about a dozen photos of real, live vulvas, which can be a slight shock if you're not expecting it, but PRAISE THE GODS that they're in there, along with instructions for how to look at your own, when to see a doctor for various conditions, and why you shouldn't, for cripes sake, get plastic surgery on your cooter. (That's my term, not the author's. As if you had to ask.)

The "Shape" section, which is the one I was most interested to read, is a mixed bag. It does refer to the dreaded (and useless) BMI chart, and it does talk about dieting as an option for losing weight. But the emphasis in that section is definitely more on being active and healthy and loving your body first and foremost than it is on losing weight or fitting on the BMI chart. And, best of all, there's a fabulous section of "before and after" shots that show exactly how the average fashion magazine image is created, and how false the "after" version is as a reflection of the "before." The main part of the book ends with several different statements that every body is beautiful, illustrated with a variety of real, beautiful womens' bodies. Finally, there's a resources section with great information on different kinds of doctors, helpful sites for everything from body piercings to reporting physical abuse, and thorough notes and indexes.

The graphic photos and frank language around womens' bodies will mean that some people won't be comfortable reading this book or giving it to their daughters, granddaughters, nieces and sisters. And that's too bad, because this is an area that can use all the frankness and reality it can get! I'd recommend this book to any young woman as a valuable resource, and it's definitely something I'll be glad to have around when my daughter gets older.

(This post is part of the MotherTalk blog tour.)