Recommendation: I don’t think this is the definitive book on its subject like I hoped it would be, but if you’re empty-handed and happen to stumble across it at the library, you may as well give it a gander.
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Let’s get real here for a second. Our culture objectifies women. You know it, I know it, we all know it. Don’t believe me? Just open any magazine and leaf through it. If you don’t find at least one image of a scantily clad woman pushing some type of product (to either male or female consumers) then I will personally come to your house and clean out the area behind and beneath your refrigerator*. It’s a pretty upsetting aspect of the American ideal, but it’s also really ingrained. So when I picked up The Body Project, I was hoping it would explore how and why women are viewed as sexual objects and go into some ways that we can work to fix this problem.
Unfortunately, I did not find The Body Project to be as cohesive as I had hoped. To a certain degree it explores the origins of female sexualization, but it does so in a dizzying, hairpin-turning kind of way. Instead of providing a coherent timeline, starting with the ideal female body in the 1700’s and moving forward, Brumberg talks about different aspects of the female “body project.” From menstruation to breast augmentation, there are constant examples and statistics that come through all sorts of random places. You can easily find pages that talk about the 1870’s and then sneak in some info about the 1960’s. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it really interrupts the logical flow and makes the book feel a little sloppier than it should.
This book was written in 1997, so I don’t mean this as a jab, but I did feel that most of the information in the first half were things that I already knew about. Maybe not in complete detail, but I can’t say it was shocking to me to find out that before tampons existed women used rags to deal with menstruation or that the bra is a relatively modern fashion item. The second half is much more relevant to today’s world. It spends more time talking about modern problems and uses more energy bringing the reader that extra step into seeing where the problems arise. For example, when bras first hit the scene, their purpose wasn’t to provide support—as this ignorant man had just assumed—it was to shape and form the breast into the “appropriate” form that would attract men. Suddenly an item of clothing that is universally accepted in American culture looks a bit more sinister.
But, even though this book does provide an explanation of the current predicament, I can’t say it tries to offer much of a solution. The last 15 pages are devoted to Brumberg’s call to arms, but it’s more of a whisper than a yell. Brumberg suggests that, although sexual freedom in the past few decades has helped improve some standards for women, there needs to be a little more control and parental involvement to stop adolescent girls from being taken advantage of, whether it be by older men or by their own churning emotions (and to clarify, I don’t mean they’re emotional because they’re women, I mean they’re emotional because they’re teenagers and their hormones are going crazier than Buddy Bolden on the cornet.)
Given her argument and the evidence in her favor, Brumberg’s assertion makes sense…but I don’t think it really grasps the big picture. It’s surely helpful to have an experienced older person around to make young people feel normal when faced with difficult decisions, but I wanted a big “OH MY GOD THIS IS SO SMART” moment, and this one was more like “Oh, I see your point.” So, overall, it wasn’t what I had hoped. Has some insight, has some good points, has some value, but there are probably better options out there.
*I do not in any way, shape, form, or dimension actually mean this. I will not come to your house. I will not clean your refrigerator. Why do you even want me to? Are you that lazy? Clean your own refrigerator, weirdo.