Although today's teens may strive to seem knowing and cool about sex, modern girls are often deeply confused about—and obsessed by—their sexuality and their bodies. That's the thesis of The Body Project, Joan Jacobs Brumberg's timely and sympathetic account of the cultural forces that have pushed young American women into viewing their bodies as hopelessly flawed and endlessly frustrating works in progress.
Using girls' diaries, research studies, interviews and vintage medical texts, Brumberg shows the change in our attitudes over the last century toward menstruation, adolescent acne, breast size, weight, fitness, virginity, cosmetics, fashion—and body piercing. She traces the shift in emphasis from the Victorian concern with inner beauty to our modern focus on outward appearance, and charts the growth of our mass fixation on personal hygiene and narrow standards of physical perfection. Ultimately The Body Project is a work of impassioned advocacy, urging society to help girls deal knowledge-ably and calmly with the unrelenting pressures beaming in from the culture around them, and the bewildering changes in themselves they see daily in the mirror. (Random House, $25)