I am teaching a seminar on body image this fall at the University of North Carolina- Charlotte. I had to pick my books by the end of June (oh, the pressure!) and one of the books we’re reading from is Joan Jacob Brumberg’s The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls. Published in the late 90s, it looks at the evolution of body image and beauty perception in American girls from the 1800s to the 1990s. Aided by diary excerpts and media images through history, Brumberg, a professor at Cornell University, exposes the shift in thinking over time.
“Before the twentieth century, girls simply did not organize their think- ing about themselves around their bodies,” she writes. “Today . . . they believe that the body is the ultimate expression of the self.”
Ever wonder how bras became a commodity or just how we got to be so consumed with being sexy? She reveals a fascinating cultural history of how we got to where we are (or where we were 10 years ago). From corsets to pretty skin and private piercings to overt sexuality, Brumberg gives a fascinating account of our history and how we came to the “I hate my body” mantra that ruled the 90s and this century thus far.
Earlier physical maturation is a complicating factor, but there is, of course, more to how we got to the point where we “dress little girls in brassieres or bikinis, [and] imply adult behaviors and, unwittingly, mark them as sexual objects.” Brumberg reveals that 53% of girls are dissatisfatised by the age of thirteen and that by 1995, American women and girls were spending more than $100 million on cellulite busters alone. There isn’t a typo there. $100 million on cellulite busters. Just think what we could do for our community with those funds if we hadn’t become so programmed to fixate on our cellulite.