Monday, November 12, 2007

Literary Monday: If you are female, or interested in females, you should read this book

I went to the library on Wednesday last week to find some new books to read. I left with only two, and couldn't help but start reading one of them walking back to work. I stayed up late a few of the nights since then to finish it, because it was fabulous, but more in a "holy crap someone gets it!" kind of way than the kind of page turner you might think. It was, in fact, not fiction at all. The title of the book caught my attention, but once I realized that it was written by someone my age and for/about women my age/in my generation, there was no going back. It was coming home with me. The book? Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney Martin.

I've made no secret on this blog about my history of disordered eating, my body image issues, being torn between two worlds or schools of thought on how my body should look/how I should treat it. Reading this book helped me to realize how very not alone I am in this problem. Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters is part memoir, part theme/topic, and the best piece of writing I've ever read about the pervasiveness of disordered eating and associated behavior, not only the statistics but WHY it happens (and why it's so common). While my personal experience wasn't exactly like that of the author's (I was a ballerina, not a basketball player, so there were different pressures for thinness; my experience in college was very different, though I knew girls whose food/exercise issues got worse in college just as Martin describes), the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors Martin explores, starting in childhood and following through to early adulthood, resonated strongly with me. Part of me is truly glad for my low blood sugar issues, since they've probably kept me from the worst my disordered eating/exercising/body image could have been over the years (iron willpower is one thing, but if you experience severe mood swings and then pass out when you don't eat, being anorexic is more difficult).

Reading Martin's book made me realize just how pervasive the problem is, and what life is like for millions of girls and women all over the world. Of my female friends, I know very few with healthy attitudes toward eating and exercise. The ones who seem to have it worst I recognized as having the personality traits of Martin's "perfect girls". While I see a lot of myself in the personal stories shared throughout the book, I'm also relieved that I've never quite taken things as far as others have. In some ways, I've given up on being perfect because I've realized it's impossible. But it was really scary how much of Martin's book rang true for me, perhaps because we are the same age, but perhaps because, being in my generation, she was really able to hit the nail on the head when she says as (girl) children, we were told we could be/do anything, yet many of us took that to mean we had to do everything. The roles played by our parents, by our upbringings, by popular culture and the media clearly all factor into the dire situation many women in my generation face. I've had many of the thoughts and opinions Martin shares throughout her book, but never have I seen them all written down in one place. If you are a woman ages 9-35; if you date or are married to one; if you have or ever plan to have daughters I highly recommend reading this book.


Cilicious said...

I had "planned" to have a daughter but it just didn't work out.
Sad as the topic is, I am glad to see it has not been swept back under the rug. It is really hard for me to understand this issue, but I certainly have known many women who cope with it.
One of the most heartrending eating disorder situations I've ever come across was a 30-something preschool mom of mine.
She had a sweet three year old son, Teddy, who dealt with his mother's periodic visits to the hospital. Teddy did not know what was wrong with his mom.
All he knew was that he desperately missed her whenever she had to leave. I really could see her pain and his confusion.

Leah said...

I've always kind of had the attitude that if a problem doesn't affect me (see: most of the so-called girl problems) I don't need to worry about it. Then I realized, holy shit, what if I have a kid who grows up with those issues. So now I try to care more and learn about things that, while they may not affect me directly, probably affect someone I love. Thanks for reinforcing that.