Enough Body Drama! Thank You, Nancy Redd.
I had this odd dream the other night.
My DH and I were sitting at the foot of our bed watching one of my friends give us a “fashion show” of her new bathing suits. Only maybe she was actually modeling new plastic surgery for us, because my friend did not have her own body, she suddenly had a Victoria’s Secret body.
You know the one I’m talking about — large, perky breasts with just the right cleavage, then tiny, toned and fatless from the tummy down. The body (with interchangeable heads) that prances in our faces in Victoria’s Secret commercials any time we turn on network television after 7 p.m.
So, in this dream, after a couple of my VS-bodied friend’s catwalks up and down our hallway-runway, I got annoyed at my husband for just being there, clear to both of us I was having issues with her body (and it’s potential appeal to my husband).
He said to me, smiling, “What’s the matter, Megan? You’re comfortable with your body.”
And I snapped back, “Nobody’s that comfortable!”
I woke up, told him about the dream and had to laugh. The exchange was oddly true-to-life. And I had commented on those commercials the night before, in my usual feminist media studies teacher way, noting how often we see the ads even just watching a couple hours of TV a week.
Dream husband is right, I am generally comfortable with my body — but it was a long road getting here. I went through high school in dance classes feeling fat and watching friends battle anorexia and bulimia, myself sometimes eating only an apple at school all day and then gorging when I got home, and even trying appetite suppresant pills a friend gave me (the only drugs I ever tried through high school and college!). That was all with a rare mother who had a healthy body image, and being naturally thin myself.
It took years of talking and writing, finding friends with healthier body images, taking women’s studies classes in college, and intensely studying gender representations and media in graduate school to truly (almost completely) let go of those deep-seated body issues and feel really good in my skin. I did my Master’s research on The Vagina Monologues, performed in the play three times (!), and I taught college classes in which we tore apart images of women in media.
And, still, I had this Victoria’s Secret dream.
The battle for healthy body image in this culture, for women and increasingly for men, is still raging as wildly as certain other undesirable wars. Even young women (and not-so-young women) who are given every positive message at home must still deal with unrelenting media images of unrealistic, ridiculously seductive women’s bodies that supposedly define “perfection,” thus leaving us to simply buy more and more products in attempt to achieve an impossible look. (Airbrushing. Need I say more?)
I think often about how I will attempt to help my daughter through this inevitable fact of growing up now, female and American.
Then I come across a book like BODY DRAMA: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Redd and I get a breath of renewed hope for my dear little girl. Actually, I sing Hallelujah!!
When MotherTalk sent a call for reviewers of this new book, I emphatically pleaded my case to review it. I wanted to see what this twenty-something former Miss America swimsuit competition winner and Harvard women’s studies graduate had to say to all the young women out there about their bodies.
Bottom line, what Nancy Redd says, and shows, girls and women in this book is, in a word, revolutionary.
It’s not for the prim our faint-hearted, I warn you. Although I also think those are the ones who may need this book most. Nancy Redd leaves no taboo body topic undiscussed — or photographed — in this book, unlike any I’ve ever seen. (Not at all shocking to this Vagina Monologues veteran, but I have no doubt this book will be burned in certain sectors, like many truth-telling tales before it.)
I actually worried a bit at first sight of chapters titled “Boobs” and “Down There” that she wasn’t going to deal with serious issues or take a feminist (read: woman-affirming) perspective. But, in reading the book, I see that she uses these titles to ease girls into the chapters and make them more accessible.
Once inside, Nancy does the serious work of talking straight with her readers about real issues they may face, all the while underlying every discussion with a message to learn to embrace your body and respect yourself, and be healthy without striving for “perfect.” She does an excellent job of tearing apart media images of women, in a comfortable “girlfriend” tone.
BODY DRAMA shows photos of (incredibly brave!) young women, and all their unmentionable body parts, to give the rest of us peace of mind that our bodies are “normal.” (Seriously, I love these girls.) And the book takes on airbrushing (hallelujah!) with a photo spread every person needs to see (page 240).
This amazing young author set out to write the “book she wished she had” growing up female in America (and in the beauty pageant circuit) to help her deal with her body. She uses important research (backed by a Dr. Angela Diaz, Director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center), and courageously reveals her own very personal experiences, to give young women the tools to embrace themselves and all of their uncomfortable bits.
This book is a gift to everyone, really — teenage girls, teenage boys, their parents. It makes women real again in this culture of highly unrealistic images of women.
And she even taught this teacher a few things!
In an interview, Redd says she faced a lot of scrutiny while writing this book, and I sincerely applaud her bravery and faith for continuing on and getting it published as it is. She says her most important advice to young women and their mothers is “to talk!” She explains that, as close as she and her mother were, they never had “the talk,” as she calls it, saying, “nor did she share any of her personal body dramas with me, which left me at a total disadvantage growing up.”
I can relate to this. As mothers, we all try our best to equip our daughters for this complicated world, while also just being women navigating this complicated world ourselves.
For me, I will take Nancy’s advice and talk with my daughter about body dramas as she grows, and I’m saving this book as a tool for later, when we need to discuss some of the most uncomfortable body dramas (and especially ones I didn’t have to deal with as a teen myself — the body piercing stuff? bikini waxing?). She will have plenty of body dramas. I have them. (Even still in my dreams!) And Nancy Redd takes them on with courage, knowledge, humility and compassion.
Thank you, Nancy Redd, for BODY DRAMA, and for sending the message to women young and old and everywhere that our bodies, as they are, are enough.