Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers is a teenage body self-help book written by Nancy Amanda Redd and is now available at Amazon. This is a review written by blue milk for MotherTalk.
By the time your daughter is a teenager (or possibly even younger) and in the heat of some angsty moment tells you that her body is ugly, she will have seen hundreds and thousands of photographs of young women’s bodies – bodies Photoshopped to perfection.
We are submerged in a sea of manufactured commercial beauty. The beauty industry spends a lot of money to make us feel terrible about our bodies in the hope that we will be convinced to buy their products, that is the ‘beauty myth’. You, her parent will tell your daughter that her body is perfectly normal and lovely and she won’t believe you because she will be thinking of all those ‘perfect’ bodies she’s seen. Photographs don’t lie, she will think. And that is why this book is perfectly pitched. Body Drama fights fire with fire – packed with beautiful photographs of young women in many (but not all) shapes and sizes and colours and completely free of the almighty airbrush.
There is no antidote to the problems of body image like the sigh of relief that comes with seeing the real bodies of other girls. Body Drama will give that sense of relief to your daughter. This book shows all the bits that are normally hidden, reshaped, disguised and enhanced. And there is a very real sense of beauty that overcomes you as you look from photograph to photograph of young women, released from the binds of artificial beauty, and just being. (There is nothing like the beauty of youth, what a shame as adolescent women we are forced into the world of self-hatred right at the time when we should be just loving ourselves stupid).
It is this book’s willingness to show all the bits of real bodies that will alarm some parents. Never mind Body Drama’s coy reference to ‘down there’ for a chapter heading, yes, there are vulvas. Yes real ones, yes quite a few. Had this book shied away from vulvas it would have undermined its own message of self-respect, ownership, and acceptance of the body. Some parents may feel horrified at the thought of their daughter seeing these photographs but in reality they will be very, very lucky if this is how their daughter learns about what a vulva looks like. Because in truth, nowadays she is more likely to find out from seeing pornographic photos, either by intention or accident. And if this is what she sees she will not be seeing a vulva like her own, she will see one digitally (and possibly cosmetically) altered to fit the criteria of magazine editors and censorship boards. Girls are as entitled as boys to know what their own genitals look like and how they compare with others. Boys will find out for themselves at a urinal, girls will be forced to wonder and worry. As the author, Nancy Amanda Redd says –
Vulvas get a lot of talk time, but never any face time! So much discussion goes into what is and isn’t normal down there, but without any photos to back the conversation up – only diagrams and illustrations that don’t even resemble the real deal! Nearly every teen I talked to about her body was ashamed of how she looked down there, sometimes because of an insensitive comment from a sexual partner, but mostly because she’d never seen another vulva and didn’t know how they were supposed to look. I decided it was time to give vulvas their fair share of camera time to prove there isn’t one ‘normal’ vajayjay!
But there is a lot more to this book than just those photos and it will be grossly unfair if Body Drama gets reduced to being the vagina book. Body Drama is a sensible, gentle, and thorough book about young women’s bodies. This is not a book about how babies are made or how to survive a break-up with your first boyfriend, Body Drama is purely concerned with the body anxieties of teenage girls. And you forget or don’t want to remember just how many anxieties there were when you were growing up – “acne on your bottom, making an emergency pad, your breasts being different sizes, triple-A-cup breasts, stretchmarks, feeling lumps in your breasts, vaginal secretions, queefs (ie. ‘fanny farts’ in Australia), never feeling thin enough” – and they’re all covered in this book.
Unlike other books for adolescents attempting a young, fun style (that even me in my thirties can see with a wince of horror are dreadfully missing the mark), this book really gets there. One of the book’s many strengths is its decoding of popular culture (read youthful) terms for the things bodies do; the terms used sniggeringly at school which can leave a less-knowing teenager embarrassed into silence, the terms their parents will be of no help in understanding.
And OK yeah, what do I know about Body Drama’s credibility with ‘the youth’? Well I got a twelve-year old girl to review the book for me and she thought it was tops. (That’s young kid speak for ‘cool’, OK I’m kidding about that word.. but not about the girl’s review). Here are her thoughts, she was adorably mature about the whole task for me, as you can see.
“I would definitely recommend this book… it really is a breath of fresh air amidst all the air-brushed photos of models, misleading stereotypes of how girls ‘should’ look, and obsessing over how we look. I believe that the book will make girls feel a lot better about their own bodies, because this book shows us that we really aren’t alone and that other girls and young women go through the exact same thing”.
Besides the photos how does Body Drama do all this? Basically the book tackles a whole bunch of issues under a few general headings; skin, boobs, down there, hair/mouth/nails, and shapes. With each general topic Nancy Amanda Redd discloses one of her own youthful embarrassments, because if we’re all about demystifying this stuff to make it less undermining to teenage girls then we have to be willing to lay our own cards on the table too. And part of her motivation is to ultimately inspire teenage girls to talk about their most cringe-worthy problems with someone because as we all know keeping your concerns inside really just makes you feel worse. The chapter then goes on to name some of the things your body could be doing to cause you concern and it talks about what’s going on medically speaking, why it’s mostly no big deal, and then how to prevent yourself becoming embarrassed about it. Body Drama occasionally sounds glib with these ‘solutions’, but mostly they’re thoughtful and confidence-boosting.
So I love the book, but there are a couple of things here that I don’t love, love, love. Here’s what I can live with in Body Drama but which doesn’t fill me with giant feminist smiles. Redd, who proudly boasts a Harvard degree with honours in women’s studies and a Miss America swimsuit title is very comfortable buying into the beauty myth. The book provides tips on tanning, hair removal, dealing with botched dye jobs, and how to shave properly, without any real questioning of our cultural obsession with these feminine ‘work assignments’. Yeah I buy into this stuff too and I know most teenage girls really want this information, but I would have liked to see just a teensy little bit of feminist questioning included with all these tips. Why do we do all this shit? Why do we feel bad about ourselves when we don’t do all this shit? After all, this is a book attempting to get teenage girls to reject unrealistic beauty standards and build their self esteem by appreciating their real bodies.
While almost all the extreme aspects of the beauty myth are rejected in Body Drama, breast reductions are given ‘the inspiring before and after’ photo treatment (accompanied of course by the obligatory but cursory – but remember “breast reduction is serious surgery.. can leave you with scarring and less sensitivity”). The ‘before and after’ photographs do quite a bit to undermine the seriousness of surgery, because you can’t see ‘serious’, you can’t see ‘scarring’, and you can’t see ‘less sensitivity’ in these photos. Instead you see surgically improved, ‘gimme some of those’ breasts, which is the whole problem with ‘before and after’ surgery photos.
Finally, a word on fat. Body image issues are pretty much guaranteed to rate at the top of the teenage girls’ body drama list and I was putting a lot of pressure on this book to get it totally and completely right. And Body Drama gets a lot of it right. Eating disorders? Check. The problem with diets? Check. Healthy eating and exercise? Check. Beautiful photographs of girls of different sizes? Check. Beautiful photographs of really fat girls? Check. Beautiful photographs of really fat girls naked? Check. Promoting health at every size, including de-constructing the BMI and other fat myths? Dream on! Oh Body Drama, you came close, but not close enough to getting it right.
OK so Body Drama is almost, but not completely perfect, so why buy this book instead of all the other books out there for your teenage daughter? All books for your daughter will tell her that the secret to being attractive is to be self-confident, all books will tell her that she is normal, and all books will tell her to resist peer group pressure and make decisions for herself about her body, but only this book, Body Drama will actually provide the self-esteem boost she needs to achieve those things. Body Drama says see, actually none of us are perfect and what’s more, real girls like you are so lovely with all your imperfections that you, and not the airbrushed models have been used to illustrate this book.
Body Drama gets it, and when your daughter does too, she will be one step closer to lifetime contentment.