THE FRIGHTENING NEW NORMALITY OF HATING YOUR BODY
BY COURTNEY E. MARTIN
I can truly say I have never read a book like ‘Perfect Girls and Starving Daughters’. I have surrounded myself by fiction books – and perhaps this is why I found it such a massive breath of fresh air; but I have a feeling the reason I found it so refreshing is because I was finally hearing the truth. Having stumbled upon Courtney E. Martin after listening to her lecture on modern feminism on TedTalks I found a video of her book reading, a few years back, of her (then) new book; I ordered it immediately...and couldn't put it down.
The title comes from the two sides to a girl’s personality: on the outside there is the perfect girl who wants to achieve good grades, go to a good university and have a successful career and inside there is the starving daughter who would much rather slob out and eat ice cream in front of Gossip Girl. There’s a constant struggle between the two and the book is full of anecdotes of how this struggle has turned out – eating disorders, a wide variety of sorts, lots of girls starting off ‘I don’t have an eating disorder, but....’ There is a widespread silence about the varying eating disorders within our society – the definitions of ‘anorexia’ and ‘bulimia’ are so limiting that even people who purge say twice a week are not diagnosed with ‘bulimia’ and go unnoticed by medical professionals. These definitions of eating disorders themselves are relatively recent; with a lot of older women noting that they knew that girls starved themselves or purged but didn’t realise that it was a disease.
Martin discusses the effects of the relationships that mothers have with their own bodies on their daughters bodies; the prevalence of eating disorders in university cafeterias with girl’s grading their own meal choices on the girl’s next to them; the laborious struggle to get ourselves truly on to the career ladder after university and how the shock to the system when life isn’t as easy on us as it is on a programme on MTV can send girls ricocheting into eating disorder madness.
There is a slight sense of ‘oh god, we’re doomed’ about the book; none of the girls interviewed speak positively about their bodies and overly ‘modest’ about their achievements. Part of me wonders whether this is an exaggeration but the other part can look through my own friendship group, far away from America and it’s obsession with food and see a group of girls, each with their own struggle to love their body and a struggle either with a full-blown eating disorder or at least an ‘unhealthy’ relationship with food. Food aside I can also see a constant struggle to be high-achievers and still modest and graceful. A girl who boasts about her achievements is hated and bitched about; a guy who boasts about his achievements...?
This book has definitely not only ‘made me think’ but changed the way I view my relationship with my own body; my relationship with the food that I eat and the choices which I make based on these relationships. It’s also made me realise that there is some hope for us all if we all start being honest with ourselves and speaking up more about this struggle which we face.