January 3, 2008

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Body Drama, by Nancy Amanda Redd (2008, Gotham Books, 271 pages)
Reviewed by Amy Diaz news@hippopress.com

What a useful, terrifying, informative, hilarious, frightening book.

Words, I guess, that also explain the aging process, particularly of the teen years through twentysomething that this book is aimed at illuminating for “real girls” with “real bodies” and “real issues” looking for “real answers” — all “reals” that appear on the cover by way of explaining the information within. Redd is actually a former Miss Virginia and won the swimsuit competition at Miss America. Dr. Angela Diaz (no relation to me), director of the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center, says in the book’s forward that the book seeks to give teen girls answers to their assorted medical questions, the kinds of things they are often too scared or embarrassed to ask anybody, even a doctor. She admits that the book features some pretty graphic pictures, of, again, from the cover, “shape, skin, down there, boobs, hair & nails,” but her reasoning is that real woman and their real bodies are necessary to girls who are desperate to know, more than anything, if they are normal.

The result is a number of pictures of girls, with a Dove-ad-campaign-like diversity of body sizes, in their bra and underwear (or less). And though it might sound like that would make the book bait for the little brothers of the world (though these are real, unretouched parts, which is a whole different kind of naked), I can understand how seeing girls with similar boobs or a similar stomach makes the reader feel better about her own body. The pictures and the book are very girl positive, very be-healthy-but-love-yourself. And speaking of Dove, like that company’s ad featuring a model manipulated (with makeup and hair people and computer air brushing) to portray supernatural beauty on a billboard advertising makeup, Body Drama features several unretouched pictures of normal girls and then magazine-style airbrushed photos that give them smoother clearer skin, better hair and more beauty-standard-typical physiques. Don’t compare yourself to women who don’t exist, the photo spread’s message seems to be.

Body Drama is a useful primer on some basics of health — one with entries about zits, dry skin and weight issues that, sadly, are just as relevant in your 30s as they are when you’re a high schooler contemplating prom. The book goes over all the standard subjects that — depending on her teacher’s squeamishness or her school board’s prudishness — a girl might not have learned in health class: sexually transmitted infections, various forms of birth control, assorted gynecological maladies, how to do a proper breast self-exam and how to stay healthy with diet and exercise. There is also the stuff that might fall more in the realm of promoting good mental health — sections on sex, abuse, self-mutilation and body image. The less urgent issues such as bra and underwear fit, excess hair, poor beauty product choices, birth marks and assorted kinds of stinkiness are also discussed, often followed by a short section called “what if they notice” that perfectly captures the teenage fear that your equally stinky, overly made-up, wrong-underwear-wearing peers will call attention to your faults.

This isn’t a book for very young girls — the photos of the body parts and body ailments can give even girls who are technically too old to be calling themselves “girls” a shock. But, should you find a subtle, non-judgmental way to give your older teen this book without, like, giving it to them, it can serve as a handy guide. BAmy Diaz