Subscribe to Christianity Today
Marks of His Wounds: Gender Politics and Bodily Resurrection
Beth Felker Jones
Oxford University Press, 2007
168 pp., $73.00
Lauren F. Winner
The Trouble with Bodies
When I was in high school, I read Kim Chernin's now classic manifesto The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness. Chernin's argument—at least the piece of her argument that leapt out at and stayed with me—was that our culture's insistence that white women should be thin is, in fact, infantilizing. Women are asked to look pre-pubescent, dieting away their thighs and breasts, sliming down to boyishness, so that they might not become, or act like, adults.
I recommended The Obsession to all my friends, for we were all obsessed. To the best of my knowledge, none of us ever developed a full-blown eating disorder. We just thought about what we ate all the time. We constantly discussed eating and dieting. We would eat nothing but yogurt for a week, and then we'd go back to eating bologna sandwiches and chicken breasts and chips and slurpees and fruit, and then we'd hate ourselves, and we'd write about it in our diaries, and then we'd go back to yogurt.
In Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, a breezy but insightful journalistic foray into young women's eating, Courtney Martin says it's only gotten worse since I was in high school. In 1995, 34 percent of American high school girls thought they were overweight. Now, 90 percent do. That statistic encompasses a wide range of women, from those who eat healthy, normal meals and feel awful about it to those who suffer from bulimia or anorexia to those who actually are overweight. (Martin says obesity is not wholly different from anorexia; both reflect a distorted sense of food's meaning.) "Colleges are breeding grounds for eating disorders and unhealthy obsession with food," Martin observes. After their second trip of the day to the gym, zealous college dieters head to the cafeteria, where they linger over the mac-and-cheese and then choose the salad bar. They mask their weight-loss intention by claiming they're vegan, or inventing a lactose intolerance.
Martin argues that this bodily self-loathing not only imperils ...