Books, Articles & Films
Andersen, A., Cohn, L., & Holbrook, T. (2000). Making Weight: Men’s Conflicts With Food, Weight, Shape and Appearance. Carlsbad: Gurze Books.
Medical doctors Andersen and Holbrook along with Cohn, M.A.T., offer this ground-breaking work on body issues facing today’s male. According to the authors, “ [Men] diet in record numbers, annually spend $150 million on cosmetic surgery…and male eating disorders are on the rise.” This book was written to help men learn how to love their appearance and care for their bodies in healthy and natural ways. Issues addressed include body shape obsessions and concerns related to body composition, eating behaviors and disorders, low body image and sexuality, and male emotional responses to trauma and “turning points”. Biological definitions are given for terms like overweight, hunger, satiety, set points, brain chemistry and weight regulation. Practical advice is also given for healthy living and the treatment of men’s problems.
Bordo, S. (1993). Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Professor Susan Bordo seeks “to understand how women participate in cultural practices which objectify them.” She expounds on the concept of “mind/body dualism”, and encourages people to learn to “read the body”. The relationship between consumerism and the cultural representations of female appetite and eating are discussed. Bordo also illustrates how the self is constructed and experienced as a result of various forms of media in popular culture.
Braziel, J. & LeBesco, K. (eds.). (2001). Bodies out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Editors Braziel and LeBesco hold doctorate degrees in women’s studies and communication respectively. The essays in this collection provide a historical framework for “contemporary conceptions of fatness”. Corpulence is analyzed in the contexts of media representations, gender, identity, sexuality, nationality and social oppression.
Brown, C. & Jasper, K. (eds.). (1993). Consuming passions : feminist approaches to weight preoccupation and eating disorders. Toronto, Ont. : Second Story Press.
Feminist Psychotherapists Catrina Brown and Karin Jasper, Ph.D., edit this volume of Canadian authored essays with the belief that it will serve as a practical guide, assisting women in understanding their personal preoccupation with weight and eating disorders, as well as offering clinical strategies for therapists/counselors who provide care to them. This book elaborates on such themes as fat oppression and intolerance, dieting and its effects, weight preoccupation in black women (in the context of racism), emotional eating and entitlement, sexual violence, family alcoholism, and feminist therapy practices.
Brownell, K. Puhl, R., Schwartz, M., & Rudd, L. (eds.). (2005) Weight Bias: Nature, Consequences, and Remedies, New York: The Guilford Press.
This multi-authored collection of essays investigates discrimination against people classified as overweight. Weight based discrimination and its consequences are examined within the settings of employment, health care, and the media, as well as the social networks of children and adolescents. This four part volume fleshes out the character and prevalence of weight bias, offers explanations for its origins, and provides strategies for combating weight-based discrimination in both the legal and health care systems and in the media.
Brumberg, J. (1988). Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa. New York: Vintage Press.
Professor Brumberg uses medically documented cases to chronicle the history of anorexia nervosa from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries. She argues that “food refusing behaviors” developed as a response to the secularization and medicalization processes which evolved during this time period. Brumberg believes that “we need to comprehend what food has meant to women at different points in time and how the food vocabulary of one historical period differs from that of another.” In order to understand and treat anorexia nervosa, Brumberg points out that “we must consider the symbolic value of what is rejected” and “decode the changing meaning of the refusal of food.”
Brumberg, Joan Jacobs (1997). The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, Vintage Books: New York.
In this richly detailed and highly readable volume, examines the ways American women’s attitudes toward their own bodies have changed over the last century. She examines such things as health pamphlets, advertising, medical advice and popular culture, and uses excerpts from the diaries of girls and young women to illustrate changing attitudes toward such issues as menstruation, sexual activity, acne, weight and body shape. She makes a powerful and convincing argument that over the last hundred years, while girls and women have faced fewer social and physical restrictions, they have been increasingly encouraged to monitor and control their own bodies through diet, exercise, cosmetics and cosmetic surgery. While this trend has been very profitable for providers of beauty services and products, it has harmed the self-esteem, and often the health, of American girls and women.
Cash, T. & Pruzinsky, T. (eds.). (1990). Body Images: Development, Deviance, and Change. New York: The Guilford Press.
Chernin, K. (1985). The Hungry Self: Women, Eating and Identity. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, Inc.
Psychologist and author Kim Chernin endeavors to find answers to “the philosophical and analytical questions about female hunger.” Chernin believes that a woman’s struggle for identity is at the core of her eating disorder and she locates this struggle in the mother-daughter relationship. Based on her own experience and those of the many women she has counseled, Chernin surmises that behind the fear, shame and guilt of an eating disorder is a daughter reluctant to surpass her mother, and a mother “who cannot easily send her daughter’s off into a world larger than she knew.”
Chernin, Kim (1981) The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness, Harper and Row, New York.
Chernin argues that “The body hold meaning.” In other words, the way we feel about our bodies is a reflection of our feelings about our place in the world. Chernin examines the ways women’s lives and bodies have been shaped by society. She suggests that women’s current level of dissatisfaction with their bodies reveals the struggles of being a female in a patriarchal culture.
Chernin, Kim (1987). Reinventing Eve: Modern Woman in Search of Herself, Harper and Row, New York.
Chernin analyzes the story of Eve and the way it has shaped women’s understandings of their social roles and their bodies. She draws tools from historical and psychoanalytical analysis to demonstrate the myriad and complex ways women are taught to fear food and regard eating as simultaneously sinful, pleasurable and dangerous.
Craig, S. (1992) Men, Masculinity, and the Media, Newbury Park: Sage.
Davis, K. (1995) Reshaping the Female Body: The Dilemma of Cosmetic Surgery, New York: Routledge Press.
Clinical psychologist Kathy Davis applies her unique feminist analysis to the complex issues surrounding cosmetic plastic surgery and various factors which have given rise to “the surgical fix”. Davis conducted several empirical studies as the basis for this book. An exploratory study allowed Davis to “become familiar with the kinds of accounts women give of their experiences with their bodies and how they explain their decisions to be altered surgically.” Because this study took place in the Netherlands within a system of socialized medicine, Davis’ clinical study allowed her to “explore the motives” of women from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Three predominate themes run throughout Davis’ work with respect to cosmetic surgery: identity, agency, and morality.
Dowling, Colette (2000) The Frailty Myth: Redefining the Physical Potential of Women and Girls, Random House: New York.
Although it is often assumed that men are naturally bigger, stronger and more suited to sports than women, Dowling argues that some of these seemingly biological differences are actually the result of girls and women being systematically discouraged from developing and using our bodies to their full potential. She examines the historical development of the “frailty myth,” the notion that women are naturally weak and delicate and limited by both anatomy and hormones. She draws on the latest research to show the ways this “frailty myth” harms women and girls, physically, academically and even professionally.
Edut, O. (1998) Adios Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity, Scattle: Seal Press.
Ophira Edut, founding publisher of HUES magazine, believes that power is at the heart of women’s angst over their bodies. Although women attempt to exert control over the one thing they can, their bodies, the endless pursuit of body perfection becomes a diversion from “painful realit[ies]” such as rejection, racial discrimination, or physical and psychological abuse. This collection of personal essays serves as “a forum where women of diverse cultures, and identities…gather to chronicle their experiences…” and find true power in accepting themselves and their bodies.
Goodman, W. (1995) The Invisible Woman: Confronting Weight Prejudice in America, Carlsbad: Gurze Books.
In this book, Goodman likens the overweight woman to a “full-figured phantom.” Scrutinized and continuously criticized, the “invisible woman” is subjected to a constant stream of social prejudice, stereotypes and double standards. Weight prejudices are discussed in relation to sexuality, mass media, and the health and weight loss industries. The author also comments on “German- Fascist aesthetics and the similarities between anti-Semitism and American anti-fat propaganda.”
Grogan, Sarah. Body Image; Understanding Body Dissatisfaction in Men, Women and Children. London: Routledge, 1999.
Gorgan examines the many factors that shape body image among children and adult men and women. She considers the ways things such as magazines and children’s toys shape our expectations for our own bodies, and our stereotypes about people of all shapes and sizes.
Handler, S. (2000). The Body Burden: Living in the Shadow of Barbie. Cape Canaveral: Blue Note Publications, Inc..
Author Stacey Handler shares the deeply personal struggle she has had with a body image/eating disorder. She observes that, “As a society, we buy into this perfect image that has been placed as a mental burden on the shoulders of women everywhere.” Contributing to Handler’s unique burden is the reality that she is the granddaughter of the creators of that “larger than life icon” the Barbie doll. She attributes her own body image dilemma in large part to Barbie and what this doll has come to symbolize in American culture.
Hesse-Biber, S. (1996) Am I Thin Enough Yet? The Cult of American Thinness and the Commercialization of Identity, New York: Oxford University Press.
Author Sharlene Hesse-Biber, professor of women’s studies, observes that “Historically, women have always gone to great lengths to transform themselves to meet the changing cultural requirements of femininity.” Today, she notes, thin is in. She argues that the American woman’s quest for thinness is frighteningly cult-like and she seeks to understand why women in particular are most susceptible to eating disorders. Hess-Biber provides a historical overview of the development of America’s “cult of thinness,” and discusses the many ways patriarchy and capitalism promote female thinness as a way of subordinating and exploiting women. This book is based in part on a study she conducted on 60 college-age women over the course of eight years.
Jean Kilbourne (1979) Killing Us Softly; (1987) Still Killing Us Softly; (2000) Killing Us Softly 3.
In these three documentaries. Media critic Jean Kilbourne examines the ways advertisements sell more than just products: they sell powerful ideas about gender, sexuality, beauty, desire, pleasure, even violence. She uses striking examples taken from the mass media to illustrate the ways advertisements create rigid and oppressive standards for women and men in our culture, and she argues that such standards are potentially harmful to our health, well-being and relationships.
Jean Kilbourne (1999) Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, Touchstone, New York.
Kilbourne, maker of the classic Killing Us Softly documentary series, presents her arguments in written form in this volume. She provides vivid examples of the way commercial culture makes sexualizes women and girls, making the female body into an object of desire even while revealing a contempt for women and all things “feminine.” She discusses the negative effects of such images, not only on women and girls but on boys and men, and on the culture as a whole.
Kilbourne, B. (2002). Disappearing Persons: Shame and appearance. Albany: State University of New York Press.
Kitch, C. (2001) The Girl on the Magazine Cover: The Origins of Visual Stereotypes in American Mass Media, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
The iconic images of women’s faces on the covers of American magazines prevalent in the early twentieth century became the first mass media stereotype. Women’s Studies Ph.D. Carolyn Kitch argues that “current media definitions of and debates about femininity, masculinity, class, status and Americanness have their origins in media of a century ago.” The faces portrayed on the magazine covers conveyed specific types of beauty as well as idealized attributes such as “youth, innocence, sophistication, modernity and upward mobility.” Kitch endeavors to understand how media imagery works to create, transform, and perpetuate certain cultural ideals “and maintain those ideals” over the course of time.
Kuczynski, Alex (2006) Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery, Doubleday: New York.
Part expose, part memoir, Beauty Junkies examines the growing popularity of cosmetic surgery in America. Kuczynski notes that we currently spend $15 billion each year on cosmetic surgery, and the number of patients and procedures is rising dramatically. Kuczynski highlights some of the excesses of the industry, which now offers procedures such as vaginal rejuvenation (“revirginization”) for women and fake bullet scars for status conscious he-men. The author suggests that the industry is not adequately regulated and she recounts several harrowing tales of medical malpractice. However, she does not provide the statistical information that would allow readers to judge how widespread such problems are. Despite her criticisms of the industry and the unrealistic beauty ideals to which it contributes, Kuczynski comes to the defense of the practice, arguing that we should all be free to change our bodies as we see fit. Arguably, this “choice” position obscures the powerful pressures people face today to conform to norms of absolute bodily perfection.
Lowe, Margaret A. Looking Good: College Women and Body Image, 1875-1930. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.
Lowe discusses the introduction of women into higher education and the arguments made by men to keep women out of higher institutions. Many men argued that women’s bodies could not withstand the stress associated from mental exertion. It was argued that if a woman exerted herself to much mentally, she would injure herself physically, rendering herself unfit for childbirth and later on motherhood. Diseases such as hysteria and uterine infections were said to be caused by too much study. Lowe suggests that college women are still evaluated first on their physical features rather than on their abilities and achievements.
Maine, M. (2000) Body Wars: Making Peace with Women’s Bodies, Carlsbad: Gurze Books.
Clinical psychologist Margo Maine argues that, women are at war with their own bodies. Instead of fighting the enemy of culture, we fight ourselves. Maine invites us to question culturally based assumptions about beauty which are propagated through such venues as the media, beauty pageants, and the diet and fashion industries. Chapter by chapter she analyzes the issues which inevitably become ammunition in our “body wars”. This book serves as an “activist’s guide”, offering a plan of attack to engage the enemy--our culture-- and “transform our society into one where women and their bodies will be respected and nurtured instead of abused and neglected.”
Monroe, J. (2004). Steroids, Sports, and Body Image: The Risks of Performance-Enhancing Drugs. Berkeley Heights: Enslow Publishers, Inc..
Author Judy Monroe looks at steroids, their use in sports performance, and body image enhancement. Reversible and irreversible side effects associated with steroid use are delineated. Health consequences range in severity from mild to severe and in some cases fatal. Some of them are: acne, male pattern baldness, sleep disturbances, hormonal imbalances, and manic symptoms including depression, aggression, and suicide. Loss of libido, sterility, cancer, organ damage or failure as well as breast development in males and the development of masculine body traits in women are also risks associated with steroid use.
Orbach, Susie (1978) Fat is a Feminist Issue, Berkeley Books, New York.
In this classic self-help book, psychotherapist Orbach asserts that “Fat is not about food. Fat is about protection, sex, mothering, strength, assertion and love.” And above all, “Fat is a feminist issue.” That is, our society’s current obsession with slender women reflects a culture that fears women’s power and thus seeks to keep women small, weak, non-threatening and too distracted by bodily appearance to fight for political, economic and social equality.
Pope, H., Phillips, K., & Olivardia, R. (2000) The Adonis Complex: The Secret of Male Body Obsession, New York: The Free Press.
Medical doctors Pope and Phillips along with Olivardia, Ph.D. argue that body dissatisfaction has emerged as a “silent epidemic” among men. The super-male has become the standard of masculinity in our culture leaving many men trying desperately to measure up. A constant barrage of media images fuels societal expectations about body appearance in males. Adding to this pressure are the messages associated with each image of the muscle-bound male: social, sexual, and financial success depends on how well you mold your body to this image. The Adonis Complex explores such issues as male body obsession, steroids, eating disorders and Body Dismorphic Disorder.
Rhodes, C. (2003). Life Inside the “Thin” Cage: A Personal Look Into the Hidden World of the Chronic Dieter. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press.
Based on her personal experience, author Constance Rhodes focuses on chronic dieting. Although this is a common and socially accepted practice, discussions about “the grip it has on so many people’s lives” are rare. Here, Rhodes takes a look at a practice “which can be just as serious as an eating disorder emotionally, physically, and relationally.” She discusses denial, shame, making choices based on fear, the expectations of others, triggers and “internal dialogue[s] which spur on our unhealthy behaviors.”
Sault, N. (ed.). (1994). Many Mirrors: Body Image and Social Relations. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Editor Nicole Sault is an anthropologist who views society and the body as “reciprocal mirrors, each reflecting the consequences of the other’s conscious wishes and repressed desires.” Each essay in this volume focuses on a particular aspect of “the mirroring process” and discusses the various ways that men and women learn to express, repress and control themselves by way of their bodies. Cross cultural examples are given on topics such as body marking and alteration, and the “social and bodily meanings” of rape, pregnancy and childbirth, aging, body image and eating disorders.
Seid, R. (1991) Never Too Thin: Why Women are at War With Their Bodies, New York: Prentice Hall Press.
Shanker, Wendy (2004) The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, Bloomsbury: New York.
In this funny and irreverent book, Shanker reflects on her own experiences as a plus-size woman in a world that idealizes stick-thin supermodels and celebrities. She encourages women of all shapes and sizes to reject our society’s oppressive body standards and love the bodies they have. She argues persuasively and with humor that our time, money and emotional energy are too precious to waste on trying to conform to such ideals. “There are too many women just like me,” she writes, “who know more information about fat grams than about foreign policy, who spend more time counting calories than communicating with friends. That ain’t right.”
Shields, Vickie Rutledge. Measuring Up: How Advertising Affects Self-Image. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Shields argues that today’s media send unrealistic messages to women and men about their bodies. The images found on television, advertisements and in magazines are technologically enhanced or airbrushed to ensure a more appealing look. This causes women and men to have feelings of being estranged from their own bodies and societies, restricted in their actions by directives from peers and the mass media.
Silver, A. (2002). Victorian Literature and the Anorexic Body. Cambridge: University Press.
Women’s Studies and English Professor Anna Krugovoy Silver examines the “gendered activity” of eating and its linkage to social class. She writes that “anorexia nervosa developed in and still overwhelmingly affects women from affluent families…”. Silver explores this relationship between anorexia and social class in her analysis of Victorian era literature beginning with an examination of period beauty manuals, medical texts, “conduct books”, and poetry. She also includes critiques on juvenile and adult fiction from the works of noted authors such as Lewis Caroll, Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Bram Stocker and Christina Rosetti.
Stern, Susan (1998) Barbie Nation: An Unauthorized Tour, New Day Films: Harriman, NY.
Barbie Nation examines the place of the Barbie doll in American culture and the American psyche. Stern includes eyebrow-raising segments on adult Barbie collectors, Barbie imitators, Barbie artists and Barbie fetishists. Interview segments with Barbie designer and Mattel cofounder Ruth Handler are juxtaposed with segments of little girls revealing the lessons Barbie teaches them, and of young women struggling to come to terms with their decidedly un-Barbie-like physiques.
Thompson, B. (1994). A Hunger So Wide and So Deep: A Multiracial View Of Women’s Eating Problems. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Sociologist Becky Thompson dispels the erroneous notion that eating disorders are suffered only by “young, middle-to upper- class heterosexual white women desperately trying to mold their figures to standards created by advertisers and clothing designers.”
In this book, Thompson includes portions of interviews and the biographical sketches of 18 women of various ages, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Their stories reveal lives full of pain: memories of rape, incest, poverty, racism, cultural assimilation, homophobia, violence and abuse. For them, compulsive eating has served to numb the pain of these traumas. Thompson asserts that “the prevention of eating problems depends on changing the social conditions that support violence and injustice”: “economic, cultural, racial, political, and sexual [in] justice.”
Tuchman, G., Daniels A. & Benet J. (1978) Hearth and Home: Images of Women in the Mass Media, New York: Oxford University.
Wolf, Naomi (1991) The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women, New York: Vintage Books.
In this ground-breaking book, Wolf examines the construction of increasingly unrealistic ideals of beauty, and the ways such ideals trap women in a futile quest for physical perfection. She looks at the multitude of messages women get about beauty, from their workplaces, religious institutions, the cosmetics, weight loss and plastic surgery industries, and the mass media. She argues that such messages are potentially detrimental to women’s physical, emotional and even financial well-being. She concludes by advocating a critical appraisal of today’s exacting beauty standards and an adoption of more “prowoman” definitions of beauty. This is an eye-opening volume, guaranteed to make you see the world differently.
Wykes, Maggie, and Barrie Gunter. The Media & Body Image. London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2005.
The authors examine the ways women’s body image and attitudes toward food are shaped by the mass media. Special attention is given to the links between the media and eating disorders including anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The book brings together material from gender studies, sociology, psychology and history along with new empirical works on both the media representations and the responses from the audience.
Gilday, Katherine (1990) The Famine Within, Filmakers Library: New York (55 minutes).
This documentary examines the current obsession with thinness and its negative effects on women’s lives. Through interviews, media clips and staged segments the filmmaker looks at unrealistic ideals of feminine beauty and the lengths to which women will go to achieve them. Younger viewers may find some of the visual examples slightly dated, but the arguments are still thought-provoking.
Judy Holm, Michael McNamara & Ann Marie Fleming (2004) Flatly Stacked, Filmakers Library: New York (52 minutes).
This quirky documentary examines the challenges of being a small-breasted woman in a breast-obsessed culture. The filmmakers use cartoons, bra advertisements, clips from sex education films, humorous anecdotes, and interviews with “flatly stacked” women to examine society’s fixation on the breast. These women discuss their struggles for self acceptance and their attempts to conform to the more curvaceous norm by padding their bras and even contemplating cosmetic surgery. Ultimately, however, we see women who learn to love their bodies.
Robertson, Dylan (2003) The Size of It, Filmakers Library: New York (30 minutes).
In this short documentary film, director Dylan Robertson gives the audience a glimpse into the lives of a group of women classified as “obese” by our society. We see their everyday challenges, including their painful experiences of weight-based discrimination. However, we also see their triumphs as they discuss body acceptance and the pleasures of “living large” in a culture where slenderness is associated with beauty, virtue, success and social worth.