Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters by Courtney E. Martin

"Why does every one of my friends have an eating disorder, or, at the very least, a screwed-up approach to food and fitness?" writes journalist Courtney E. Martin. The new world culture of eating disorders and food and body issues affects virtually all -- not just a rare few -- of today's young women. They are your sisters, friends, and colleagues -- a generation told that they could "be anything," who instead heard that they had to "be everything." Driven by a relentless quest for perfection, they are on the verge of a breakdown, exhausted from overexercising, binging, purging, and depriving themselves to attain an unhealthy ideal.

An emerging new talent, Courtney E. Martin is the voice of a young generation so obsessed with being thin that their consciousness is always focused inward, to the detriment of their careers and relationships. Health and wellness, joy and love have come to seem ancillary compared to the desire for a perfect body. Even though eating disorders first became generally known about twenty-five years ago, they have burgeoned, worsened, become more difficult to treat and more fatal (50 percent of anorexics who do not respond to treatment die within ten years). Consider these statistics:

  • Ten million Americans suffer from eating disorders.
  • Seventy million people worldwide suffer from eating disorders.
  • More than half of American women between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five would pre fer to be run over by a truck or die young than be fat.
  • More than two-thirds would rather be mean or stupid.
  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological disease.

In Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, Martin offers original research from the front lines of the eating disorders battlefield. Drawn from more than a hundred interviews with sufferers, psychologists, nutritionists, sociocultural experts, and others, her exposé reveals a new generation of "perfect girls" who are obsessive-compulsive, overachieving, and self-sacrificing in multiple -- and often dangerous -- new ways. Young women are "told over and over again," Martin notes, "that we can be anything. But in those affirmations, assurances, and assertions was a concealed pressure, an unintended message: You are special. You are worth something. But you need to be perfect to live up to that specialness."

With its vivid and often heartbreaking personal stories, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters has the power both to shock and to educate. It is a true call to action and cannot be missed.
When Dewey read this book she broke it up into chapters for her reviews. I think I am going to try and do about the same, but will probably read about three chapters per review. She has all the quotes and things in her reviews, so it doesn't make much sense for me to repeat them.


To read all the notes that Dewey took on this chapter, click here.

I was hooked on this book from the very first paragraph. The facts that she was presenting were actually really interesting to me. Dewey talks about how she has a healthy relationship with both food and exercise. I am not sure what I have. I am not in the extreme group, but I don't have the best eating habits in the world. The book says that the average woman spends 100 minutes a day (at least) worrying about their weight and other contributing factors. I don't think I do that. I do have my moments, but for the most part my size doesn't dictate my life.

The thing that totally blew my mind in just this first section was when it said:
Women 18 to 25: 50% would rather be run over by a truck than overweight.
2/3 would rather be mean or stupid than overweight.
I actually had to pause at this part of the book because, well, I honestly cannot believe that people think like that! I do have my moments where I have had a terrible day and am feeling overwhelmed, but I have never wanted to be hit by a truck because of my weight. That's crazy! As to the mean and stupid, while I would never want to be either of those things, I can understand where the ideas coming from. Society is way more concerned with looks than it is with brains and being a nice person. That's a sad fact!

Dewey said:
I’m mostly reading this book to stay professionally informed (I work with teenage girls), but I also have a personal interest because I strongly believe that our culture is toxic, and I’m particularly interested in the ways it’s unhealthy for women.
As to why I am reading this book, it is a lot about curiousity. I agree with Dewey in that our culture is toxic, so I will be interested to see how this is addressed in the rest of the book.

Chapter 1 - "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters"

To read all the notes that Dewey took on this chapter, click here.

Dewey said:
I admire Martin’s writing. This is one of the rare non-fiction books that, if I had more time, I could just read straight through, gobbling it up. She also has a chatty, informal tone: she calls the DSM-IV “the big book that psychologists use to label what kind of crazy everyone is.”
I totally agree with this! I really enjoy how this book is written. It is not tying me down with loads of information, but I am learning. I also like how she is informal. She is getting the information across, but in a more conversational method than some non-fiction books use.

I am liking that the book is not just about eating disorders. It is also about a female's need to be a perfectionist. I can totally see that in my own life in so many ways, so it is something I can relate to. I don't have a great relationship with food, but it is also not something that I stress about all the time. There are many other things that bother me.

“We are tired of trying so hard all the time. We feel like giving up. We feel hopeless. We want love, acceptance, happy endings, and rest.”
This sentence, especially, sounds a lot like how I live my life at times. Maybe not everything the same, but I can relate to this ideal of perfection. I was raised in a single-mother household for a large chunk of my life, so I watched my mother accomplish a million things at once and always make it look so easy! Me... I lost my job, I set smoke detectors off at three in the morning, I set the oven mitts on fire... I really don't make things look easy! If anything I just make myself laugh at myself, but at the same time I wish that I could make things look just as easy as my mother always made it look. I know that in reality it wasn't easy, but parents put on a very good show!

Chapter 2 - “From Good to Perfect: Feminism’s Unintended Legacy”

To read all the notes that Dewey took on this chapter, click here.

Dewey said:
The Gilligan quote really hit home with me, as I did choose to retain my “authentic voice” and I can confirm that this does lead to a lot of judgment and even lost relationships, as a shocking number of people have trouble accepting women who don’t choose the “good girl” route. And it’s not like I’ve done bad things like drunk driving, either. I’ve just had a pattern throughout life of paying a lot of dues for insisting on being myself in spite of the disapproval of others.
I read this quote of Dewey's and this is so totally me! I could have wrote the exact same paragraph. I was going to say basically the same thing to begin with, but in different wording.

I really don't want to stand on a platform and get into the whole idea of feminism and all that. I will just say that I consider myself a feminist. I guess I would be included in the 'third-wave' generation that the author is talking about, but I don't really look at it that way. I just live a life where if a guy can do it, I can do it. That being said, I am comfortable enough with me (though, not always) to ask for help. I hate being considered 'weak', but I also know that I cannot do everything. I need to work on it in some ways, though, which people like the charming comedian and my friends have pointed out to me over the years.

Chapter 3 - 'The Male Mirror: Her Father's Eyes'

To read all the notes that Dewey took on this chapter, click here.

This chapter was interesting. It looked at the influence that father's have on their daughters, which I found informative. It was things that I have never thought about before because my mother mostly raised me and my father was off in the sidelines. I would almost recommend that fathers' read this chapter because they are probably not aware of the influence they have on their daughters. Martin argues that it is their silence that is worse than anything they have to say.

Dewey talked about another aspect of this chapter:
I’ve noticed myself that many teenage girls consider developing breasts and hips to be “getting fat.” So many girls and young women I’ve talked to seem convinced that the ideal for a woman is to retain a pre-pubescent straight-up-and-down body. They seem to find it horrifying to gain weight, even when that weight gain goes along with increased height. This determination to retain a childlike stick figure body seems to go along with a horror with body hair. When I was in high school and college, it was considered “gross” to retain any armpit or leg hair, but now more and more I hear from girls and women that age that it seems “gross” to retain pubic hair, too. It concerns me that female secondary sex characteristics are considered so repulsive. It’s sickening to think that without realizing it, women attempt to please men by appearing as much as possible like little girls.
Very interesting way that the world is changing.

That's it for this week, more look at the chapters next week!


  1. I've really been wanting to read this book, and you've really strengthened that desire.

  2. I can't wait to read this book. I'm 3 in line on the hold list the library so it may be awhile haha.

  3. Nevermind my previous comment. Just got an email from the library and the book is ready for me to pick up!

  4. Debi: It is very readable. It might not be a terrible read, either, with Annie heading towards her teens...

    Vanessa: That's great you are going to read it! I look forward to hearing what you think!

  5. So interesting. I'll be looking forward to your further comments... I have this on my TBR list; it's a topic very close to my heart in many ways. I can't think of very many women who are unaffected by this stuff, and it can wreck your life. Thanks for the interesting thoughts!

  6. Miss D.: It really is a book that any woman could read and learn from, I think.

  7. I LOVED your post, Kelly, just like I loved Dewey's chapter by chapter comments. So many of these things matter to me. I have a healthy relationship with my weight, but I know it's because I have a fast metabolism and don't tend to gain weight, not because I'm immune to social pressure. It is indeed very sad that so many women would prefer to be hit by a truck/stupid/mean to being fat, but it does say a lot about the culture we live in. Also, about feminism: I don't even know why I used to avoid the word, but I don't anymore. I believe in gender equality, and so I'm all for feminism. That's the bottom line, really. But it took me years to realize that. Anyway, this comment is huge, so I'll stop rambling and just wrap it with "I need to read this book".

  8. Nymeth: It is a very educational book! I am liking my method of reading it.

  9. I just picked this up from the library. Loved reading your review and it makes me want to read it even more. Thanks!

  10. caribookscoops: I hope you like it! I plan another review next Tuesday. :)

  11. Well this sounds interesting but I avoid stuff like this most of the time. Love the way you and Dewey broke this down too.

  12. Tink: I like it. I hope to read more from it today! Dewey stopped reviewing after chapter 8, so I have to figure out what to do after that.

  13. Anonymous7:55 AM

    This sounds really interesting. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts as you keep reading.

  14. Rhinoa: I hope to post about three more chapters tomorrow


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