PEEK

The Un-Pretty Perfect Girl

Courtney Martin: The problem is deeper than just the eating habits of Ivy Leaguers...
Props to Vanessa for pointing out the ways in which the recent treatment of perfect girls in the NY Times does not represent the plight of most girls across America. I'd like to take issue with it from a different angle.

While I respect Sara Rimer's structural choice to let the girls speak for themselves, I fear that she produced something more akin to PR than investigative journalism. Sure, hanging out with a few upper middle class white girls from the northeast will provide you with a flurry of shocking quotations about ambition run amuck and some great scenes with overly involved parents. But that story is obvious, already reported, on the surface.

The underbelly is what we need to be talking about. Nine million girls and women in this country -- of all different classes and cultural backgrounds -- have diagnosable eating disorders and countless others obsess over food and fitness. Panic disorders are twice as likely for females. About 75% of autoimmune illnesses occur in women.

These are serious health concerns in large part caused by a society that systematically socializes women to take the weight of the world on their shoulders and try to look graceful while doing it.

When I was researching and interviewing for my book -- Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body (out in a couple of weeks on Simon & Schuster's Free Press) -- I couldn't believe how much pressure girls and women put themselves under. Whether it was the Armenian-American girl in the course I teach at Hunter who felt completely shameful that she'd gained weight in college despite the fact that she was the first in her family to go, or my beautiful younger cousin from a tiny town in Colorado who spent much of college feeling on the edge of an eating disorder (as did I), women are just flat out deteriorating as a result of their own determination to be everything to all people all the time.

It's not just about Ivy League admittance or extracurriculars. It is about a nation of women buying in to the idea that their wellbeing is not as important as achievement and beauty.

Watch Courtney's interview with AlterNet on her story Mega-Churches Court Cool to Attract Teens from last Summer HERE.
Courtney E. Martin is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: The Frightening New Normalcy of Hating Your Body, will be published by Simon & Schuster's Free Press next month. Read more about her work at www.courtneyemartin.com.
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