Review of Body Outlaws

The breezy, irreverent essays in Adios, Barbie [Body Outlaws] are a welcome antidote to the narrow cultural consciousness the tiny doll has fostered for more than 40 years. While thousands of little girls worship Barbie's plasticine perfection, those who wind up dissatisfied with the message she sends--be white, be skinny, be stacked, be pretty, and then you'll be loved--can tell you how a toy skews body image in the real world. Among whites talking trash about blacks and upwardly mobile black folks, notes Erin J. Aubry, big butts are suspect--"low-class and ghettoish," the antithesis of Barbie's tightly tucked derriere. Yet on good days, Aubry applauds her ample proportions, for "unlike hair or skin, the butt is stubborn, immutable--it can't be hot-combed or straightened or bleached into submission. It does not assimilate; it never took a slave name."

In "Fishnets, Feather Boas, and Fat," Nomy Lam--a 250-pound, 22-year-old disabled woman--and friends elbow their way to the front of a determinedly different club, "dancing like fiends toward revolution." Lee Damsky tells us why her mother's model of scientific prowess took a dusty third-place to big-screen images of "beauty and femininity [that] seem to offer me absolute power rivaled only by a fascist dictatorship." Because the various writers gathered together here are young, their conceits and world-views are sometimes annoyingly unexamined; by the same token, though, their energy, heckling, and bone-deep assurance make large and pleasing dents in mainstream assumptions. (Francesca Coltrera)