Women's Review of Books
Review of Body Outlaws

In the opening paragraphs of her essay in Adios, Barbie, Amy Richards writes that "For many women, our bodies have become the canvasses upon which our struggles paint themselves. Body image, in fact, may be the pivotal third wave issue--the common struggle that mobilizes the current feminist generation."

A challenging assertion, given that finding the common threads of the "third wave" feminist generation is like trying to throw a cross-cultural dinner party with only ten ingredients: not everyone's favorite food gets placed on the table. It's also a lot like trying to edit a third wave feminist anthology, or write a book for the under-thirty generation, something that the authors discussed here have done with aplomb.

If our bodies are our templates for identity, then Adios, Barbie is a map of our shared sisterly terrain. Compiled and edited by Ophira Edut, founder and editor of HUES (Hear Us Emerging Sisters) magazine, it is impressive both in its scope and its perceptive, inquisitive writing. As a two-time anthology editor, I know how difficult it is to encompass women's experiences across race, sexual orientation, physical ability and age. Hats off to Edut for collecting a truly multi-ethnic, multiracial, multi-everything ensemble of essays. Rather than merely nod to political correctness, she breaks new ground the way Rebecca Walker (who wrote the foreword to Adios, Barbie) did with To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism (Anchor Books, 1995). Both editors have done the work of honestly reflecting the face of the American female landscape. Books like these are signs that times have changed and that feminism must encompass a multitude of perspectives in order to move into the next century.

This multitude of perspectives is what is unique about my generation. Beyond representing them, Adios. Barbie talks about bodies and identity in a whole new way. It gives voice to the first feminist generation that consciously use their bodies as symbols, sites of resistance and mediums of expression. Young women are out there actively taking the male gaze and rubbing mud in its eye by moving and dressing and feeding their bodies as they see fit. Despite the constant barrage of images of what a woman "should" look like, many young women, like the writers in Adios, Barbie, are subverting these images and using their bodies to inform their identity, rather than deny the connection between physicality and sense of self. By living proudly and honestly in the body one is born with, a woman says to the world: I--not you--own me.

I was invigorated to hear the stories of so many peers who are proud of their bodies, women like Erin J. Aubry, who writes. in her celebratory essay "The Butt: Its Politics, Its Profanity, Its Power": "My butt has a reserve of esteem and then some like the brain, it may even have profound, uncharted capacities to heal." Or Nomy Lamm, who writes: "I truly believe that redefining the terms of beauty, sexuality and attractiveness is a simple and vastly rewarding act, and I feel sorry for people who have so little imagination that they just do what they're told." Or Chely Rodriguez, who bravely writes, "I've decided to become my own role model by reminding myself who I am every day. I am an eighteen-year-old Latina, a full-figured former model. I have survived an eating disorder. And I'm learning to love my body."

Whether they be tall, short, large, skinny, tattooed, hairy, brown, pale, well-endowed behind or in front, the women in Adios, Barbie have found power in their bodies. This power is something that many of my peers and I have uncovered in our late twenties and early thirties. Gone are adolescent obsessions with weight or acne, replaced by a joy in our shapes and sexuality. We recognize that our bodies move and hug and store our souls. It was refreshing to read about other young women's pride in their bodies and how they look. These authors undo negative forms of body talk, such as insidious women's "locker-room" comments centered solely around pointing out perceived flab on oneself or others. Why do some women spend so much time obsessing about how fat they feel? Don't they have
anything else to talk about?

Rebecca Walker addresses this intersection of women's storytelling and our bodies in the foreword to Adios, Barbie:

But I think there is something else, too, an overlooked by-product of the hysteria to control and commodify an image of ideal beauty: a crisis of the imagination, a dearth of stories, a shocking lack of alternative narratives.

Where are the stories that challenge the notion that perfect happiness can be found in a "perfect" body? Where are the anecdotes about learning to love parts of ourselves not because of how they look or how they measure up to Cindy Crawford, but because of how they feel to us, or how they tell a unique part of our personal history? (p. xiv)

One of the opportunities previous generations of feminists have opened for us is the possibility of truly loving our bodies. Even in a time when women's bodies are under attack and scrutiny at every turn, we hold the potential to love and live in our bodies in ways that were nearly impossible for women before now. We can be athletes, we can choose when and with whom we have children, we can wear anything from lycra to a suit and tie, we can let our stride become long and sure.

Not all the stories in Adios, Barbie are uniformly triumphant and celebratory. Many dare to be emblems of a woman's process, women who are not resolved about a life as an exotic dancer, or shaving body hair, or body size or unique markings. One theme that does resound within the collection is that of food and eating. Women's relationships to food are the source of rich stories, but also of a haunting number of others about life-threatening eating disorders. (Meg Daly)