Review of Books
Review of Body Outlaws
BODIES, CHANGING TIMES
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."
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.
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.
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.
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."
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?
Walker addresses this intersection of women's storytelling
and our bodies in the foreword to Adios, Barbie:
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.
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)
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.
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)