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Books on Body Image and Beauty History

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How women view and value their bodies has changed over time. These books examine the history of body image and how culture shapes ideas of women's beauty -- useful perspective in dealing with body image and self-esteem issues among girls and women today. There are other good books on body image and beauty culture today from a personal perspective; these books include the best historical analysis.

1. The Body Project

Body Project
A history of how women and girls have valued their body images from the Victoria era to today. The author uses primary sources such as diaries to examine the feelings of girls towards their bodies, yesterday and today, givin a sense of immediacy and reality to the historical conclusions. Useful for individual reading or in high school or college history or women's studies classes.
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2. The Beauty Myth

Beauty Myth
Itself now a standard of feminist history, this book by Naomi Wolf argues that an impossible standard of beauty is now the chief instrument of women's oppression today. Issues related to the beauty myth raised by Wolf include workplace discrimination based on beauty, sexual harassment, huge expenditures on beauty products, suppressed sexuality, eating disorders, and self-inflicted violence.
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3. Fasting Girls: History of Anorexia Nervosa

Did you think that anorexia was a modern problem only? From medieval saints who starved themselves as a religious sacrifice, to silent movie stars who arguably started our culture of women's thinness, to today's starving teens and overly-thin models and other women, these accounts will provide useful historical and cultural insight into a serious modern issue, found mostly among women.
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4. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body

A tour of western culture's depiction of the female body, including as shown in the media today -- and a feminist analysis of how such images are an "unbearable weight" on women, defining women by their failure to measure up to impossible standards. As an academically-oriented book, it is remarkably accessible. A warning: after reading, you're likely to be angry at culture, men and the media.
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5. Fat History: Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West

A mixture of history of the science of fat control and dieting and the culture of attitudes about weight, beyond requirements of health and hygiene. The author, Peter N. Stearns, writes from a social history perspective, not a feminist viewpoint, and does not focus on women. Instead he blames capitalism, consumerism and the lasting influence of puritan attitudes for the overconcern with weight.
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