I borrowed three books last semester from the Women’s Centre at SFU Burnaby: Body Drama, The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life, and Desire in Seven Voices. I don’t feel the need to do full review posts for them, so I’ll simply type some mini-reviews.

Body Drama by Nancy Amanda ReddBody Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd

This would be a great book to give to a pre-teen or tween girl as they’re approaching puberty, but even adult women will learn something from this book too. I picked it up curious to see what kind of questions it dealt with. Body Drama is broken down into five sections (Shape, Down There, Boobs, Skin, and Hair Mouth Nails) and Redd approaches the subjects with clear, straightforward language, no-nonsense facts, and squashes many myths.

“You’d think a Miss America swimsuit winner would feel completely confident about her body, right? Not always! So I decided to write the book I wish I’d had as a teen and in college-an honest, funny, practical, medically accurate, totally reassuring guide to how women’s bodies actually look, smell, feel, behave, and change.”

From fashion magazines to taboo Web sites, curious young women have access to tons of old wives’ tales about and thousands of airbrushed and inaccurate images of the female body—misinformation and harmful portrayals that can lead to low self-esteem, self-destructive acts, or even disturbing plastic surgery procedures. Teaming up with a leading physician specializing in adolescent health issues, Harvard graduate and former Miss Virginia Nancy Redd now offers a down-to-earth, healing, and reassuring response to those damaging myths.

In Body Drama, Redd gives girls insight into the issues they’re often too ashamed to raise with a doctor or parent. She also reveals her own experiences with the culture of “American beauty,” and shows readers all the many versions of “normal.” From body hair and bras, to acne and weight issues, along with crucial issues such as the importance of a healthy self image, Body Drama is a groundbreaking book packed with informative fast facts, FYIs, how-tos, and moving personal anecdotes as well as hundreds of un-retouched photographs. A highly visual book, it’s the first of its kind for women: filled with real information and real photographs of real bodies, to celebrate all our different shapes and sizes.

One awesome part of it (for women particularly) is at the end there is a 2-page spread with more than 50 photographs of vulvas. (Note: it is a common misconception—partially thanks to the Vagina Monologues—that female private parts are called ‘vaginas’, but actually, the vagina is interior and the exterior part is the vulva.) These and many other photographs of real bodies that have not been retouched with computer software make Body Drama a fantastic resource.

Body Drama routinely assures readers that every body looks different, which is an important point to hammer home to youth and adults alike. Tall, thin, fair-skinned, toned muscles, hairless torso and limbs, zero fat, is not average even if pop culture seems to think this is the ideal beauty. The book also talks about pop culture and retouched photographs in magazines.

The Fat Girl's Guide to Life by Wendy ShankerThe Fat Girl’s Guide to Life by Wendy Shanker

Wendy Shanker is quite opinionated, which works well for this book—she asserts the need to know oneself, assert oneself, and learn to love yourself. She admits that she hasn’t quite mastered these needs yet, but that it is a lifelong journey and she is done hating and trying to change herself. The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life is semi-autobiographical as Shanker takes us through her journey to fat acceptance and hypothecises on society’s Fat Phobia.

Wendy Shanker is a fat, healthy, beautiful girl who has simply had enough. Enough of family, friends, co-workers, women’s magazines, even strangers on the street, all trying (and failing) to make her thin. She finally decided, “If I can’t take it off, I’m going to take it on.”

With a mandate to change the world—and the energy to do it—Wendy shows how media madness, corporate greed, and even the most well-intentioned loved ones prey on our shrink-to-fit minds, if not our shrink-to-fit bodies. She invites people of all sizes, shapes, and dissatisfactions to trade self-loathing for self-tolerance, celebrity worship for reality reverence, and a carb-free life for a guilt-free Krispy Kreme.

Wendy explores dieting debacles, full-figured fashions, and feminist philosophy while guiding you through exercise clubs, doctor’s offices, shopping malls, and even the bedroom. She believes that you can be fit and fat, even as the weight loss industry conspires to make you think otherwise. The Fat Girl’s Guide to Life invites you to step off the scale and weigh the issues for yourself.

It was interesting to hear Shanker’s experiences with the Diet Industry (and yes, it is an industry) including live-in programs, pills, supplements, set-meal plans, and the Weight Watchers and Jenny Craigs of the world (slash USA where Wendy is from). Shanker details how these Diet businesses work—feeding on our insecurities, helping us drop drastic/unrealistic amounts of weight, which means we’ll put it right back on again, and start the cycle from the beginning. They are not trying to ‘help’ us, they don’t want us to get un-fat because then they wouldn’t have a repeat customer. I found Wendy’s experience at a live-in “Fat Ranch” in the USA to be the worst—they’d promise all these unhealthy weight-loss numbers and when Wendy would check in with her coach, they’d say her 3 lbs / week (or whatever it was) was perfectly average/normal/healthy. But in their advertisements and marketing materials, they were claiming 15-20 lbs / week in weight-loss.

Some of Shanker’s presumptions regarding Thin People and Society At Large were far too generalized for my liking. If I was doing a full review I’d probably note some of the passages, but I don’t feel the need to nit-pick. However, I did identify with a number of her statements, particularly the need to—no matter what size you are—accept and love yourself and your body.

Desire in Seven Voices, edited by Lorna CrozierDesire in Seven Voices edited by Lorna Crozier

Seven female authors, including the collection’s editor Lorna Crozier, contributed short works on the subject of ‘desire’, creating a varied and ecclectic look at a powerful driving force in our lives. Some stories deal with sexual matters, others with life goals, relationships with friends and family, and even how the desires of others can affect us. The collection, published in 2003, features well-known Canadian authors including Carol Shields, Dionne Brand, and Susan Musgrave.

“When do you follow your desire?” writers were asked. “When do you censor it? When is it a force to be trusted, and when do you become suspicious? When is it a source of power, and when a source of distress?”

This daring, funny, sometimes surprising and highly literate collection showcases some of Canada’s finest women writers: Lorna Crozier, Dionne Brand, Bonnie Burnard, Evelyn Lau, Shani Mootoo, Susan Musgrave and Carol Shields.

It was an interesting read, and each author certainly took a different perspective. I often felt the need to put down the book after one entry and absorb it for a few days before proceeding onto the next. Incredible imagery and powerful literary prose. A good read if you come by the book.