March 31, 2010

Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , at 6:31 pm by Gina

When I first walked in to the theater I was surprised by how many people already filled the limited amount of seats, evidence that there is a hunger to hear about these issues and perhaps an excitement to get rid of them. I’ve come to hear a presentation from Courtney Martin about her book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, and how “the quest for perfection is harming young women.”

Courtney, a young writer and graduate from Barnard as well as NYU has a personality so friendly and relatable it is easy to feel comfortable around her, as if she is a close friend. Characteristics that, to me, make her all the more qualified to write a book on the struggles of young women.

She says outright, “I am not an expert on eating disorders, nutrition, health, or psychology, but I do have expertise in quiet desperation…In this book, I act as an observer, an outraged idealist, a story teller, a bleeding heart, an eavesdropper, and an ordinary young woman.”

Courtney begins by asking us to close our eyes and imagine our morning.

“One minute debating whether to have a bagel and be “bad” or a protein shake and be “good”; two minutes chastising yourself for choosing the bagel: two minutes contemplating how fattening the cream cheese was. Three minutes poking your face in the mirror, feeling bad about the dark circles under your eyes. Four minutes reading that Lindsay Lohan lost a bunch of weight; another minute chastising yourself for being so vulnerable to the media; five minutes thinking about how crazy it is that woman as smart as you spend so much of their days obsessing about food and fitness…”

The list goes on to include contemplating decisions such as chicken sandwich vs. salad, gym vs. nap and dinner eating plans. Think about your own day, how much of it is spent chastising yourself? Everyone wants to be healthy, but it is not healthy if it comes with a side of hatred, discouragement and obsession. All told, women spend about 100 minutes a day scrutinizing instead of loving their bodies. These are ambitious, driven, impatient women who have settled on wasting this time and energy obsessing over their bodies.

What fascinates me most about her book is the focus not just on eating and body image disorders, but also on the perfectionism that seems to have taken over our generation. We were raised by parents of a feminist, rebellious generation who taught us “we can do anything” and yet we heard “we must do everything.” It is this complex that is also represented in the title of Martin’s book—Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.

I am positive that everyone knows the perfect girl. They have struggled with it themselves and seen their peers/relatives/friends struggle as well. Perfect girls are the captains of our sports teams, honor roll students, winners of scholarships, peacemakers, do-gooders, socially conscious and involved. We have 5-year plans and must be thin, beautiful and effortlessly perfect.

On the other hand, the starving daughters are dying for attention, recognition, a hug. They are constantly being pushed away by the perfect girl who only wants to show the world her beauty, strength and willpower, not her doubt, fears and cravings. The starving daughters are tired of trying so hard all the time and constantly being at war with the perfect girl.

I am not trying to blame the media, our parents or our friends. I am not trying to say that every person you know has an eating disorder, and I don’t think Courtney is either. Instead, this book brings to attention the harm that destructive thoughts and attitudes can have to one’s well-being, which, in a world where two-thirds of females ages 18-35 would rather be mean or stupid than fat, is something every single person has to conquer to some degree.

A few weekends ago I came home from school stressed and emotionally drained from trying to support a friend I know who struggles with some of these same problems. Collapsing on the couch I looked at both of my parents and genuinely thanked them for never making me feel like I had to be perfect, I did that to myself more than enough.

Don’t wait until you are 50 to love yourself, life is too short and perfect is far too boring. 🙂

With love,

~If you are interested in hearing Courtney speak and read excerpts from her book click here

~Much of this post was paraphrased from Courtney’s book. I encourage you to check it out!


  1. Amanda Gabrielle said,

    I really wish I would have heard Courtney speak. I’ve never read the book, but I guess I’ll have to now. It makes me sad to think how closely I can relate to that minute by minute schedule of a morning spent contemplating a situation as small as eating a bagel or not.

  2. Maria Gallagher said,

    Yeah, I understand what it’s like to spend so much time thinking about the smallest things, like what i’m going to eat, and then feeling guilty when I choose the unhealthy choice. I believe what it really comes down to is maturity. I mean no matter how old you are you’re always going to have some self-estreem issues, but I can remember the turning point my junior year when I started to love myself. I remember thinking how much I hated my body, so I did something about it, and it felt great. My body is far from perfect but I’m starting not to care so much. I try to eat health and when I don’t I just move on and make a better decision next time, and I try to stay active but at school you have to give yourself a little break because sometimes you NEED that nap. I actually have learned to love my body, maybe not everyday, but most of the time and I think it just comes with growing up and accepting yourself flaws and all.

  3. regina said,

    This is by far one of my favorite blogs so far. Good work :]]

  4. Chris Yusko said,

    I stayed up little thinking how true this really is. I seen 5 mins of a show once that had mothers make there girls do beauty shows. What will those girls think of them self when there like 18? No one is perfect and trying to be is not ether. When I was in high school, I saw that guys would do anything to be with the hot chick. I was kinda that way to back in school too. I did a lot of growing up after high school when I looked at what I was good at and not what I needed to become to be with the those friends from high school. Everyone needs have time to sit down and find themselfs, who they are and what there good at and what makes them happy.

    Girls who work to be with what guys think they should be get people to love them for who their not. I have dated a girl who always tried to keep up with the new thing that guys wanted in a girl. Now I see that she never really like herself how she was untill she got the ok from the other sex. I say that you should love yourself before you can go out dating and love someone else.

    In Marie’s comment, I agree with having to accept yourself flaws and all. God made use in his own special way. No two of us are a like. We all have to accept that we can’t be like you cause we were made to be different. You can say the flaws are what make you different then the next person.

    Thanks for the great post. It got me thinking and I could never say anything I wrote here in person.

  5. Thanks all for your thoughts!! I think we really were all made to be different and I love that you share!!

  6. Amanda Gabrielle said,

    I’m reading the book now & Sabrina wants to read it after me, I think mom might even be interested in it! I started reading her the statistics from the book jacket and she was really surprised.

    Just thought you’d be happy to know :]

    • Gina said,

      Thats great!! A lot of my family members were interested in it too! The percentage of girls who would rather be hit by a truck than be fat or the percentage who would rather have horrible personalities was a huge eye opener for me! I can honestly say after seeing how unhappy some of the girls I know are who struggle with this, I’d rather be fat than be like that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: