Irreverent Mama

Monday, January 14, 2008

"Agh!" The wail from the bathroom is as heart-rending as it is loud. "Look at this! I can't go to school today, I just can't!"

Welcome to the world of body drama, where pimples and body odour are social crises, where lop-sided breasts and mid-cycle spotting bring fears of cancer and early demise, where every personal quirk is viewed as an abnormality that will bring unending public scorn on the sufferer.

At any given time, there are anywhere from one to five females in my home, ranging from 14 to 22 years old. (Not including me, obviously. My hormonal challenges are of a different, more, ah, mature nature.) Let me tell you, I know from body drama ...

It's tough, being a teen. Everything is changing, and changing quickly. Your body is out of control, your emotions are all over the place -- some days it seems your entire life is out of control.

Where do you go for information, instruction, and assurance? You might consider Nancy Amanda Redd's recently released "Body Drama". Nice to look at, nice to touch, and so well-designed -- visually and conceptually.

The book is perfectly structured to deliver the maximum information with each visit, no matter how long or short.

It is divided into five categories: Shape; Skin; Down There; Boobs; Hair and Nails. (A brief tangent: You know, I can accept the usefulness of the generic and innocuous "down there", but I cringe every time I hear or read the word "boobs". Can we not just call them breasts? "Boobs" is just so ... ugly and clunky and disrespectful of such lovely objects. Ugh.)

Body Drama is chock-full of terrific, solid, factual information. That is its foundtion. What makes it work is that Ms. Redd "gets" teens. Within each drama are three subheadings including "What if they notice?" Ah, yes. Remember? The all-powerful, omniscient "they" which is presumed by teens to be morbidly fascinated by every burp and hiccup of their lives, minds, and bodies. "What if they notice?" includes practical information on how to prevent the "drama" from being public, and why it probably doesn't really matter as much as you think if it does get out there.

Where Body Drama suggests that something is a bad idea -- tongue piercing, for example -- it doesn't stop at the reasons why it's a bad idea. Recognizing its adolescent audience, the great risk-takers, the tremendous don't-bother-me-with-facts, I-know-what-I-want's of the world, it then says, "But if you're going to ignore this good information, here's how to do it the safest way possible."

This is not a cop-out, this is reality. The thing about teens is, you can't make their decisions for them. Like it or not, they will make their own decisions, and some of them will be stupid ones. All you can do is provide them with good information -- all the good information -- and hope for the best.

And then, we come to the pictures. Amongst all the excellent information the book provides, there are pictures. Pictures, pictures, and more pictures. Pictures of zits, of stretch marks and head lice and cellulite. The pictures make the book so very visually appealing, and it is with the pictures that the possibility of offense arises. Because the pictures, they are plain, they are un-airbrushed, they are real. The squeamish out there will use terms like "explicit" and "graphic" -- and they'd be right, except for the tinge of negative moral judgment that accompanies such words.

Teens are curious about their bodies, and this curiosity is not just natural, it's appropriate. If they don't have the information, they are at huge risk, because not knowing stuff has never, in the history of humankind, prevented a teen from experimenting anyway.

So, yes, there are pictures of girls in there. Naked ones. There are pictures of breasts, because how else will you know the huge range of "normal"? And, the big one: there is a dual-page spread of 24 vulvas.

I confess it was a mild jolt, even to unflappable me, opening the book to that page, but it took me about 1.4 seconds to get over it, and get interested instead. Because men, they get to compare, don't they? All their "stuff" is right out there -- and I'll bet lots of boys have been traumatized by that very reality. But girls have a different anxiety, that of not knowing. Even if you take a peek at your own, for most straight women, that will be the only one you ever see. So seeing a bunch of them, seeing the variety, is interesting.

Some, however, will be horrified, and refuse to buy the book on that basis. Others will say, "Okay for my daughter, but I can't have it in the house, because what if my son sees it?"

What then? Well, then he will get to satisfy HIS curiosity, too, in a way that does not take him to porn sites. Because he will, you know. It is simple curiosity, not deviant urges, that takes most young teen males to those places, and once they're there, they can get hooked. That is NOT where I want any son of mine either spending his time, or getting his information about female sexuality. With Body Drama, he will get high-quality information that is respectful of women, information that teaches him about his future partner's health, needs, anxieties, information that will help him be a better husband and friend. So, yes, if my son were to pick up the book, I would not be ripping it from his hands.

I love this book. Optimally, it will be used by mothers and daughters together, to promote discussion, to answer questions, to just "talk girl-stuff". If you know your daughter needs the information, but you're too squeamish to start these conversations, you can leave it lying around where she'll find it.

I hope you don't decide to ban it from your home. Like it or not, your child will one day be a sexually active adult, and, no matter how you might like it to be otherwise, THEY decide when that happens, not you. What parents do is provide a moral/ethical framework, and solid, quality information for the decisions your child will inevitably, eventually, make. Because you want, above all things, for your child to stay safe and healthy.

And Body Drama is a wealth of quality information, presented in a way that stands a pretty good chance of being heeded. Not always an easy task, with teens. Well done, Nancy!

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  • Good review, and we both agree about this book.

    And I can't stand 'boobs' either. Makes them sound like dumb, bouncy objects instead of the cleverly designed aesthetically appealing practical contrivances they are.

    By Blogger Mary Witzl, at 8:30 a.m.  

  • Luckily this doesn't affect me!

    By Blogger john.g., at 4:05 p.m.  

  • Love this book, love your review, and am THRILLED to find you back online again! I was so sad when you went private and I couldn't find you.

    I'm glad you are still here.

    By Blogger Carolie, at 10:33 a.m.  

  • Mary - thanks. There are too many sexually repressed Americans out there who will forbid this book to their children, arguably the children who need it most (!), but now that it's "out there", hopefully some of them will get to see it anyway!

    John - Well, I do have a surfeit of teenage girls around here. I'm sure I could spare one, if you're feeling the lack of DRAHMA in your home...

    Carolie - thanks. I invited those people who'd been commenting, but didn't think to look through the stat tracker to see who'd been visiting without commenting! Oops.

    By Blogger irreverentmama, at 6:36 p.m.  

  • OMG, I want this book for me! And I've got two little girls so I'll just say it's for them, eventually. Thanks for the review and the rest of your posts. I'm just catching up now...

    By Blogger Balcony Gal, at 1:58 p.m.  

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