From the Introduction:
The statistics are staggering. Eighty percent of American women are dissatisfied with the way they look. Twenty-two percent of college women claim to "always" be on a diet. Americans spend more than $40 billion-approximately the GDP of New Jersey or double what the U.S. spends annually fighting HIV-on diet-related products each year. Since 1997, there has been a 465 percent increase in the total number of cosmetic procedures performed-what was once reserved for the truly rich or the truly unfortunate is now the choice of millions.
But statistics only tell a small part of the story. Women are simultaneously taught to scrutinize themselves-are our eyebrows arched, our legs smooth, our jaw lines taut, our elbows moisturized-and to feign nonchalance. We are supposed to care whether our jeans make our butts look big but we all know how obnoxious it is to actually ask if they do. We obsess about the most minute details of appearance but to speak honestly about our bodies is a rare thing. Most people would rather discuss their sex lives in detail than admit their true weights.
Perhaps the magazines are partly to blame-one week Nicole Ritchie is a dangerously thin cautionary tale, the next week the same rag declares her a fashion icon-but it's not just the movie star-obsessed who feel schizophrenic about their bodies and looks. Smart, funny women-like the ones in these pages, who are otherwise engaged in life and mostly doing just fine, thank you very much-feel it too. When Jennifer Carsen is diagnosed with a potentially fatal illness the first thing she looks up is whether or not the treatment is going to make her gain weight. Kim Keltner is kept up at night pondering her areolas. Roseanne Malfucci needs three alter egos and a therapist to make peace with her breasts.
Not that all of our concerns are cosmetic. Many women can still feel acutely the horror of puberty, when their bodies seemed suddenly not their own. After a diagnosis of scoliosis at age 13, Adrianne Bee imagines her spine as "some sort of clear, headless snake that dwelled along the ocean floor and had yet to be classified by scientists." Tara Bray Smith remembers long adolescent afternoons spent examining herself in the mirror until she was intimately familiar with even her most hidden parts.
And for those of us who survive adolescence unscathed (ha!), aging, pregnancy and illness can change what was a nice, comfortable relationship into something fraught and adversarial. As she starts chemotherapy for breast cancer, Patricia Bunin realizes the only hairstyle in the world she most desires is her own doomed ‘do. Molly Watson reluctantly enters the world of infertility, confirming her suspicions that what was once pretty fun is now a chore. Monica Holloway wants to age with grace and dignity like Georgia O'Keefe but something about L.A. keeps tempting her through the doors of the dermatologist's office.
This book is not an antidote. It will not cure you of your obsessions or help patch up your relationship with your thighs. It doesn't urge you to practice acceptance or learn to love your love handles. We're not optimistic that this is the year we'll all get comfortable with the size of our breasts, and don't look to us if you want to be talked out of dieting. Beauty and the American Woman's quest to tackle, tame, and control her is a far too convoluted social knot, one that a single funny book can scarcely begin to unravel.
What we're offering, aside from hilarity and wit and straight-up laugh-out-loud writing, is the solace that can be found in commonality. You thought you were the only one battling pimples and hairs and moles and cellulite and banana boobs? You thought you were the only person ashamed at the depth of your shallowness when it comes to your looks? Well, take comfort. What the essays in this book offer if they offer nothing else is proof, once and for all, that you are not alone with your vanity or your ugliness or your concerns. Not even close. We are in this together, warts and all.