Girl Culture by Lauren Greenfield (Chronicle), 156 pages, $65 cloth. Rating: NNN
Girl culture elicits strong, conflicting reactions that mutate from page to page. It's filled with Lauren Greenfield's sharp, colourful and glamorous -- sometimes sensationalist -- photographs of arrestingly provocative young women. From J.Lo to Miss America to the Vegas erotic dancer performing in a bus, they're all searching for femininity in a culture that idolizes uniformly thin, blond, large-breasted girls.
In many of these photos, girls (both oblivious and self-aware) throw themselves head-first into threatening situations. A college-age girl runs bare-breasted past a row of leering guys during spring break in Florida, and a biker chick exposes a breast for the camera while surrounded by tough, beefy men.
Alongside these brighter-than-life portraits are disturbingly grim reminders that the quest for the beauty ideal exacts a tremendous toll. In before-and-after shots, the grey and weary faces of three girls on their last day at weight-loss camp are haunting.
In another series, a 24-year-old girl gets "blind-weighted" at an eating-disorders clinic. On the next page, there's a close-up of the self-inflicted wounds on her stomach. Another disturbing image shows an exotic dancer, naked except for her bra and high heels, soaking her outfit in bleach after a performance.
The photos and the introduction by Cornell University women's studies professor Joan Jacobs Brumberg make the point that the mentality of young women in the States is deeply influenced by Hollywood and the myth of female perfection.
Greenfield's work, which regularly appears in the New York Times Magazine, the New Yorker, Harper's Bazaar and Time, is an eerie wake-up call for anyone who believes that analyses by feminists like Naomi Wolf and Germaine Greer are irrelevant.
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