Publisher: Brooklyn Girl Books
Publication date: April 5, 2019
Genre: Nonfiction (Adult)
“When I was a child, my mother hid everything sweet and delicious in the large soup pot she kept on top of the tallest cabinet in the kitchen. Thus, my sister and I, at the tender ages of perhaps five and eight, learned to be mountain climbers. Only recently did I consider that maybe Mom was hiding the cookies from herself as well as us.”
Women Under Scrutiny is an honest, intimate examination of the relationships we have with our bodies, hair, and faces, how we’ve been treated by the world based on our appearance—and how we have treated others. The women who created the serious, humorous, and courageous work in this anthology—women ages seventeen to seventy-six—represent an array of cultures and religions from across the United States. They are an extraordinary group of women who all share one thing: the ability to tell the truth.
Women Under Scrutiny grew out of Randy Susan Meyers’ new novel, Waisted, the story of two women who torture themselves and are brutalized by others around weight issues, who get caught in the war against women, disguised as a war against fat.
All profits from Women Under Scrutiny will be donated to Rosie’s Place in Boston.
It took me quite a while to process my thoughts about this book, and I’m not sure if it is because of the topical subject matter or the volume (65 essays and poems).
This anthology is divided into six parts:
- Childhood Sure Can Toughen a Girl,
- Daughters of Mothers/Mothers of Daughters,
- Clothes & Masks: So You Think You Know Me?,
- Judgment Day,
- Grit & Confidence.
It brought back many memories where people have passed seemingly innocuous comments about my own appearance and/or body. From the time we are born, we’re conditioned to believe that only a certain body shape, size, and skin color is desirable.
Society’s double standards when it comes to the appearance of women are on display here. There are diverse stories about fat-shaming, bullying, body image issues, self-esteem issues, eating disorders, and mental health issues that arise from the unhealthy obsession with weight and/or body shape.
Here’s a quote from the book that captures its essence:
“We absorb the good but the less good sinks deeper. It resonates and haunts us. Thin is better and fat is just wrong. Appearance matters and being attractive means you matter more…”
“Influences” by Elizabeth Sinclair Cady
What I did not like: The anthology has been authored by a diverse group of women, of all ages and with all sorts of backgrounds. It is representative of everyone’s voices, but the quality of writing takes a hit at times.
Without sounding dismissive of the pain behind women’s lived experiences, I want to say that the volume could have been slimmer because some articles/poems did not add anything fresh to the narrative.
What I did like: Some essays are masterfully written, with a balance of emotion and storytelling, preventing them from becoming rants.
There are some dreadful stories about little girls being chastised by their ballet teacher for developing natural curves, sad tales about mothers refusing to let their daughters eat cake at birthday parties, cruel jibes by family members about how women need to “do something” about their appearance, and horrifying accounts of girls having to wear girdles to “shape” their body.
“Lipstick Lessons” by Allison Harvey stood out to me as a sweet story about a child asking her mother why she wears makeup.
“Clothes: A Girdled-In Life” by Arlene Schindler was so painful to read. Do we not realize the cruelty we subject our daughters to?
“Face It: I’m Old” by Peggy Gillespie is a well-written account of the crazy proportions the obsession with plastic surgery has taken.
“My Mysterious Crotch Hairs” by Sue Katz is a humorous take on a subject that is rarely spoken about.
I don’t enjoy poems very much, but the ones that resonated with me are Hidden Girl by H.L. Rue (about Muslim vs. Christian women) and Bodily Appreciation on a Mountaintop by Julie Henderson (about the ageing body).
Meyers adds her riveting commentary to the book, describing her own battles with body weight and how this anthology arose from the experience of writing her novel, Waisted. She writes, “The story screamed in my head, but I kept it locked away because writing it meant facing myself.”
Final thoughts: There’s a lot to process in these essays. They’re mostly difficult to read. Some are serious and tragic, whereas the others imbue humor into painful topics.
Women all over the world–no matter the country, race, or culture–should be able to relate to these stories because they face the harassment, the misogyny, and the unreasonable expectations described in them every single day.
You must summon the courage to read and appreciate these honest, moving, brave, and often painful accounts of women who have been targeted for simply being themselves.
(I received a copy of the book on NetGalley.)