When I was at Grove City College, one of my professors asked us if we identified with our bodies as our physical selves. That question was revolutionary to me, a child of evangelical church culture. To my Catholic peers, this idea was easy, even catechized for them to the point of blasé assumption. But I had never thought about it before — and apparently Dannah Gresh and Suzy Weibel haven’t really considered it, either.
Their new book, It’s Great to Be a Girl!: A Guide to Your Changing Body, is meant to be a quick, interactive, and approachable guidebook for prepubescent girls about health and beauty. (Sort of like the Christian response to the American Girl series The Care and Keeping of You.) It touches briefly on everything from mother/daughter relationships, hair care ideas, balanced food portioning, exercise, and the female reproductive system.
I suppose the authors haven’t done the world of prepubescent Christian girls a great favor or a great disservice with their new little book. But this book does nothing to distance itself from the most obvious cultural oversight I’ve run into in Christian circles concerning body and health education, which is to treat the body as a machine and not part of the whole self.
Every issue discussed in the book (motivations for wearing makeup, decisions about what to eat at a party, etc.) becomes something that will be judged. At the end of each chapter, the authors urge readers to confess their failures in those areas. I found this tone overbearing. If I were 12 and reading this, I’d just feel like I wasn’t good enough no matter the issue and needed to try harder. Given the enormous cultural pressure on women in general, this is overkill. If it’s so great to be a girl, why do the authors keep hitting home the idea that we’re probably not living up to a particular standard of womanhood?
This tone is amplified by the constant presumption of a separation between our bodies and ourselves. The Christian church has said for centuries that we are made in God’s image, meaning our bodies are (a) good and (b) an integral part of the human self. Instead, in this book, we’re told that we need to exhibit self-control over our bodies (which seems to assume that the body is inherently negative). Body positivity, let alone an even partially-developed theology of the body, is absent from this little book.
The main focus of the book aside, I found myself really uncomfortable by the way these two women talked about their adopted daughters. Just because you adopted a child from a different ethnic background from your own does not mean you understand what it’s like to be [insert race here]. But that’s what was implied over and over. The colonialist overtones were patronizing, ignorant, and constant. (This is a pretty common issue in the white, middle-class, American evangelical church, where adopting brown babies to make you feel better about yourself as a person has been practiced for years and years, much to the detriment of the children and the cultures from where they came.)
Given that, this book is a definite miss. The editorial team at Harvest House, along with the authors, would do everyone a favor by taking a few educational seminars about racism and diversity to avoid making this mistake in the future.