Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Please Read (if at all possible): The Girl Project by Kate Engelbrecht

Release Date: August 30, 2011
Published by: Rizzioli

I know I said I don't read a lot of non-fiction, but this one is definitely worth your perusal.

Please Read (if at all possible): The Girl Project by Kate Engelbrecht

In 2007 Kate Engelbrecht began sending cameras and questionnaires to teenage girls across the country.  She asked them to use the camera to communicate their view of themselves and the world around them.  The questionnaires were based on the famous Proust Questionnaire, aimed at revealing a person's true personality.  Eventually, nearly 5,000 girls between the ages of 13 and 18 took part in the project.  Girls from all parts of the country, of different backgrounds, faiths, and races, participated in what became known as The Girl Project.  It is an account of teenage girlhood, experienced and communicated as only teenage girls know and understand.

This is not the usual type of book I'd review... so I'm not posting my usual type of review.  Each of you will have your own reaction to this book, and it's hard to capture that feeling in a review, but I truly think this is a documentary of which we should all be aware.

I think a good deal of it can be summed up by Kate Engelbrecht's words: "Dear Girl: Three years ago I became fascinated by popular depictions of you.  I didn't recognize you. Bratty.  Slutty.  Spoiled.  Vapid.  Mean--even vicious.  Absent of heart or soul.  I didn't see myself in you or relate to you..."  And obviously Kate Engelbrecht's assumption was wrong.  Oh my goodness was it wrong.  When I first saw this book on Amazon, I was reminded of the Vagina Monologues and hoped for something as... refreshing as that.  And I got that.

At first, I was sort of upset that there were so many pictures of girls camera-whoring... but then when I was going through the book a second time, the girls's fears of never being good enough... and the image society portrays of girls - the tall, thin models.... and their awareness of that image... well, I understood that maybe that was how they saw themselves.  It made me want to give them all a hug, but I'm not sure many of them would even need it.  So many of them are so much more perceptive and self-aware than I was at that age.

Not all the pictures are like that though.  Some of them are really interesting --there was one where a girl lay sprawled in the middle of the street; is that truly how she sees herself??-- but what really makes this book are the few questionnaires and the questions she selected from them for expansion.  Here are a few samples of what the teens answered:

In as many or few words necessary, tell me about being you.
"I hide myself away with smiles and juicy gossip.  I am not happy at all."
"I hate being me.  I am never skinny enough or pretty enough.  I tell myself I will never let the kids at school see me cry; because then they win."
"I'm a good friend.  I'm complex.  I'm naive.  I like to be silly.  I don't like the way I look.  I'm a follower, not a leader.  Music and photography are my outlets.  People never remember me, but they don't forget me either."
"I just want to be held.  Loved for who I am.  Listened to."  (<-- So many of these.)
What's the hardest part about being a teenager?
"I would say the hardest part about being a teenager is knowing that being an adult comes next."
"Being on the journey to self-discovery while being scrutinized from every angle."

There was also one girl who wrote a section on "The Perfect Girl."  Here's what she concluded: "'Girl.'  The term describes all of us, and yet, it describes no one."

The only stereotype that held was the one about girls not liking science.  So many of them wrote photographer or fashion designer or musician or writer.  There were a couple of doctors/psychologists but no scientists.

This book was amazing.  I know this review is kind of all over the place, but I hope that I still managed to convince you guys that this isn't something you should miss.

1 comment:

  1. wow. this has definitely been added to the TBR pile. thanks so much for turning me onto this book! :)


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