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Books on Changing Bodies: A Body-Positive Review

 
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My daughter came home from school last year in 3rd Grade and told me she had started puberty.  A friend had a book and she had taken the quiz, so she knew it was real.  A week later she let me know she had started her period. Um. She definitely had not started her period. It was almost as if she wanted it to be true so badly that she felt she could will it into being. Since she didn’t want to hear the gentle questions and teaching I attempted to offer, I figured a book might be more palatable.

There is a lot out there. Some of it is decent, most is godawful, and some is just plain wrong. Amazon.com reviews are, unsurprising, no help at all. There are a lot of purity-culture reviewers in the mix, along with adults who still think their kids are simply “too young” to have the bigger picture.

I looked for diversity in race, religion, ability, gender identity, gender expression, size, and sexual orientation, as well as sex- and body- positivity.

*As Cameron Esposito says: If any of these words don’t feel right to you, I welcome your polite and engaged feedback.

My advice is to purchase these two books as a pair-

Celebrate Your Body by Sonja Renee Taylor.

  • Taylor is the author of the bestseller The Body is Not an Apology. Knowing her work, I had high expectations for this book and she did not disappoint. The body-positivity was all over the place, not just lip-service. Lovely images of kids of all sizes and abilities are scattered throughout the book, so I wasn’t worried my kid wouldn’t see herself depicted. She never dips a toe in diet culture, or misogynist beauty standards. The one concern I had was that this book is clearly for cis-girls. It does have a few mentions of reaching out to those who are not cisgender, but they are very clearly asides near the end of the book.

Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth.

  • This book is LGBTQ+ awesome, body-positive, sex-positive, excellent with basic info. All around lovely resource. The drawings are a little chaotic to my eye, but I think they would be very engaging to kids. If you want your kids to learn about sex and bodies in an inclusive celebratory and factually-correct place, this is it.

So what have I missed? Is there a book I should know about? What has worked for you and your kid?

Here are my, completely subjective, results. In no particular order:

Book Basic Info Sex-Positivity Body Positivity LGBTQ+ Inclusive Diet Culture Overall
Celebrate Your Body (and Its Changes, Too!): The Ultimate Puberty Book for Girls by Sonya Renee Taylor and Bianca I. Laureano A+

Excellent basic info, including figures of genitalia, and not leaving out the clitoris! Thanks, Sonya!

Normalizes discharge, celebrates getting a period, mentions menstrual cups, shows how to use a tampon with pictures. Hallelujah!
N/A

Not mentioned. That’s fair, though I kind of think it’s missed opportunity.

A+

The author is renowned for her body-positivity. This is no exception.

“You are a capable, confident girl. How do I know this? Because you came to the planet that way.”

Representation of bodies of all races, ability, sizes. Hurrah!

“Shaving is sort of like diets: Companies make tons of money trying to convince you to buy their hair removal products.”

There is a whole section on “Stop Body Talk” Yay!

D

Definitely “girl”-focused, about the cisgender female experience. A small mention that other experiences exist and are also valid.

A+

Includes nutrition and exercise info, but in a lovely celebratory and loving way.

A

I love this author.

The book feels so positive, so affirming, and offers some lovely excitement about how amazing our bodies are in this journey of life.

Highly recommend.
The Care and Keeping of YOU 1: The Body Book for Younger Girls (American Girl Series) by Valorie Schaefer and Josee Masse A-

Generally very helpful info on young bodies.

No diagrams of genitalia. Forgivable, since that doesn’t seem to be what they are after, but it reinforces the idea that knowing about your own vulva is only for older kids.

Mentions pads and tampons but nothing else (no menstrual cups, period underwear).

N/A

Not mentioned.

That’s fair.

F

Talks the talk but not walking the walk: Out of 169 picture of kids, all are thin. 1 relatively larger girl, crying. Oh wait. The caption is a Dear Abby letter saying she is teased because she has bigger boobs and her friends say she is “very ugly and fat.” Sigh. You can’t say “No one body type is better or worse than another.” and then show 169 bodies that are all thin.

There is one Dear Abby letter by someone who may or may not be fat. Decent advice to talk to a parent.

F

Cisgender girls represented only.

C

6 pages on food and nutrition.

Some good advice: “Try to eat only when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full.” Still, pushed low-fat and fat-free milk, cheese and yogurt. Suggests as an “extra tip” to write down what you eat. Seems like a risk factor for eating disorders to me.

C-

Some decent, bland information.

Too much on food.

Missing huge important pieces.

No representation of diverse bodies in almost any way.

The Care and Keeping of YOU 2: The Body Book for Older Girls (American Girl Series) by Cara Natterson and Josee Masse B-

Has a nice picture labeling the labia, vagina, urethra and pubic hair appropriately. Completely ignores the clitoris! Mentions pads and tampons but nothing else (no menstrual cups, period underwear). This was forgivable in their version for younger girls. Not in this one.

C

Not mentioned.

At this age they could at least say a few sentences about it, so kids know what everyone is giggling about.

F

101 pictures of kids. All thin. Wait- there is one fat girl in a mirror. A thin girl looking at herself and thinking she might be fat. Because that something to fear. Sigh.

You can’t tell kids to “love the skin you’re in” and only show one body shape.

F

The familes pictured are all 2-parent hetero families. There is talk about worrying about what boys will think, assuming the girls care about boys.

C

Mostly stays out of this, but does suggest there are good and bad foods, despite clearly trying to have a positive take. There are only 3 pages on food in this one.

C-

For a book about bodies, this sure leaves out a lot.

No representation of diverse bodies in almost any way.

Completely ignores anything but the cisgender heterosexual experience.

The Period Book: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up by Karen Gravelle A

Talks kids through looking at their own genitalia and understanding the anatomy! I love this. Great pictures and descriptions.

Images to show how to put in a tampon- thanks!

This one, too, leaves out menstrual cups and period underwear. So let your kid know!

D

Sex is omitted entirely. I get the impression that many authors leave this out because it makes the book appeal to a larger audience of parents who want their kids to know about puberty and not sex just yet. But it seems to put a stigma or allure to sex that I think can be unhealthy at best and dangerous at it’s worst.

F

Ugh. The author talks the talk, but there is no representation of even “acceptable” larger bodies. Of 100 pictured people, 2 are fat. One is a picture of a thin kid looking at a fat version of herself in the mirror, looking very worried.

One is a picture of a larger kid with her head in a refrigerator, after a sign “last fridge for 20 miles” and another thin kid on her bike. Geesh. I get it, I get it, fat=glutton. Sigh.

This stuff is unacceptable. And damaging. Just stop, already.

C

“People’s opinions about women and girls shaving are one of those things that vary across different cultures.” Sure. But can we please also say that in THIS culture, body hair makes many girls feel good, too?

Recognizes gay, lesbian and bi- experience, but stops there. Talks about romance only from the heterosexual experience. “...some people are attracted to people of the same sex while others are attracted to people of both sexes.” “...regardless… the romantic feelings experienced are the same.”

B

Honestly, the info seems appropriate. I felt a tiny bit triggered reading the info on “extra sugar and fat” that “can result in your packing on extra pounds.” But the author really focuses mostly on intuitive eating and basic info that is positive. This “B” may be personal.

C-

I like all the quotes from “real kids.” They might help normalize a lot of feelings.

Lots and lots of specific info about anatomy and bodies.

I definitely lowered the score for poor body-positivity.

The Girl’s Body Book by Kelli Dunham C-

Talks about differently- textured hair, but emphasizes that you should wash your hair every day, which seems kind of excessive.

Decent picture of reproductive organs.

No picture of genitalia! This seems to be leaving out a huge piece of info, people!

Mentions pads and tampons but nothing else (no menstrual cups, period underwear). C’mon, it’s 2019.

C

Not mentioned.

At this age they could at least say a few sentences about it, so kids know what everyone is giggling about.

Kids are definitely curious and talking to each other about sex. We need to answer their questions, and if we don’t in this type of book, when will we get around to it?

D-

Another one that doesn’t walk the walk. 161 people pictured in the book and every single one is thin.

Mentions getting used to glasses, but nothing positive about their style-pluses! Glasses are great! Celebrate them!

Talks a lot about the many different normal kinds of breasts and breast development but somehow misses the opportunity to tell us that they also can feel good.

1 of 161 kids has a wheelchair. In a section about “Different Bodies, Different Brains.” Way to normalize, folks.

F

“There is no medical reason to remove this [leg] hair and women in many cultures don’t even consider it.” Um, how about saying there is also no objectively aesthetic reason for hair removal and many people in this culture enjoy underarm and leg hair!

They say boys gossip less than boys so they might make good best friends. At least their heart is in the right place.

A-

Great attitude, great take, good info.

“Learning what to eat is important, but so is learning how to eat.” Very true!

“Don’t think about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods.” “Some foods don’t really fuel your body very well.”

D

One of the best descriptions of healthy relationships to food and body.

Unfortunately there is also no representation of diverse bodies in any way, no picture of genetalia, and, this one, too, ignores anything but the cisgender heterosexual experience.

Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth A

Talks about the different meaning of sex.

Great picture of genitalia, and this is the ONLY book of the group that talks about the clitoris! Thank you! “The clitoris can be very sensitive and touching it can feel warm and tingly.” Yup. That’s it.

Talks about erections, both with a clitoris and penis, normalizes it and give good info.

Great explanation of touch that makes you feel good or bad, and a nice long piece about “secret touching.” Of all the books I have read, this one seems the most loving and helpful way to help children who may be being abused.

A

“Part of sex is feeling joy and pleasure.” Yay!

“Sex isn’t a bad word.”

“There is room in the world for people who are happy to talk about sex and for people who never want to talk about it.”

A

Pictures of people of all colors, hair textures, hairstyles, body shapes, abilities, all throughout the book.

A

“Some bodies have a penis and some bodies don’t.

Avoids gendered language, very inclusive. Targeted to all kids, not just one gender.

“...having a penis isn’t what makes you a boy. Having a vulva isn’t what makes you a girl. The truth is much more interesting than that!” I love that this is right in the middle of the book, just as important as everything else.

“There’s no right or wrong way to have a crush.”

The characters that lead you through the book include a person who might be asexual.

N/A

Not mentioned at all. I kind of want to give it an “A” for that!

A

Fun attitude, reads like a graphic novel.

The drawing style put me off a bit at first, it’s a bit chaotic. But I really love everything about this book.

Highly Recommend.

Book Basic Info Sex-Positivity Body Positivity LGBTQ+ Inclusive Diet Culture Overall
Emily GoldbergComment