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The

New American

Girl

Layout by: Kayla Hays Story by: Joan Jacob Brumberg

Photo Credit: Lauren Greenfield

Take a peak behind the lens of photographer Lauren Greenfield and discover the crushing pressure and distorted perceptions of young girls as they try to find an identity to call their own.

Jennifer, 18, at an eating disorder clinic, Coconut Creek, Florida.


A

American girlhood ain’t what it unique set of activities and concerns used to be. Maybe there are pockets generated by their developmental of girls out there who still revel in the needs as well as the adult society in “Little House on the Prairie” books which they live. What girls do, how or dress up their dolls or run lemon- they think, what they write, whisper, ade stands. But they aren’t catching and dream, all reveal a great deal the eyes of sociologists, who seem to about them and about us. Lauren agree that girls today are growing up Greenfield’s photographic vision of in a hyper-sexualized peer pressure- contemporary girl culture is both a cooker — and they don’t show up revealing documentary record and in “Girl Culture,” a new book from a disquieting personal commentary, photograinfused with pher Lauren “Girl culture is the key a distinctly G re e n f i e l d sympathetic to understanding what it ( C h ro n i c l e but biting Books;$40.00). means to be a young woman point of view. today or in the past.” Even the A century youngest ago, the culgirls in Greenfield’s gritty, gorgeous ture of girls was still rooted in famportraits are far too busy dressing up ily, school, and community. When like Barbie dolls to play with them. they were not in school or helping A gentle warning: this is not a book Mother, middle-class American girls for parents desperate to maintain were reading, writing, and drawtheir naivete about what’s happen- ing, as well as playing with their ing in their daughters’ lives: these dolls. Many young girls knew how accounts show you more than you’ve to sew, knit, crochet, and embroiever imagined about the sexual and der, generating homemade crafts social habits of girls. No matter to decorate their rooms or give to how well you think you understand friends as they sipped hot chocowhat goes on in adolescent life, it late and read aloud to one another. can be shocking to read first-hand In a girl culture dominated by accounts of the jealousy, pettiness, concerns about the body rather meanness and general anxiety that than mind or spirit, familiar rites characterize female adolescence. of passage—such as Bat MitzGirl culture is the key to under- vah, quinceañera, graduation, and standing what it means to be a young prom—are also transformed into woman today or in the past. In every shallow commercial events domihistorical epoch, girls have formed a

nated by visions of Hollywood and celebrity magazines. These rituals are deeply important to girls, yet they no longer carry a great deal of emotional weight. Instead, they involve frenetic forays into the marketplace, worries about what to wear, and a preoccupation with the pictures that will document the event. Young women flocked to the Girl Scouts and the Camp Fire Girls, only two of many national and local single-sex groups in which they could learn critical skills under the

Sheena tries on clothes with Amber, 15, in a department store dressing room, San Jose, California. “I want to be a topless dancer or a showgirl. I think it’d be fun, dancing with my tits showing off. It’s like a goal. If I can accomplish being that, then I can accomplish anything.”

close supervision of older women. When girls were together on their own, they chattered about new hair ribbons and dress styles and inscribed sentimental rhymes in one another’s autograph books. In private, many prayed and wrote earnestly in their diaries about how they wanted to improve themselves by helping others or becoming more serious people. Celebrated for their

purity, innocence, and all-around spunk, American adolescent girls in 1900 were considered a great national resource. (Some continued to believe the old Mother Goose rhyme that girls were made of “sugar and spice and everything nice.”) A hundred years later, the lives of girls have changed enormously, along with our perception of them. Girl culture today is driven largely

by commercial forces outside the family and local community. Peers seem to supplant parents as a source of authority; anxiety has replaced innocence. Despite the important and satisfying gains women have made in achieving greater access to education, power, and all forms of self-expression, including sexual, we have a sense of disquiet about what has happened to our girls.


Emilia, 10, sits at the beach at fat camp.

“The lives of girls have changed enormously, along with our perception of them.�

(Left) Danielle, 13, gets measured for thefinal weigh-in on the last day of the weight-los camp, Catskills, New York. (Background) Kristine, 20, poses for a lingerie shoot for Ocean Drive magazine, Miami Beach, Florida.


In the l990s, a warning about girls was sounded by some bestselling books such as Meeting at the Crossroads by Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan and Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher. These powerful discussions alerted the nation to the psychological difficul-

ties of growing up female in a society that silences and stifles girls even in social and educational settings thought to be enlightened. Other studies confirmed that women really are the “stronger sex”—that is, until puberty, when their vulnerability to physical and

mental health problems increases. In The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, I argued that our current cultural environment is especially “toxic” for adolescent girls because of the Story continues on page 33

(Left) The Stanford University women’s swim team, Palo Alto, California. Jessica, 20 years old and one of the member says, “It may be a turnoff to guys that we’re strong, but that’s the price we pay. It’s going to feel a lot better when you’re winning a gold medal than it does feeling bad when one guy doesn’t like you because you have big muscles.”

(Right) Contestants in the fitness America competition pose for a photograph, Redono Beach, California.

Do not use this page for design. This is a fractional page for advertising, not the spread layout.

The New American Girl  

This is a magazine spread featuring photos from Lauren Greenfield's "Girl Culture."