Puberty never seems easy especially when you consider all the changes your body goes through. Why is one breast bigger than the other? Why am I breaking out all of a sudden? Looking in magazines we begin to realize that our bodies are different than the women on the covers. If this is considered to be the “standard” of beauty, then what’s wrong with me? So where can teens go to get the answers to sometimes embarrassing questions?
To the rescue of raging hormones and growing insecurities, Harvard graduate and former Miss Virginia, Nancy Amanda Redd has put together an empowering book, Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers, to address the questions and concerns of teen girls. Both funny and informative, Body Drama is a wonderful reference guide for both teens and adults.
Q: What inspired you to write this book?
My own body! In middle and high school, I’d often sneak into the health section of the bookstore or library and frantically flip through the dozens of puberty and body books on the shelves, ignoring the paragraphs of clinical text, searching urgently for photographic evidence that I was not a weird, stinky girl—proof by comparison, if you will. I desperately needed to know whether or not my body was normal, but my searches always ended in vain. To me, if none of the body books talked about dandruff (which I had), period stains (always a concern) or showed me how my growing body was supposed to look naked (which I really wanted to know), then other girls must not have these same issues, problems and curiosities. I always finished my reading feeling as though I had missed the boat in the body department. None of my issues were ever publicly discussed, so I thought that my original assumption was correct: I was a gross girl with lots of odd problems.
It wasn’t until my college women’s studies courses that I was able to get the information I needed and the reassurance that body drama happens to ALL women and not just me. It was really painful to stress over my body for all of my teen years, and not everyone is as lucky as I was to have open-minded professors and classmates to dish with. Body Drama is a book created out of my own personal feelings of necessity and relief!
Q: Most people would assume that a Miss America swimsuit winner would be 100 percent confident about her body. Have you ever had moments where you felt insecure about your body?
Of course, who doesn’t? In flattering clothes and makeup, with my stomach sucked in and high heels on, I always thought that I looked great . . . but underneath it all, I felt like my body couldn’t compete with the flawlessly tiny and toned women that the media displays as “ideal.” For the longest time, I didn’t know that a lot of models were surgically enhanced, heavily made-up or on starvation diets. I also didn’t know until I became Miss Virginia that 99.9 percent of the photographs in magazines are digitally altered to appear perfect. But even after I found out, I still felt inferior, because I never saw anyone who looked like me naked being touted as beautiful. Now, having photographed dozens of women of all shapes and sizes, I’ve seen glimpses of my body parts on many different beautiful young women, and I feel much more comfortable with myself. These real-deal, unairbrushed and unaltered images are in Body Drama, and I hope that they will have the same effect on others who are struggling with their own self-image!
Q: In this book you’ve also revealed your experiences with the culture of “American beauty.” Tell us about that a little and how you hope this will help your readers.
I grew up southern and black in the 1990s, when cultural beauty ideals were much more natural and womanly. Ideas of perfection were malleable and forgiving—the size six in my 11th grade class had just as much of a chance of getting a date to prom as the size 16, and super-skinny was NOT in. By my senior year of high school, I started interacting with teens from less diverse and more affluent parts of the country (especially at Harvard), and peer pressure, personal insecurity and general curiosity led me to completely buy into commercialized forms of perfection as beautiful. I waxed, dieted, plucked, powdered, crunched and sweat my way into this small, unforgiving box, but I began realizing that not only was I not any happier now that I fit in, I was less so. And I happened to start dating a guy (now my husband) who preferred seeing me when I wasn’t wearing tons of makeup and who didn’t buy into any of the “way thin is in” messages surrounding us in college. So the seed for Body Drama was planted early on. I wanted maturing young women, who I knew would go through similar experiences to my own, to have at least ONE resource that was photographic, fun to read and that promoted nothing but a diverse array of natural, normal, imperfectly perfect bodies, exactly as they should be, so that they wouldn’t ever feel alone.
Q: One of the great things about this book is not only the information you provide but also pictures of real girls with real bodies (no re-touching). Were you worried that this was too much exposure, too “in your face”? Well, it’s a lot less “in your face” than the over-exposed, sexualized “shake what your momma gave you” bodies in rap videos, pornography, and many movies and television shows. It’s actually very wholesome, because my bodies aren’t sexualized and are presented in a positive and educational light. Let’s face it: kids are now being raised in a YouTube, MySpace, “in your face” world—either we match their pace while keeping it positive or we lose out on important opportunities to reach today’s youth.
Q: From your research, is there such a thing as a “normal” body?
A normal body is one that functions properly without pain, so anyone who is fortunate enough to be blessed with two arms and legs, a head, a torso and the proper genitalia is lucky enough to be able to consider themselves normal. I just received an email from a 75-year-old woman who desperately wishes that she had been able to shirk societal standards of beauty and “normal” when her body was young and still fully functional. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world that would gladly trade their non-working legs for my cellulite-ridden ones, and looking at things like that helps to keep a proper perspective. It makes me want to cry when I think about how so many women (myself sometimes included) spend so much time (or entire lifetimes) disrespecting our bodies, when it’s a miracle that we have healthy bodies at all.
Q: Throughout the book you write small little inserts about your personal experiences. How do you hope this will help the reader?
I wanted to put my experiences out there because if I didn’t share some of my own stories, I felt that it would be hypocritical of me to expect young women to open up about and get help for their deepest, darkest and most embarrassing body dramas. The issues in my past that I talk about (going near bald because of a bad relaxer, awful odors everywhere, feeling fat, needing therapy) happen to almost everyone, and we shouldn’t have to feel shame. By talking about my own body drama, young women can learn from my mistakes without making the same ones!
Q: What else can we expect from you in the future? Will you be writing more books geared towards young women?
That’s a common question, and the answer is, “We’ll see!” It took me over two years to see Body Drama in bookstores, so right now I want to stop and smell the roses and just enjoy this moment.
To learn more about Nancy Amanda Redd and Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues please visit www.nancyredd.com.