Shortly before I got my copy of Nancy Amanda Redd's Body Drama, I happened to read the obituary of Reverend Edward Chad Varah, founder of The Samaritans, and one of my heroes. After helping officiate at the funeral of a young teenage suicide victim who had mistaken her first period for the onset of venereal disease, Reverend Varah decided to devote his life to battling the ignorance and isolation that had led to the girl's death. He established a hotline that offered unbiased non-religious emotional support and, when necessary, sex education. Because of his insistence on providing the latter, Dr Varah earned himself the title of dirty old man at the ripe old age of twenty-five.
I mention this because it has come to my attention that some reviewers have found Body Drama too graphic. Just as Reverend Varah's critics felt that sex education would give young people 'ideas' (like they don't already have them!) they feel that in the wrong hands this book, with its photographs of vulvas and breasts and other body parts, may not have a wholesome influence on their daughters. These scruples seem more than a little outdated in the age of the internet, when far racier images may be readily obtained by anyone who knows how to google, and they also seem inappropriate given the sensible and positive messages that accompany the photographs: Here's what's going on with your body -- Don't worry, you're not alone! and Here are some things you should know that will help you stay healthy! There are a lot of girls for whom this book will be a real godsend: we have two women doctors in our town who are both fairly young and liberal, but I know girls who are often too embarrassed to consult them.
Let me cut to the chase and tell you about the bravest photograph in the book: a whole spread (sorry about the pun) of vulvas. Although I have heard it said that one can see this sort of thing in locker rooms, I beg to differ. Men can see what other men look like in public toilets and locker rooms; women, unless they happen to work as midwives, nurses or obstetricians -- or perhaps in the pornography industry -- cannot. A girl who is curious or nervous that her body is abnormal will have no choice but to google vagina to satisfy her curiosity or allay her fears. I know of perhaps half a dozen girls who have done this. Personally, I'm glad that my daughters have Body Drama to save them the trouble. There are mothers who voice their worries that their sons will get hold of this book and peruse these photographs. Well, duh -- everyone knows about boys and National Geographics, but does that mean that we need to keep all the National Geographics under lock and key? So go ahead and show this book to your boys. Make sure they don't skip the part about genital herpes.
This book reads a lot more like a conversation with a fun, cool big sister than it does one of those dreary volumes we were referred to by the school nurse back when I was young and desperately interested in what was happening to my body. Ms Redd manages to impart her information in a friendly, conspiritorial manner. She covers a number of controversial girl-relevant issues like smoking, tattooing, tanning and piercing, generally coming out against them in an unobnoxious but unequivocal way. Her section on tanning impressed me no end: my daughters, who tend to turn a deaf ear to my lectures on the stupidity of tanning salons, were stunned by the photograph taken under ultraviolet light on page 44. Nothing I have told them about the evils of tanning has been as effective as this one picture. And she wisely provides information about how to get pierced or tattooed safely. This is smart: if her message was Don't do it, she would lose all credibility -- and be ignored.
When this book arrived, I left it on the kitchen table quite by accident and went out for the evening. Three hours later, my sixteen-year-old was more than three quarters through it and asked me if she could take it upstairs to finish. She is not always forthcoming with me lately, but when I asked her how she liked the book, she responded with uncharacteristic warmth and enthusiasm. She had skipped ahead to the end of the book and found her favorite section: THE TRUTH ABOUT PHOTOS. Although I am sure that she studied the vulvas and breasts like everyone else, it was seeing how photographs can be touched up, creating picture-perfect bodies without moles, blotches, bulges, or cellulite, that won her over. "I had no idea!" she kept repeating. "All this time I just thought that some women were perfect, but lots of other people look like me!" Bless her: I cannot help but think that this is exactly the reaction the author was hoping for.
Sponsored by the good people at MotherTalk, but frankly I would have written this anyway.