An alarming number of American females don’t like what they see in the mirror, writes Bulik: by the time girls are ready for high school, half of them hate their weight and shape—and their self-esteem has taken a precipitous dive. Bulik, a psychologist and eating disorders specialist at the University of North Carolina (Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop) paints a disturbing picture of the distorted lens through which many American women, from girlhood to old age, view their bodies. She also offers a guide to untangling the mess, based on controlling negative self-talk. With a section devoted to each part of the life cycle, Bulik includes examples of struggles women can identify with. For example, for college-age women, there’s a plan for healthy eating, and a graph to help young women become aware of the events (“mean-girl behavior”) and situations that foster negative self-esteem. Bulik encourages such inventories to “capture your thoughts” and become “a critical observer of your own thinking and... behavior.” It’s a pain-for-gain challenge to self-awareness that may be the only hope we have to change a troubling trend. Agent: Richard Curtis. (Jan.)
To disentangle self-esteem from body esteem, according to Bulik (psychiatry, Univ. of North Carolina Sch. of Medicine), women need to identify and control their negative self-talk and treat themselves with respect. This is no easy task: society pushes the idealized role of princess onto girls, extols impossible images of perfection such as youth and thinness, and engages in appearance bullying. The problem is compounded because women also tend to play out power struggles and achievement on the appearance battlefield. Bulik helps women identify the cues and triggers for self-criticism and set up fat-talk-free zones. In the last chapter, she emphasizes taking steps to build the self-esteem of girls. Bulik has a life-changing message for women and delivers it well.
In this timely study, Bulik (Psychiatry/Univ. of North Carolina; Crave: Why You Binge Eat and How to Stop, 2009, etc.) examines why the female "inner struggle with identity and self-esteem" often manifests as an obsession with bodily imperfections. She posits that the main reason why women attempt to "fix" themselves with diets, cosmetics and surgery is that society has led them to conflate self-esteem with what she calls "body esteem." The latter should only be a minor component of the former, but social pressures on women to conform to unattainable ideals of beauty reverse the relationship so that how they look physically becomes the primary way by which women judge their total personal worth. The author first looks at how females of all ages view themselves and their bodies. She encourages readers to take inventory of the negative feelings they may have accumulated at various stages in their lives, and she offers practical advice on how women can regain control of their lives and end the harm they do to themselves both physically and emotionally. Females must cultivate strategic awareness of negative self-talk--not only what it is, but when and where it arises--while also nurturing "the inner coach." Not a panacea for all women suffering from poor self-esteem, but Bulik offers hope that freedom from the unrealistic ideals of beauty can be achieved through disciplined self-scrutiny and a will to change damaging ways of thinking and being.