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When Girls Feel Fat: Helping Girls Through Adolescence

by Sandy Friedman

When Sandy Friedman created the “Girls in the ’90s” discussion group to help young women deal with eating disorders, she anticipated a positive response. And she got one – from parents, educators, and psychologists. But the girls who attended could only scoff. Of course they dieted, of course they felt fat, obviously they disliked their bodies, but what did that have to do with an eating disorder?

Since girls don’t generally leap around chirping, “I feel pretty! I feel smart!” Friedman has written When Girls Feel Fat, a self-help book designed for mothers. Drawing on her experience as facilitator and therapist, Friedman analyzes the hidden feelings of young women in order to equip mothers with the insight necessary for understanding their daughters’ actions and improving their self-esteem.

Certainly, the task is enormous. Since a woman who hates her thighs and eats yogurt three times a day cannot raise a girl unfettered by body anxiety, Friedman spends much of the book helping the mothers. She provides meditations and exercises to remedy their own self-images before they attempt to reconfigure their daughters’.

Once a woman has started dealing with these issues, she can begin to help her child. Friedman emphasizes that the main priority is to raise girls who don’t “feel fat.” She explains that the phrase is a woman’s way of twisting her true feelings into an unhealthy, ubiquitous, demeaning code. According to Friedman, finding the roots of one’s “fat language” is the first step towards raising healthy adolescent girls. The second step is building good communication skills, a process Friedman details with great clarity.

Though generally insightful, the book does at times lapse into simplistic self-help jargon. It also suffers from poor structure, making it unsuitable for quick referencing. For much simpler navigation, Barbara Mackoff’s Growing a Girl provides much of the same advice, albeit in a less conversational manner.

Mothers with girls in crisis will probably not find this book’s tone sufficiently urgent. But the self-reflective woman looking for an enlightening, intimate, unpretentious read should find Friedman’s suggestions helpful and easy to integrate – both in her own life, and in the life of her daughter.


Reviewer: Sheila Heti

Publisher: HarperCollins


Price: $20

Page Count: 240 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-00-638561-3

Released: May

Issue Date: 1997-6

Categories: Health & Self-help