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Book of essays: It's tough living inside a woman's skin

It wasn't what I expected.

The publicity material accompanying For Keeps, Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance seems to promise some humor. So does the cover of this anthology, which shows three women in various stages of aging, posing coquettishly in bathing suits.

I was looking for a few laughs and some reflections on how to deal with sagging breasts, age spots and neck wattles.

Save your $15.95 if that's all you're interested in.

Edited by Victoria Zackheim, For Keeps is, instead, page after page of raw emotions — a fist to the stomach rather than a chuck under the chin.

Bodies are at the heart of most of the essays. Aging bodies, broken bodies, sick bodies; bodies ridiculed by those who only look at them; bodies reviled by those who wear the skin.

It is woman versus woman, with the competition and attacks coming both from within and without.

The only constants in the 27 essays are loss, pain, regret.

Oh, and yearning. Yearning to be loved, to fit in, to be perfect — the perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect lover, perfect friend.

This is not a book easy to read, or to review.

Its message will resonate with virtually all women in some way. Most will recognize themselves — and will cringe— in at least one of the stories.

Poor body image is universal.

The bodies are not thin enough. The bosoms aren't big enough. The waists not small enough. The muscles not strong enough. The hearts too weak to do more than survive, at least for a while.

In one essay, a woman reveals savaging her body while trying to exercise it into perfection.

Another essay provides a searing view of a mother who humiliated, taunted and psychologically scarred her daughter because the daughter's body didn't measure up to the mother's standard of perfection.

These women, like many of us, longed to be loved but at one time or other considered themselves unlovable. Their truth-telling about being female is as bloody and brutal as rape.

If acceptance didn't finally arrive in some way for most of the authors, For Keeps would be too depressing to read.

Still, even at its most inspiring, the anthology is not uplifting.

Merely confirming.

Given the possibilities, confirmation isn't bad.

Judy Hill is a freelance writer living in St. Petersburg.


For Keeps, Women Tell the Truth About Their Bodies, Growing Older, and Acceptance

Edited by Victoria Zacheim

Seal Press, 292 pages, $15.95

Book of essays: It's tough living inside a woman's skin 04/28/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 28, 2010 11:54am]
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