Not always! So I decided to write the book I wish I’d had as a teen and in college-an honest, funny, practical, medically accurate, totally reassuring guide to how women’s bodies actually look, smell, feel, behave, and change.
BODY DRAMA is a New York Times Best-Seller,and it talks about all the issues that keep you up at night, lopsided boobs, stinky pits, eating disorders, facial hair, an ugly vulva, bad dye jobs, and more. Alongside real-deal photographs of women just like you and me (no airbrushing, no supermodels, no kidding), you’ll find medical pictures of things you need to be able to recognize, true confessions by yours truly, and the encouragement you need to appreciate the uniqueness, strength, and beauty of your body.
“Body Drama should be center stage in every young woman’s life. It will make you love every little thing about your body: your sags, your tags, your lumps, your bumps. It’s a book of liberation and it’s fun.”
-Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues
This honest, funny, and lucidly-written book is the perfect antidote to a culture constantly teaching young women to angst about their bodies. This liberating call speaks directly to the worries and concerns that most of us have, offering a perspective and solutions that will help girls and young women figure out what REALLY matters to them. And maybe the world will be that much saner as a result.
-Judy Norsigian, Executive Director of Our Bodies Ourselves and co-author of Our Bodies, Ourselves
Body Drama…should be on the shelf of every family, school, and doctor in America.
— Nancy Brown, PhD, Professor of Adolescent Sexuality at Stanford University, senior research associate at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF) Research Institute
“I love this book! It puts loving (and knowing) your body into words and pictures — you’ll find out yours isn’t so different after all. Body Drama has the answers you want to the questions you don’t know how to ask. Fun and frank, like talking to a good friend who knows absolutely everything and is willing to dish.”
— Kim Gandy, President of the National Organization for Women (NOW)
In Body Drama, Nancy Redd combines the information of Dr. Ruth, the stylishness of Naomi Campbell, the vibe of your best friend, and photos you always wanted to see but were afraid to ask. An empowering, original, funny, and frank book, Body Drama is poised to become the modern girl’s Our Bodies, Ourselves.
— Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, authors of Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, & the Future and Grassroots: A Field Guide to Feminist Activism
“I would have loved to have a book, written by someone who presumably is completely confident about her own body (she won the swimsuit competition, after all), that addressed all the questions I had about my changing body. If I had a young teenage girl in my life, [Body Drama] would be at the top of my list of gifts for her.”
— Catherine Price of Broadsheet on Salon.com
“Perfecto. This is just what girlitas need today–a get-real guide with un-airbrushed photos that allows them to dialogue with their bodies on the most honest levels.”
— Deborah Gregory, author of The Cheetah Girls series and Catwalk
“Alexis and [Jennifer] both think [Body Drama] is terrific for teenage girls who are embarrassed to ask certain questions…Jennifer said that they were sitting upstairs and Alexis handed her a book with 36 names for vulva, which was the external part of a vagina. Nicknames like bird’s nest, cha cha, jelly, muff, rosebud etc. Jennifer said that below the names were 24 close ups of vulvas…Alexis said that the book was really good for answering questions about the body.”
— The “Whatever with Alexis and Jennifer” Sirius Radio Show
What was your personal introduction to these taboo subjects?
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. I would close the books completely bummed out by the one or two real-person pictures I’d find amidst hundreds of drawings and diagrams. Inevitably, these few photographs would be in the diet and nutrition chapter, and they’d be of a beautiful, smiling girl riding a bicycle or holding a piece of fruit, as though my biggest body concern revolved around the proper way to peel a banana.
Occasionally, I would buy the book anyway, lie in my bed at home, stare at that smiling girl and wonder if she, too, ever accidentally clogged the toilet with her tampons. Deep-seated anxieties began to fester. Was I the only girl who grew hair in strange places? Found yucky stuff in my underwear? Had deep dents on my thighs? As a teen, I had no way of knowing if the day-to-day worries like bad breath, embarrassing nipple hair, ashy skin, or heavy cramps were normal, so I assumed I was the only one doomed to suffer from them. 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 awesome professors and classmates to dish with. Body Drama is a book created out of my own personal feelings of necessity and relief!
How did your friends and family feel about you writing Body Drama?
When I first planned this project, some people thought I was crazy (my mom was mortified), but as the book began to take form, my friends and family began to excitedly open up about their embarrassing body dramas, things that even after decades of knowing each other, we’d been too ashamed to talk about. Who knew that one of my cousins dealt with chronic yeast infections, or that my college roomie once had a tampon stuck inside of her for three months? I wrote Body Drama so that we could all acknowledge, understand, and celebrate the fact that every body is different, and no matter what size and shape you are, you deal with body drama, and you are not alone!
You say you didn’t feel comfortable with your body, even though you were a Miss America swimsuit winner (!). Why?
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 perfect. For the longest time, I didn’t know that a lot of models were surgically enhanced, or on starvation diets, or that their photographs were often digitally altered. 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!
Why did you decide to do the vulva spread?
Vulvas (AKA vaginas, hoo-has, or as Oprah says, vajayjays) get a lot of talk time, but never any face time! So much discussion goes into what is and isn’t normal down there, but without any photos to back the conversations up, only diagrams and illustrations that don’t even resemble the real deal! Nearly every teen I talked to about her body was ashamed of how she looked down there, sometimes because of an insensitive comment from a sexual partner, but mostly because she’d never seen another vulva and didn’t know how they were supposed to look. I decided it was time to give vulvas (the proper name for what’s actually visible down there) their fair share of camera time to prove there isn’t one normal vajayjay!
What’s the most important advice you want to give to young women? And their mothers?
To talk! No matter how cringe-worthy the subject, or how worried you are about how what you say will be construed, you’ve got to get your issues, concerns, and problems out in the open, because it’s much more damaging and troublesome to keep your troubles inside, and it’s even worse to pretend like they don’t exist. My mom and I are the best of friends, but we never had the talk, nor did she share any of her personal body dramas with me, which left me at a total disadvantage growing up. If she had only told me what the good, the bad, and the ugly of what was to be expected as a woman, I could have saved myself a lot of stressing out. Now, we go through Body Drama together, and when we come to many of the issues that were previously off-limits for conversation, I’m shocked to hear her candidly discuss how they relate to her and her experiences! Hopefully Body Drama can be that same kind of conversation-starter for more young women and their mothers, friends, and role models.
Where did you find your models and why did they want to be in Body Drama?
I started writing BODY DRAMA while living in a tiny midtown Manhattan studio, so it made sense to have all of my photo shoots there! All of the young women in Body Drama are from New York City (or surrounding areas) and are students, actresses, teachers, artists, and are from many other walks of life. All of the participants candidly shared stories of their own body drama, some funny, like their nipple nicknames (pencil erasers, fish-eyes, silver bullets), some unique, like the girl who couldn’t wait for the book to be published so she could interrogate her ex-boyfriend as to which vulva was hers and prove to him why he’s my ex because he’s CLUELESS about down there, some painful, like the young woman who had a vagina-altering childhood see-saw accident, and some traumatic, like the woman participating because she is trying to love her body again after a horrible hospital experience following a date-rape that made her distrust doctors and dislike her body.
More than a few of the women photographed confided in me that they signed up for the shoot to try to build up their own self-confidence and to push aside negative feelings they harbored towards their own bodies, like one of the body role models who wrote to me a few weeks after the shoot, saying, “I feel so blessed that I did this. I used to have extreme self-esteem issues relating to my mixed heritage and as a result attempted suicide; it is so cathartic and great to know that I was a part of something that will definitely help young girls and women!”
How about a book for boys? How would it be different/same?
That’s a common question, and the answer is, We’ll see! You’d be surprised by the number of emails I get and conversations that start from guys that are just brimming with their own body drama. Many people tell me that they want their sons/boyfriends/men in their lives to read Body Drama so they can better understand us girls and what we go through and how we actually look! Also, it’s a good read for guys because many of the issues in Body Drama are gender-neutral, and male readers can learn a lot from the information provided on issues like toe fungus, bad breath, poorly-healing piercings, and underwear skid marks. ESPECIALLY underwear skid marks.
Do you have a body role model? Who? Why?
There are so many awesome women who are taking a stand against society’s absurd female ideals, but my #1 body role model du jour is Jennifer Love-Hewitt for her recent statement to the media after unflattering pictures were taken of her tush: size 2 is not fat…and being a size 0 doesn’t make you beautiful. Like all women out there should, I love my body. To all girls with butts, boobs, hips and a waist, put on a bikini, put it on and stay strong.
I am proud of her for standing up for herself amidst the paparazzi backlash against her backside– she’s a spokesperson for a modest underwear line whose normal, unairbrushed, happily-vacationing derriere was caught on tape without the lighting and makeup of advertisement-land. Just like readers will see in the before and after airbrushing photo section in Body Drama, and also in the completely natural and real shape spread of women’s bodies at the end of Body Drama, what you see in the magazines isn’t real and one shouldn’t compare one’s own, natural body (even if the pictures are of you!) to that!