Funny women girls

Who knew? In today’s body- and fashion-obsessed culture, something called “a Brazilian” is a necessary accouterment for the well-turned-out woman, even in the operating room. According to San Francisco writer Samantha Schoech, while she was pregnant with twins she was advised that along with yoga classes and reading up on pregnancy, “a Brazilian,” would boost her confidence during labor. Schoech had her doubts about the veracity of this bit of propaganda:

“A Brazilian, for those of you who haven’t watched porn, read fashion magazines, or had sex with a woman under 30 in a while, is the process of taking it all off—labia, butt crack, all of it—except for a tiny landing-strip running the length of the pubic mons, a trim little mustache that belongs squarely in the ‘why bother’ column of life’s little details,” she writes in her contribution to a new collection of essays The Bigger the Better, the Tighter the Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image, and Other Hazards of Being Female.

Schoech and Lisa Taggart, co-editors of the collection, write in their introduction about how American women must cope with the double burden of living up to an unreachable image, portrayed everywhere around us, plus at the same time “feign nonchalance” about the unending process of achieving that certain look.

Many of the essays in the collection detail this continuing conundrum. Tara Bray Smith’s snappy essay “More Than Pretty” recounts her hilarious journey to becoming Miss Burger King 1985, and the mixture of emotions stirred up.

“Beauty pageants are comical. They are also tragic, because nothing so stupid should ever be taken so seriously,” she writes. “But who can help it? The moist eyes, the sincere wish to be chosen.”

Schoech and Taggart offer some unsettling facts that bear repeating. So before you begin to laugh, remember that only 20 percent of American women are satisfied with the way they look. There has been a 465 percent increase in the number of cosmetic procedures since 1997. Twenty-two percent of college women claim to “always” be on a diet. Americans spend twice the amount of money, that’s $40 billion and is equal to the GDP of New Jersey, on diet products each year than is spent on fighting HIV.

One of the joys of reading essay collections is experiencing the variety in style, tone and subjects of the writers. Molly Watson writes for Sunset Magazine and the New York Times and reveals the complicated and at times mortifying process of in-vitro fertilization. Sarah Hart lives in a cottage in Hertfordshire, England, with her partner and a cat and writes about her internal struggle over getting a boob job.

The essays are grouped into aptly named sections including: The Pencil Test & Other Book Failures; Big Asses, Thunder Thighs & Beer Bellies, Stretch Marks: Pregnancy & Other Bum Deals; and The Breakdown: Aging and Illness. Given the span of defects, recounted readers should be able to relate. If you’re perfect, then the essays offer a peek at how other women get by.

Schoech and Taggart admit the essays aren’t meant as a cure-all for those obsessed about bodily imperfections. Rather they offer an antidote to the consuming rituals of perfection foisted on American women.

“What we’re offering, aside from hilarity and wit and straight-up laugh-out-loud writing, is the solace that can be found in commonality,” the editors write in the introduction. Well they do most of the time. As with any collection, some essays are funnier than others.

No matter, all of these snippets of life offer more fodder than just a good laugh. Whether the author is discussing the agonies of adolescence, misshapen bodies, illness or aging, all offer an unflinching look at ourselves and what we will become.