New Book by Saint Mary’s Professor Examines How Young Women See Selves

Gwen O’Brien
Director of Media Relations
Saint Mary's College
Notre Dame, Ind.
(574) 284-4579

Sept. 18, 2008 (Notre Dame, Ind.)—Think female college students are only worried about gaining the freshman 15? Their weight concerns run much deeper than that. Terri L. Russ, an assistant professor in the Communication Studies, Dance and Theatre department at Saint Mary's College, has talked to hundreds of college-age women and has yet to meet one who is satisfied with her body, even if she wears a size 2. It’s the subject matter of her new book to be released Sept. 25, 2008 called Bitchin’ Bodies.

“Women in college soon realize that no matter how much education they get, they are prized first for their body. They are forced to learn how to manage this pressure in addition to all the other pressures of college life,” says Russ, who did not interview Saint Mary’s students for the book.

As a communication instructor, Russ’ book is largely made up of recorded dialogue of young women talking about their bodies. The book’s title is a double entendre. In popular culture, the ideal body is often referred to with the adjective bitchin’. As a verb, bitchin’ means complaining. Russ believes that by listening to women talk about their quest to have an ideal body, we can better understand how body dissatisfaction impacts all women. “My interviews demonstrate over and over that simply asking the question ‘What do you think of body image?’ opens a door that most women have never walked through,” Russ says. “For large change, we can’t stop here. We have to talk to others. We have to break the power of silence with the power of speech.”

Russ is breaking the silence in her work as a teacher and a mentor at Saint Mary’s College. While the interviews for the book were not conducted here, body dissatisfaction among college women is a universal problem. That’s why Russ holds talks on campus where she asks students to write down the negative things they think about their bodies and, in a contract, promise to work on changing one of those views. If they break the contract, they must “pay” a penalty, like volunteering for an hour or donating to a cause. In the spring Russ plans to repeat a course she offered last semester called “Female Beauty: Discourse, Rhetoric and Theory.” One of the assigned projects is to take a Barbie and modify the doll to better represent what women really look like.

To mark the occasion of next Thursday’s book release, next week is “Love Your Body” week at Saint Mary's. The week will conclude Thursday evening with Russ hosting a reading and book signing at 7 p.m. in Student Center Lounge. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include students performing an interpretive dance called "Because of Barbies and Other Dumb Broads."

For more information on the book, go to http://www.stepsisterpress.com/ .

About Saint Mary’s College: Saint Mary’s College, Notre Dame, Ind., is a four-year, Catholic, women’s institution offering five bachelor’s degrees and more than 30 major areas of study. The College has six nationally accredited academic programs: social work, art, music, teacher education, chemistry and nursing. Saint Mary's College ranks among the nation's top liberal arts colleges in U.S. News & World Report's 2009 annual survey. Founded in 1844, Saint Mary’s is a pioneer in the education of women, and is sponsored by the Sisters of the Holy Cross.