10 Feminist Books To Read That Will Help You Deal With Self-Image Struggles
Most of us read books to experience something outside of ourselves. We read to go on grand adventures, or to find out what it would be like to be a disaffected middle-aged literature professor contemplating an affair. A good book can help us imagine ourselves into different times and places, different bodies. But sometimes, the best books are the ones that help us to feel comfortable in our own bodies, and in our own time and place, however imperfect they may seem. Here are a few books to read if you struggle with self image, because you are not alone.
When I was younger, I was a junkie for fantasy books staring young girls — just like me! But the more I read, the more I started to notice that nearly every heroine in those books was described as thin... or athletic, or skinny, or wiry, or flat chested. I, however, was a chubby, sedentary child, with no aptitude for sports (my 8th grade soccer team was called The Turtles, and we lost every game.) Books were my escape from reality, but even in fiction I felt like there was something wrong, even unacceptable, about the way I looked. So, for anyone who's ever struggled with their own reflection, here are a few books that will help you out:
'Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body' by Roxane Gay
Hunger is the rare body memoir that doesn't end in a diet ex machina. It's not a story about weight loss, or about learning to love your body unconditionally despite all the odds. Instead, Hunger brings us a searingly honest journey of one woman, her hunger, and her "unruly" body, as written by one of the greatest essayists of our time.
'Look at Me' by Jennifer Egan
Charlotte Swenson is a fashion model, gifted with natural beauty... until she emerges from a car accident so brutal that it takes eighty titanium screws to reassemble her face. Look at Me is a surreal, thrilling novel that explores the complications of beauty, perception, and self image, even when you still have your original face.
'Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out' by Susan Kuklin
Beyond Magenta is a collection of interviews with six transgender and genderqueer teenagers, describing their experiences in their own words. Even if you're not a teen, or not currently struggling with issues of gender identity, this book is a poignant reminder that everyone has the right to live as their truest self.
'Sex Object' by Jessica Valenti
Feeling objected? Or not hot enough? Or somehow experiencing both feelings at the same time while also worrying that having issues with your body makes you a bad feminist? Read Jessica Valenti's Sex Object. In this sharp memoir, Valenti explores the daily tolls of sexism, both on a societal scale and in her own personal experience.
'Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education' by Mychal Denzel Smith
It's not only women who experience constant, dehumanizing messages about their bodies and their self worth! Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching is a stunning meditation on black masculinity and self image at this moment in time, from Barack Obama to the many young black men murdered in police shootings over the last few years.
'This One Summer' by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
With plenty of family drama and gorgeous artwork, This One Summer is the quintessential coming of age story. Over the course of one summer, Rose and Windy must come to terms with the way that the world sees women, and start to make the thorny choices about how they want to be perceived by others as they start to leave girlhood behind.
'milk and honey' by Rupi Kaur
Through poetry and prose, Milk and Honey tells a story of violence, loss, love, and the exploration of femininity in all its bitterness and sweetness. For anyone whose self image struggles are tied up in past traumas, this book is a must read.
'Redefining Realness' by Janet Mock
What is "real"? Who gets to decide who we "really" are? Janet Mock's powerful memoir follows her from birth through her turbulent high school years of transitioning, and finally to an adult life filled with love and success. Her story is harrowing at times, but ultimately a joyful celebration of living as your real self.
'Tiny Beautiful Things' by Cheryl Strayed
I don't know about you, but whenever I'm feeling insecure, I start binge-reading advice columns like nobody's business. Tiny Beautiful Things is a collection of Cheryl Strayed's best "Dear Sugar" columns, filled with humor, drama, and genuine moments of beauty and hope. It's simultaneously an advice book and an excellent pick me up when you're feeling unsure of your place in the world.