RED Hearts: The Girl Project

pleasereadRED Hearts are guest posts on I Heart Daily from the authors of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today. Today’s RED Hearts post is from RED author Alison Smith, 23, in Brooklyn, NY, who just discovered a 2011 book she adores:

Even though I'm no longer a student, I still keep my back-to-school book shopping tradition alive. But instead of looking for the cheapest used textbooks in my college bookstore, this year I spent an afternoon in the basement of The Strand, downtown New York's used and discounted book heaven. In the feminist theory section, I found 2011's Please Read (if at all possible): The Girl Project by Kate Engelbrecht.

Now I'm not sure how it possibly took me two years to discover this book, though I can tell you why I was immediately drawn in. I'm 23 going on 19. Or at least that's how it feels if I'd answer without thinking when someone asks my age. Like this book in the basement of The Strand, I'm all too in tune with the optimistic, at times angsty, feelings of teenhood.

Please Read offers a literal look into the lives of teenage girls -- something I see as equally valuable to examinations of gender. The project began in 2007, when Engelbrecht, a photographer, sent disposable cameras and questionnaires to more than 5,000 girls. The amazing results are in the book, where each contributor sincerely describes her aspirations while summarizing her current state of mind through images. Themes, of course, emerge, allowing Engelbrecht to both group and contrast the contributions. While six pages show girls pinching their stomachs and wrapping tape measures around their waists, the opening spread of the section shows “I LOVE MY BODY!” scrawled across one midsection.

It's this kind of positivity that colors the book. While there are instances of apparent self-doubt and fear, they're matched with images and text filled with confidence and hope. I loved reading the pages where Engelbrecht posed questions like, “What do you think about the ways girls are portrayed?” and “What are you afraid of?” The answers are heartfelt and, more importantly, brave. It’s hard not to imagine your own answers and how vulnerable yet empowering it would be to offer them. But even if these insights don’t pique your interest, it’s worth snagging a copy just for the beautiful photographs of intertwined best friends, mirror selfies, and beauty routines.

Check it out and then spend about three hours on teenagebedroom wishing Engelbrecht had sent you a camera and asked, "What is the one thing about you that no one seems to get?”

RED Hearts guest poster Alison Smith is an author of RED: Teenage girls in America write on what fires up their lives today, which is out in paperback.