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Taking Stock

Courtney E. Martin

How one defines success is a tricky business, far trickier than I ever would have imagined when I had none. Young, hungry, and graduating college—ten years ago now!—all I wanted was a whack at life. I figured that every little achievement would feel better than the not yetness of being 21 and having an unremarkable CV.
Since then, my CV has grown. I’ve been lucky enough to publish books, speak on national television, even give a TED talk—that overhyped Holy Grail of public intellectualism. But it turns out that the things that really mark my success, the things that make me pause and go, “Wow, I was included in that?!” are less likely to be anointed from “on high” and more likely to be connected to my own experiences way back.
I count being asked to contribute to the anniversary edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves among them. It was a book that had a permanent place on our family bookshelf growing up. It was a place to go digging when my body and the bodies of my girlfriends mystified us. It was a place to hear something true and comforting when the cacophony of the outside world’s messages about women’s bodies grew too loud and contradictory.
I know that it has changed countless people’s lives, because it played a small, but important role in changing mine. It gave me relief from the body anxiety that rocks every teenage girl in our culture. It made me powerful with knowledge. It shaped my worldview. When it came time to write my first book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters, I knew that my fingers were dancing across the keyboard—not via some individual strike of inspiration—but as the culmination of decades of dedicated, intentional work on behalf of girls and women everywhere to reclaim our bodies and transform the world. Now that’s a collective success that I feel deeply proud of.