Courtney E. Martin, Author
Courtney E. Martin speaks about how she began writing about the stresses and psychological anxieties of being a young woman.
Courtney E. Martin
Courtney E. Martin discusses how her life experiences translate to the pages as an author of such books as Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters: How the Quest for Perfection is Harming Young Women.
COURTNEY E. MARTIN: My whole life is about stories and the power of story and how can I tell my own with more honesty and vulnerability? How can I tell others' stories responsibly and in a way that shifts the world toward justice and toward kindness? It's a moral imperative but it's also about if I really want to strategically change the world that I have to understand where those who think totally unlike I did got their ideas. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think I'm among this generation of really ambitious, very dynamic women who number one, don't know how to take care of themselves but number two are really operating at such a high speed and such a high level that it's easy to see other women as competition. There's kind of this psychology of deprivation going on of, you know, I must be the best. And there are only so many slots for the best. And I think it's so detrimental because in fact if you kind of unpeel those layers women-- and this is certainly true in my life-- are each other's best champions. My parents had a really interesting marriage. They were both kind of ex-hippies. They wanted to have this, you know, very equal marriage. My mom's career was sometimes more successful than my dad's. He was a lawyer, she was a clinical social worker. For much of my sort of later childhood and teenage years, my mom's career was kind of organizational work and community work. And she started what is now the longest-running women's film festival in the world. It's called the Rocky Mountain Women's Film Festival. So while other kids were growing up watching cartoons, I was growing up watching documentary films made by and about women. Even just sort of the cultural air I was breathing I think influenced me in a deep way. I knew I wanted to be a writer by that time. And when I looked at the biographies-- the little paragraphs on any book-- basically every one of them said so-and-so lives in Brooklyn, or so and so lives in New York. So I thought well, I don't know why but every writer seems to live in this place-- New York-- so let me try to get there via college. So I ended up going to Barnard College. It was really a place where I think I first got my guts in terms of speaking my truth. My first book is called, "Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters." It was about young women and body image. And I'd grown up hearing people say write what you know, write what you know. And unfortunately when I left Barnard what I knew was this pathological perfectionism that I'd witnessed among my group of girlfriends and also sometimes, you know, had myself. And it was just so painful to be at this place-- Barnard College-- to be in this city to be among the most educated beautiful, brilliant, dynamic young women I had ever met-- who'd been given the most opportunities of any generation in history-- and yet they were so self-hating, so anxious. So depressed. So eating disordered. Finally I realized, you know, the old adage is true-- I have to write what I know, even though this has been such a painful lived experience for me and it's been something that I wanted to avoid. It's not about me. It's about what can I offer the next girl who shows up the first day of Barnard College as naive as I was? Like, how can I give her the book that I needed to read when I headed to the library to answer the question, why is this happening? I recently contributed to the 40th anniversary of the "Our Bodies, Ourselves" book. To me it was like, this is a book I saw on the shelves of my mom's rooms when I was growing up. Like, this is a significant part of feminist history and somehow I've managed to get included. It makes me feel so powerful to know that I wrote these words down and now they have this life of their own out in the world and this healing power out in the world is just kind of blows me away. [MUSIC PLAYING]