Paths From Mind to Body

New Books Connect Self, Health, and Soul

From the boys (Lou Schuler with Jeff Volek, R.D., Ph.D., Michael Mejia, and Adam Campbell) who bring us that least read of dental office magazines, Men's Health, comes The Testosterone Advantage Plan (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 312 pp., $13), an Atkins diet and exercise update angled at men stiffed by office life, the "functionally worthless" Food Guide Pyramid, and aerobic exercise. Their salvation? Testosterone, via weight lifting and unsaturated fatty foods.

In the authors' own, unabridged words, the sentences reordered according to their 'roid rage logic: We're giving you back your manhood. First of all, we're telling you man-to-man that your instincts are on target: The reason that you want to look a certain way is that you're supposed to look that way. The exercises here are the weight-room classics. Are there other paths to the same destination? Perhaps. Ours is just the straightest one we know of. Equally important, our talk is straight too. Kinda sorta. Last but never least, you'll reap more MONEY and SEX. You know from experience that your wife is constantly trying to get you to eat "better," to attempt to follow the nutrition establishment's guidelines. (And once again, we don't mean to sound like conspiracy theorists, but studies on the equivalent female hormone, estrogen, abound.) Frankly, we're angry about all this. Warn the women and children: The juice is loose. —Nick Catucci

Yoga art: Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti
photo: Martin Brading/Stewart, Tabori & Chang
Yoga art: Sharon Gannon of Jivamukti

From the Hottentot Venus all the way to "Baby Got Back" and the J.Lo booty brouhaha, the black female form has been scrutinized, objectified, and ultimately dehumanized by a society that used it for its own purposes, whether work, procreation, sexual pleasure, or novelty. Even attempts to celebrate the beauty of non-European women at times border on fetishism. The essays featured in Kimberly Wallace-Sanders's Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture (University of Michigan Press, 350 pp., $24.95) masterfully explore the painful history behind the American fascination with the black female form in history, art, literature, and science, as well as the nebulous place it holds within current feminist discourse.

As a historical document, Skin Deep makes for a fascinating and sometimes horrifying read: Descriptions of the Hottentot Venus (complete with a photo of her preserved genitalia) by the doctors who examined her both in life and in death chill to the bone, as do mug-shot-like photos of topless slave women, their clothing unceremoniously pulled down to reveal their bare breasts. The collection stumbles, however, in its examination of present-day representations—how a group of African American female academics can gloss over the current and constant objectification of the female body in hip-hop is beyond me. All in all, however, the mere presence of these essays serves to do what history, unfortunately, has not: rescue the black female form from "other" status, and to celebrate it as unique, strong, and, above all, beautiful. —Chanel Lee

Growing up, I had to be way beyond sick to stay home from school and damn near dead before my mom would take me to see a doctor. I carry that attitude with me to this day. In college, I went to class for a week with a full-blown sinus infection, and I once hobbled in to work on a sprained ankle. I was so busy trying to take care of business that I didn't have time—or wouldn't take the time—to take care of myself. If unchecked, that tendency can be deadly: African American women often die from curable or manageable conditions like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer due to medical neglect. In their new Blessed Health: The African American Women's Guide to Physical and Spiritual Well-Being (Fireside/Simon & Schuster, 432 pp., $14), Dr. Melody McCloud and Angela Ebron seek to cure both problems by giving readers "prescriptions for the soul," opportunities to "take time to take stock" of their physical and spiritual lives, and ways to combat illness from a religious perspective. However, this is no simple self-help panacea: Blessed Health arms readers with medical facts and statistics and tools with which to face hard truths about themselves and their lifestyles. Noting the lamentable fact that we're often the first ones in church or on our knees when crisis strikes but usually the last ones in a doctor's office to avert it, the book makes clear that God helps those who help themselves. Now that's chicken soup for the body and soul. —C.L.

Finding god(s) at twentysomething can seem like an impossible mission. Religion is beyond passé, and who has time for spirituality in a city that never sleeps? Yet for many it's an issue that needs to be resolved. Angela Watrous's Bare Your Soul (Seal Press, 320 pp., $16.95) compiles 25 stories of contemporary women struggling to find their place within or without the spiritual world, from a bi-curious Christian attempting to reconcile her religious beliefs with her liberal politics and taboo sexuality to an atheist watching her father die and finding peace in her own secular ways of dealing with his passing.

My grandmother told me never to bring up issues of religion or politics in mixed company. Although the memoirs in Bare Your Soul are not always well written, they tackle issues all too frequently overlooked. What is faith, and how do present-day women go about reordering archaic rituals of religion into a format relevant and fulfilling in their own lives? The book breaks the silence around spirituality and religion that exists in our generation. —Sarah Donnelly

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