Thursday, November 1, 2012

Book Review: Dancing at the Shame Prom

By Melissa Amster

I may have studied psychology in college and done nothing with my degree since then, but reading "Dancing at the Shame Prom" (edited by Amy Ferris and Hollye Dexter) made me feel like I was running a therapy session for some pretty amazing sounding women!

Shame is a powerful thing. It can weigh on your heart and mind, diminish your sense of self-worth, and impact the way you live in the world. But what happens when you share that secret burden?

Amy Ferris, Hollye Dexter, and the writers they brought together are all ready to let go of shame. In Dancing at the Shame Prom, twenty-six extraordinary women—Lyena Strelkoff, Teresa Stack, Monica Holloway, Nina Burleigh, Amy Friedman, Meredith Resnick, Victoria Zackheim, and more—take the plunge and say “yes” to sharing their stories. These brave writers, journalists, musicians, artists, directors, and activists have offered up their most funny, sad, poignant, miraculous, life-changing, and jaw-dropping secrets for you to gawk at, empathize with, and learn from—in the hopes that they will inspire others to do the same. Letting go feels good!

Freeing, provocative, and audacious, "Dancing at the Shame Prom" is about flaunting the secrets that have made you feel small so that you can stand up straight, let the shame go, and finally—decisively—move on with your life.
(Synopsis courtesy of Amazon.)

Truth be told, the title stuck out to me because I didn't go to prom at all, and part of that was shame over my own fear of what people would say if I had shown up with a freshman, seeing that my closest guy friend at the time fit in that category. True story!

In any case, I found "Dancing at the Shame Prom" to be chock full of interesting stories from remarkable women. (I read their bios at the end!) Some of it reminded me of an extended version of reading the "Confessions" section of Cosmopolitan. At least in the sense that I felt privy to what made these women want to cower in a dark corner. I've always had a thing for reading human interest articles in magazines though....the darker, the better. I even made it all the way through "A Child Called It," which is something I could never read again, but still haunts me from time to time (and this was back in 1998).

When I was in my final year of college, the guy I was dating almost died at the beginning of second semester, as a result of a chronic illness. I was obviously upset about it and went to an emergency therapy session at the school's counseling office. The counselor was abrasive though. He kept asking me how it was my fault or why I was blaming myself. I then started going to counseling regularly, but asked to speak with a woman instead. Thankfully, the woman I saw was really nice. However, she also asked me how I thought any of what had happened could be seen as my fault. While reading "Dancing at the Shame Prom," I was reminded of these therapy sessions. In a good amount of the "confessions," the women were victims of someone else's cruelty, whether it was from bullying, rape, child abuse, etc. I kept thinking "How is this any of your fault? Why are you the one who has to be ashamed?!?" It made me sad that these women felt so poorly of themselves when they were simply victims and didn't do anything to bring it upon themselves.

While some of the stories seemed to have momentum in the beginning before going into metaphorical self-analysis, there were other stories for which I felt a strong amount of empathy:

"From Exile to Redemption" by Julie Silver: There was a strong Jewish aspect and reminded me of a situation that happened with one of my close friends.

"Raising a Cowbird" by Jenny Rough: It was heartbreaking to read in some ways, but also gave me a perspective on parenting that I was never able to truly understand before.

"The Last Secret" by Amy Wise: While the premise of it was troubling, it was told incredibly well and is one of the stories where the woman was directly in charge of her shame vs. being a victim. She had something to hide and her confession brought on different reactions than expected.

"Matching Rainbows" by Laurenne Sala and "1329 Lynx Trail" by Samantha Dunn: Both talk about what happens when one is ashamed of a parent and how it affects how they perceive themselves as a result.

"The Hair Manifesto" by Marianne Schnall: I could totally relate since I have curly hair too and have lots of fun (and sometimes not-so-much-fun) stories to go along with it.

"In the Name of the Father" by Hollye Dexter: Not only did the editors put together this book, but they also contributed their own stories. Hollye's story especially stuck out for me in the way it was written and how I felt after reading it. She had really been through a lot as a kid and I was moved by the amazing encounter she had as an adult.

This is not to say I didn't like the other stories because they all were incredible and compelling in their own ways. I just wanted to share a few that really stood out for me. I found some incredibly shocking and others just plain sad, where I wanted to give the writer a hug afterward. Some stories were inspiring, such as the first one by Lyena Strelkoff.

I definitely recommend "Dancing at the Shame Prom" to women of all ages and in all walks of life. I can guarantee at least one story, if not more, will resonate with you and make you want to share your own confessions. I hope Amy and Hollye will come together to do another book like this, either with authors we are more familiar with (I feel bad about this, but I didn't know who any of these writers were, even after reading their bios) or with ordinary women who have stories to tell and could even do it under a mask of anonymity if they wanted.

Thanks to Seal Press for the book in exchange for an honest review. They're sharing some copies with readers in the US and Canada as part of our interview with Amy and Hollye!

1 comment:

Sammy Lo said...

Prom just opens up a lot of memories to anyone. Ad for me, I sure made a lasting memory by having fun with my friends and getting a pretty dress.