Her body, herself, her book

"I love chocolate chip cookie dough," Janelle Brodsky gushes. "I always have to have it in the fridge."

There was a time when Brodsky, 20, a College and Engineering senior, would heave said chocolatey dough from the kitchen and swear it off, only to replace it a few nights later. But no more. Her recently published "Things We Wish We Knew: Empowering College Women About Our Bodies and Food" traces her shift in body-image perspective and provides a jumping-off point for her peers to get the information they need about nutrition and exercise.

The information Brodsky gives in "Things We Wish We Knew," handed out to more than 400 women on campus, covers the gamut of healthy eating and exercise, trying to correct some of the myths. While informing young women of basic nutrition concepts, the book tries to change their attitudes about unrealistic ideals.

"I don't give my opinions or my theories," Brodsky said. "It's the fundamental basics that everyone sort of knows but doesn't really know."

Energized by her own quest for knowledge - she's not the type to blindly accept what her personal trainer was telling her - Brodsky started looking into basic food and exercise concepts - carbs, calories, candy - what did they all do?

An internship at a bank over the summer exposed her to coworkers who shared her curiosity and she realized she had a target audience with whom to share her knowledge. Also, her role as Panhellenic Council president showed her that important information usually did not make it to those who need to hear it - they don't show up for speakers.

So, she started writing, and 100 or so pages later, had a book.

"It started out all for me," Brodsky said. "I didn't think of myself as a writer; I didn't want to take my trainer's views as fact - I wanted to know for myself. We all have a very obscure view of our own bodies. But, body image will never be the hot issue on campus even though we need to talk about it."

Obviously, others wanted to talk about it as well. Since she started distributing her book, which was financed with funds from the Office of the Vice Provost for University Life and Wilmington-based First USA Bank, Brodsky has received more than 100 e-mails from students and staff members looking for more information.

According to Penn President Judith Rodin, who wrote the introduction for Brodsky: "'Things We Wish We Knew' comes at an important time in the lives of college women. These are trying years, but also teachable years. Changing societal and cultural norms is a formidable task with a long road still ahead. This book is an important first step."

Brodsky sees the dangers for women around the campus. It's a social place, people are looking for relationships, and there's a desire to look really good, she says.

"Penn is an academically rigorous place, but it also has a lot of thin women," Brodsky said. "If you don't fit in with that very narrow group, then you're always trying to be like that because you think it's what you need to succeed.

"The reality is that many of us will never fit into size 4 jeans. I'm a size 10 and I feel okay when I look in the mirror."

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Originally published on October 15, 1998