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Joanna Brooks characterizes herself as a blogger who explores her faith out loud, telling hard truths about growing up as an independent thinker in the Mormon faith. In an election year when Mitt Romney’s candidacy has brought the country to its ‘Mormon moment,’ Brooks has achieved political influence of her own, landing on Politico’s "50 to Watch" list. Her memoir “The Book of Mormon Girl” traces her evolution from Marie Osmond wannabe to Brigham Young feminist.
Excerpts from the Interview
On Body and Soul
I opened the book with a scene of my parents sitting us down at the family table and my father teaching us about the way life works according to Mormon teachings. He used a very familiar lesson style that many Mormons will immediately recognize. He took his hand and he held a cotton gardening glove and wiggled his fingers and he said “This hand is your spirit - it always lived. And when you came to earth…” And he put his hand inside the glove and said: “You were born, and you took on this body and you’re here to learn things and gain experience. And some day your body is going to die. Your spirit is going to live on and take all that knowledge with it.” And what a beautiful way to teach a very small child that life is a learning experience and you’re here to gain knowledge and experience and perspective. That’s one of the most indelible lessons of my Mormon childhood.
On Mormon ‘Perfection’
One of the reasons I wrote this book is I wanted to encourage Mormon people to talk candidly about the real life struggles we face with our own faith. Mormons have responded to misunderstanding and even ridicule by non-Mormons by trying to project an image of perfection. You think back if you’re old enough to remember the Osmonds, you remember the shining happy perfect family, and you see it in Mitt Romney in his shining happy perfect family, with his five strapping sons, that perfection is one of the ways we’ve armored ourselves from having been misunderstood and stereotyped as everything from vicious to deviant. But now that we are emerging as a better understood part of American society, it’s OK for us to talk out loud about the things that are hard in our faith, not out of a spirit of criticism or tuning the faith down, but as an honest sharing of spiritual struggle.
On How To Spot Mormons
We still play the game. When my family goes to Disneyland we can always spot the other Mormons at Disneyland. There’s a big posse, a bunch of kids – and not all Mormons look like this but it helps. A bunch of kids, modest clothing because adult Mormons wear sacred undergarments – even on a hot day there’s going to be sleeves, there’s not going to be short shorts. No coke, no coffee, no cigarettes. Blond, there’s some blondness happening among cultural and ethnic Mormons. Not always, but it helps.
On Coming of Age
I received a copy of "Marie Osmond’s Guide to Beauty, Health and Style" when I was coming of age at a pivotal point. And here she was the icon of Mormon womanhood for me. I was a little dark-haired ambitious Mormon girl and she was this dark-haired ambitious Mormon girl, with her own television studio and he own show. And she published this guide with beauty tips, and exercise routines, and diet regimens and wardrobe charts. And that was going to be my manual to Mormon womanhood. But life doesn’t always fit on the grid. It turned out I was an asthmatic 7th grader with a bad permanent. Like so many other 12 and 13 year olds who know what it’s like to idolize a pop celebrity, and to try and follow all these unwritten rules of how to be a grown woman, and find yourself falling desperately short. That was my story too.