The Beauty Myth, published by Doubleday in New York City, hit the shelves in 1992. Naomi Wolf wrote this 348-page book. Wolf attended Yale University and New College, Oxford University, where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Her essays have been printed in many well-known magazines and newspapers, including Esquire and the New York Times. The Beauty Myth was Wolf’s first book. She has also written two other books, Fire With Fire and Promiscuities. Wolf is a recognized feminist. She has done a lot of writing and has spoken to many audiences about issues involving feminism.
In The Beauty Myth, Wolf’s basic thesis states that there is a connection between female liberation and female beauty. She writes:
The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through,
the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have
come to weigh upon us….During the past decade, women breached the
power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and
cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing medical specialty….Recent
research consistently shows that inside the majority of the…attractive,
successful working women, there is a …dark vein of self-hatred, physical
obsessions, terror of aging, and dread of lost control. (Wolf 10)
Wolf’s research shows that there is an attack against feminism that uses images of female beauty to keep women “in their place”. Women today are more powerful than ever before, yet they are more self-conscience as well. The media has created a standard of beauty that is impossible to attain and women are developing obsessive behaviors trying to measure up to that standard.
We are constantly surrounded by images of the “perfect” woman. She is tall, thin and beautiful. She rarely looks older than 25, has a flawless body, and her hair and clothes are always perfect. She is not human. She is often shown in pieces – a stomach, a pair of legs, a beautifully made up eye or mouth. Our culture judges women, and women judge themselves, against this standard. It is forgotten that “beauty pornography”, as Wolf says, focuses on underweight models that are usually 15 to 20 years old. Flaws, wrinkles and other problems are airbrushed out of the picture.
Wolf discusses the effect that these standards are having on women in the workplace. A woman’s beauty, or lack of it, can be used against her. In 1986, Mechelle Vinson lost a sexual harassment case. “Vinson was young and ‘beautiful’ and carefully dressed. The district court ruled that her appearance counted against her.” (Wolf 38) “In Hopkins v. Price-Waterhouse, Ms. Hopkins was denied a partnership because she needed to learn to ‘walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely,’ and ‘wear makeup’.” She brought in more business than any other employee. (Wolf 39)
I believe that this book has value and people from all walks of life should read it. We all need to become much more aware of how strong and how damaging this kind of media influence is. Women and men need to realize that there are companies in our culture that thrive on making us feel bad about ourselves, such as cosmetic companies, health clubs, clothing designers; anyone that is trying to change us.
The book was well written and extremely interesting. The reviews on the back cover say it all; that this book is “essential reading.” I will recommend it to all of my friends. Hopefully those who are very self-doubting and considering cosmetic surgery will realize they are trying to fit into an abnormal standard of beauty.
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