The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I’ve been aware of this book for a long time, but I’ve only just got round to reading it and I wish I’d read it years ago.
Wolf puts across many thoughtful and considerate arguments for why the beauty myth exists and its use to control women in society. Beauty, she argues, has taken the place of what religion used to do and it’s an insidious and powerful tool of oppression. Without the enforced obsession with the appearance (and the projected image is impossible for most women to achieve, and certainly to continue to achieve), how much more would women do, Wolf argues, how powerful would they be?
If you’re not convinced by the arguments that dieting doesn’t work (it almost always results in disordered eating and it ruins the metabolism), then be convinced by Wolf’s political arguments against dieting –
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
And definitely be convinced by her arguments against the cosmetic surgery industry.
“Whatever is deeply, essentially female – the life in a woman’s expression, the feel of her flesh, the shape of her breasts, the transformations after childbirth of her skin – is being reclassified as ugly, and ugliness as disease. These qualities are about an intensification of female power, which explains why they are being recast as a diminution of power. At least a third of a woman’s life is marked with aging; about a third of her body is made of fat. Both symbols are being transformed into operable condition so that women will only feel healthy if we are two thirds of the women we could be. How can an ‘ideal’ be about women if it is defined as how much of a female sexual characteristic does not exist on the woman’s body, and how much of a female life does not show on her face?”
The book was published in 1990 and I found it rather depressing that many of situations she describes and ruminates on have worsened. Facilitated by the internet, for example, the preoccupation with appearance and looks is worse than ever in my opinion while the growth in the cosmetic surgery industry continues at a frightening rate. It’s completely debilitating for women everywhere.
Having said that, the book is really worth your while reading. The majority of women will recognise the situations Wolf describes. The text is easy to read and absorb, and the book allows you to equip yourself with knowledge. I felt as I had known a lot of what Wolf describes, but her elaboration made it clearer and brighter, and knowing what is behind the beauty myth makes it a lot less powerful for me, which can only be a good thing.