As part of my attempts to diversify the type of books I read - in all aspects of the word - I have started to read a feminist book most weeks in some from. From poetry to essays to novels, by a myriad of different authors from different backgrounds. So for this week's 'Feminist Friday' I decided to read 'The Beauty Myth' by Naomi Wolf. Naomi Wolf is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Beauty Myth, The End of America and Give Me Liberty. She has toured the world speaking to audiences of all walks of life about gender equality, social justice, and most recently, the defense of liberty in America and internationally.
'The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today's world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women's movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It's the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society's impossible definition of "the flawless beauty.”
First of all, the Beauty Myth is not a book to take lightly, it deals with many an issue that is fundamentally important to consider and listen to as we live our lives. Some of the main take aways I got from the novel are:
The book tells us that because of this ‘beauty Myth’ there is only one type of beauty and it is primarily sold by the beauty industry. The type of industry it currently stands as, if you are ‘ugly’ or not skinny enough, then it is the worst thing you can possibly be.
The Beauty Myth itself manifests in a different form to suit the times we live in. E.g. as women have received more freedom, the Beauty Myth had to evolve to keep us caged and unhappy with ourselves.
The Beauty Myth teaches us to aim for something that is unobtainable. E.g. the mascara in adverts isn’t all the model’s actual lashes, they use false ones in a mascara ad! and anti-aging products work. (they don’t work, the ads lie to us.)
One of my favourite points is about choice. How much choice is there for us? Not conforming to the unspoken rules of the Beauty Myth or the Beauty Industry. E.g we might CHOOSE to shave, but what if we didn’t? we’d be met with disgust and odd looks by friends, family and strangers. Like not wearing a bra, although admittedly more and more are celebrating the ‘free the nipple’ campaign and less women are wearing bras, there is still a way to go. This idea of the Beauty Myth keeps us trapped and it will unless people start to rebel.
Wolf's central thesis, that the cultural "myth" of feminine beauty is a political and economic weapon used by the male-dominated world to undermine women's advancement in society, to me is undeniably obvious. As women we are trapped by the adverts selling makeup, ‘feminine’ products and telling us we have to wear bras in the first place.
This book is just full of massive ideas and realistic truths, that I could talk about for hours. Yes, Wolf may have an agenda. But she has written a highly intelligent and thought-provoking piece, that I’m sure I will think about for a long, long time.