A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Monthly Archives: September 2011

Review: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

The Beauty Myth coverTitle: The Beauty Myth
Author: Wolf, Naomi
Length: Around 350 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Original Published In: 1991

It’s getting nearer to the end of the year and everyone is getting busier and busier, and participation has been dropping off. I know I found it hard to finish the book this month as I’ve been on the road for work. That being said, I’m still so excited to be part of this project and I’m glad I made time to read this book. I still can’t really wrap my head around my full thoughts on it so I’m hoping that some of you have joined me in reading along to discuss some points with me!

Firstly, the idea of the beauty myth as a force – definitely something I agree with. I think that culture definitely affects us in a myriad of ways and the way that beauty is displayed so frequently and in only such a limiting number of ways has definitely contributed to the way things are. I agree with Wolf that the timing of it all seems rather coincidental (or rather, not so coincidental!) and that it is largely a political idea.

That being said… in many cases I found myself thinking Wolf was going a bit too far or exaggerating a bit. I can’t decide if this is because it has been 20 years since she wrote the book, or if even at the time it was a bit extreme. Speaking of which, in some ways it’s hard to believe she wrote the book so long ago, as so much of it is still so relevant. And some of her points have definitely come to pass, like cosmetic surgery becoming more common for men.

At the same time, other ideas, as I said, seem to go too far for me. She takes away the idea that women can still be varied and have multiple reactions to different things in their lives. For example, the idea that women would only like S&M because of the images we see in advertising seems a bit offensive to women who may like S&M (odd example, but I found she just kept going on about it!). Another place where I was a bit unconvinced was the section on religion and how beauty has become like a religion.

My other problems with the book were Wolf’s reliance on gender stereotypes (that men and women are different, and this is how, and that we react differently, there are always different expectations, etc) and her firm views of history. If there is no actual evidence of things jumping to conclusions or using ideas because they fit seem too easy! Lastly, this book and Wolf’s views are aimed, really, at middle- to upper-class white women almost exclusively. Although there was a reference here or there to the damage of the fact that beauty is often considered as “white”, this is mostly ignored. And the book focuses on women who only started working in the 60s and 70s, and who can afford these surgeries and products – which certainly excludes a large percentage of people. I’d have liked to see more about everyone instead of just this privileged group.

In terms of our project I was interested to see how heavily Wolf was influenced by Virginia Woolf, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Simone de Beauvoir. It was neat to see other ideas and books we’ve discussed this year feature in the discussion and arguments that were presented in this title. Definitely made it more interesting to have the background that this project has given me!

I’d like to know from you:

  • How did you react to her idea of the beauty myth as a political construct – do you agree that it exists?
  • What struck you the most (for me it was the section on work and how we are expected to look a certain way, and also the insinuations that we got something because of our looks – always frustrates and upsets me)?
  • What bothered you the most?
  • Do you think we’ve improved or regressed in terms of the beauty myth since Wolf wrote this book?

Finally, please do add your review to the InLinkz collection below to create an easy database for participants to use to find your review and keep the discussion going!

Introduction to The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Written in 1991, The Beauty Myth explores the issue of the ideal of a perfect beauty to which women are subjected and which women strive to achieve. Culture and society push certain images at women which makes women feel they have to look a certain way.

The book summary reads:

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”.

I’ve heard numerous critiques that Wolf in this book deals only with women like her – i.e., moderate to well off white women – but I am hopeful going in to the book that I will be proven wrong. This will definitely be one angle though that I will explore in my discussion of the book. I’m looking forward to what others pull out of the book as well.

Wolf herself has made quite a name for herself recently with some of the things she has been in the news for (that Palin and Bachmann are feminists, even if they work against women’s rights in legislation), that the allegations of sexual assault against Assange are definitely all false, and more. Knowing these facts about her I will most likely be reading into her politics through the book as well.

Has anyone started the book yet? I apologize for getting the introduction post up so late, but am looking forward to what everyone thinks of the book!