The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

Feminist Non-Fiction
Paperback, 348 pages
Published September 5th 1991 by Vintage (first published 1990)

There was a lot to this book; definitely not your summer beach read (literally tried to read it at the beach… huge mistake).

A classic work of feminist lit, The Beauty Myth details the ways images of “beauty” are used against women. Although Wolf wrote this book almost 30 years ago, it’s still relevant and important today.

After the women’s movement and sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, keeping women in the home became passé. They (the patriarchy/men/society) now had to come up with new way to oppress us. Women’s increased liberation and confidence meant we wanted more education, more presence in the work force, more of a voice in society. The larger patriarchal society responded. And thus became the beauty myth.

Wolf discusses the ways images of what a woman “should” look like are constructed by men and for men. She also explores how images of women’s “beauty” hurt us in every sphere. They hurts us at work, in the economy, sexually, in terms of violence. But also, and perhaps most importantly, they hurt us drastically in our private spheres by significantly lowering our sense of self-worth.

Wolf argues that patriarchal society pits women against one another, making us believe that other women are competitors. A “beautiful” woman could steal our job, our man, etc. She notes as well that with the rise of beauty ads comes the rise of eating disorders, cosmetic surgery, and the cosmetics industry.

Essentially, a patriarchal capitalist system depends on the low self-esteem of women. It perpetuates this cycle of selling products to the same women who think that these things can help. Wolf also says, however, that women should forgive themselves for getting caught up in the myth. Being beautiful (as society deems it) is essential to our survival.

Wolf calls on all women (and men) to reject the beauty myth and recognize that we should eat, love, and work as we please, dress how we like, enjoy the company of other women. However, she also highlights the ultimate irony: Speaking about the beauty myth publicly puts us at the ultimate risk created by the myth — that we won’t be heard because we are being judged on our appearance.

Naomi Wolf’s work here is really important. The Beauty Myth is a great book with spectacular insights.

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Sarah is an east-coaster and teen librarian. When she’s not trying to stay hip with the kids, she’s making moody artwork and listening to music.