Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

( 29 )

Overview

The bestselling classic that redefined our view od 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 ...

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The Beauty Myth

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Overview

The bestselling classic that redefined our view od 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."

In this controversial national bestseller, feminist scholar Naomi Wolf argues that there is one hurdle in the struggle for equality that women have yet to clear--the myth of female beauty. She exposes today's unrealistic standards of female beauty as a destructive form of social control and a reaction against women's increasing status in business and politics.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This valuable study, full of infuriating statistics and examples, documents societal pressure on women to conform to a standard form of beauty. Freelance journalist Wolf cites predominant images that negatively influence women--the wrinkle-free, unnaturally skinny fashion model in advertisements and the curvaceous female in pornography--and questions why women risk their health and endure pain through extreme dieting or plastic surgery to mirror these ideals. She points out that the quest for beauty is not unlike religious or cult behavior: every nuance in appearance is scrutinized by the godlike, watchful eyes of peers, temptation takes the form of food and salvation can be found in diet and beauty aids. Women are ``trained to see themselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs'' and must learn to recognize and combat these internalized images. Wolf's thoroughly researched and convincing theories encourage rejection of unrealistic goals in favor of a positive self-image. (May)
Library Journal
Journalist and poet Wolf presents a provocative and persuasive account of the pervasiveness of the beauty ideal in all facets of Western culture, including work, sex, and religion. In showing how this myth works against women and how women sabotage themselves by their complicity with this impossible standard, she discusses at length two unfortunate consequences: the growth in the number of bulimic and anorexic women and the increasing popularity of cosmetic surgery. The facts are certainly stacked to prove her thesis but, for the most part, provide convincing evidence. In her final chapter, Wolf instructs women on how to crack the beauty myth. Recommended, especially for women's studies collections.-- Anne Twitchell, National Re search Council Lib., Washington, D.C.
Margo Jefferson
Beauty is such a strange thing--it's a fantasy, a pastime and a profession...we bring a daunting range of emotions and associations to it...The Beauty Myth shows us yet again how much we need new ways of seeing. -- The New York Times Books of the Century, May 19, 1991
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060512187
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/2002
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 114,899
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Naomi Wolf is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Beauty Myth, Promiscuities, Misconceptions, The End of America, and Give Me Liberty. She writes for the New Republic, Time, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Huffington Post, Al Jazeera, La Repubblica, and the Sunday Times (London), among many other publications. She lives with her family in New York City.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction



When The Beauty Myth was first published, more than ten years ago, I had the chance to hear what must have been thousands of stories. In letters and in person, women confided in me the agonizingly personal struggles they had undergone -- some, for as long as they could remember -- to claim a self out of what they had instantly recognized as the beauty myth. There was no common thread that united these women in terms of their appearance: women both young and old told me about the fear of aging; slim women and heavy ones spoke of the suffering caused by trying to meet the demands of the thin ideal; black, brown, and white women -- women who looked like fashion models -- admitted to knowing, from the time they could first consciously think, that the ideal was someone tall, thin, white, and blond, a face without pores, asymmetry, or flaws, someone wholly “perfect,” and someone whom they felt, in one way or another, they were not.

I was grateful to have had the good luck to write a book that connected my own experience to that of women everywhere -- indeed, to the experiences of women in seventeen countries around the world. I was even more grateful for the ways that my readers were using the book. “This book helped me get over my eating disorder,” I was often told. “I read magazines differently now.” “I've stopped hating my crow's feet.” For many women, the book was a tool for empowerment. Like sleuths and critics, they were deconstructing their own personal beauty myths.

While the book was embraced in a variety of ways by readers of many different backgrounds, it also sparkeda very heated debate in the public forum. Female TV commentators bristled at my argument that women in television were compensated in relation to their looks and at my claim of a double standard that did not evaluate their male peers on appearance as directly. Right-wing radio hosts commented that, if I had a problem with being expected to live up to ideals of how women should look, there must be something personally wrong with me. Interviewers suggested that my concern about anorexia was simply a misplaced privileged-white-girl psychodrama. And on daytime TV, on show after show, the questions directed to me often became almost hostile -- very possibly influenced by the ads that followed them, purchased by the multibillion-dollar dieting industry, making unfounded claims that are now illegal. Frequently, commentators, either deliberately or inadvertently, though always incorrectly, held that I claimed women were wrong to shave their legs or wear lipstick. This is a misunderstanding indeed, for what I support in this book is a woman's right to choose what she wants to look like and what she wants to be, rather than obeying what market forces and a multibillion-dollar advertisersing industry dictate.

Overall, though, audiences (more publicly than privately) seemed to feel that questioning beauty ideals was not only unfeminine but almost un-American. For a reader in the twenty-first century this may be hard to believe, but way back in 1991, it was considered quite heretical to challenge or call into question the ideal of beauty that was, at that time, very rigid. We were just coming out of what I have called “The Evil Eighties,” a time when intense conservatism had become allied with strong antifeminism in our culture, making arguments about feminine ideals seem ill-mannered, even freakish. Reagan had just had his long run of power, the Equal Rights Amendment had run out of steam, women's activists were in retreat, women were being told they couldn't “have it all.” As Susan Faludi so aptly showed in her book Backlash, which was published at about the same time as The Beauty Myth, Newsweek was telling women that they had a greater chance of being killed by terrorists than of marrying in mid-career. Feminism had become “the f-word.” Women who complained about the beauty myth were assumed to have a personal shortcoming themselves: they must be fat, ugly, incapable of satisfying a man, “feminazis,” or -- horrors -- lesbians. The ideal of the time -- a gaunt, yet full-breasted Caucasian, not often found in nature -- was assumed by the mass media, and often by magazine readers and movie watchers as well, to be eternal, transcendent. It seemed important beyond question to try somehow to live up to that ideal.

When I talked to audiences about the epidemic of eating disorders, for instance, or about the dangers of silicone breast implants, I was often given a response straight out of Plato's Symposium, the famous dialogue about eternal and unchanging ideals: something like, “Women have always suffered for beauty.” In short, it was not commonly understood at that time that ideals didn't simply descend from heaven, that they actually came from somewhere and that they served a purpose. That purpose, as I would then explain, was often a financial one, namely to increase the profits of those advertisers whose ad dollars actually drove the media that, in turn, created the ideals. The ideal, I argued, also served a political end. The stronger women were becoming politically, the heavier the ideals of beauty would bear down upon them, mostly in order to distract their energy and undermine their progress.

Some ten years later, what has changed? Where is the beauty myth today? It has mutated a bit and, thus, it bears looking at with fresh eyes.

Well, most satisfyingly, today you would be hard-pressed to find a twelve-year-old girl who is not all too familiar with the idea that “ideals” are too tough on girls, that they are unnatural, and that following them too slavishly is neither healthy nor cool. American Girl magazine, aimed at nine-year-olds, discusses the benefits of loving your body and how misguided it is to try to look like Britney Spears in order to be happy. Junior high...

The Beauty Myth. Copyright © by Naomi Wolf. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 29 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 29 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2007

    A reviewer

    I'm not an expert in feminist literature and don't have any strong opinions on the subject. I found this to be a very interesting read, though quite a bit of it bordered on the unpleasant and the disturbing--rape, violence, surgical violation of the body. It also treads the line between the scholarly and the general interest book, although it's probably much closer to the latter. Very well written, it felt a bit tragic, poetic, philosophical, and almost Freudian in style. A general criticism: could it be that some women seek to beautify themselves, even in an extreme manner, somewhat independent of modern societal, or patriarchical, influences? An evolutionary biologist might argue that some if not most women might have an emphasis on beauty that is hardwired into their brains, and we are simply observing a manifestation of that inherent nature in the modern environment.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2006

    a definite must read for women and men

    This book is something feminists will love, curious readers will find very interesting, and doubters will find mind boggling. The only downfall I felt after reading it is that many of the claims are not directly cited, and because some of them are so extreme and unheard of, it behooves the source to define where the information is coming from. Not that I think the author wrote any false claims, and there is an index to go to (a lengthy one), but there seems to be a lot of shocking facts with no backing besides the authors word. On the positive note, this book makes one really open their mind to the modern conception of beauty, and possibly help them work through their own struggles of conforming to American standards of beauty. I would like to comment on thoughts such as the one posed by a young reviewer here- the one who believes that people who just look at an ideal female image and want to vomit are 'mentally ill.' Many young and older people legitimately come to conclusions such as those, but they are unfinished, ignorant thoughts. This whole beauty myth can take years and much intellectual curiosity to understand. Many powers that be work behind closed doors to conjure up these widespread images of perfected beauty, and the bombardment of images become part of many people's subconscious. I have little doubt that young teenagers who think that this beauty myth is simple will have a totally different understanding years down the road with much reading and critical investigation. Wolf offers a mind blowing view of how society's powers that be actively work to discipline females to follow a pre-determined standard of 'beauty.'

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2006

    Men must read this, too

    I thought I had an idea of what is going on, but this book brought me to almost every dark corner of society's twisted 'economy of false ideals'. This book is over a decade old. Imagine if the statistics were updated, as things have gotten way worse. R.I.P. Naomi would roll over in her grave.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 29, 2005

    Finally, the truth

    This book tells it like it was, is and will be. There are no suprises here, just cold hard facts. It exposes the real reason many women are unhappy. The author is not afraid to say exactly what it feels like to be tormented & misunderstood. I recommend this book for all women & especially for those living in older or traditional families.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 21, 2004

    So True! So Sad!

    Women have finally reached economic and sexual emancipation, only to be locked into a new prison--that of the standard of beauty, which is changeable to suit political and power purposes and has been perpetrated on us by the advertising industry and this society. And it has not happened only to younger women, but to ALL women. I can't tell you how many women I've talked to who are unhappy with their own bodies, can't enjoy their sexuality because of that self=consciousness with their bodies, and are always waiting 'until I'm thin' to feel connected with their own lives. I've also known anorexics and bulemics and women who diet until they faint, to end up only with anemia or osteoporosis. And the health industry has bought the whole mantra and keeps pushing it on us, even though women were meant to have a certain amount of fat and their hormones stop working properly when they don't have it, causing all sorts of illness. Sexual emancipation has actually been used against us to turn us into sex slaves, especially the younger women. How many young women have I spoken to who feel 'forced' into oral or anal sex or S&M and other things that they feel uncomfortable with but they don't want to 'lose their boyfriends'. I can't begin to tell you. Young women I talk to are not even surprised by rape anymore; it's almost as if it's expected, just another fact of life. And we call that civilized? Women are all disgusted by 'cellulite', but according to this book the term was actually invented by Vogue Magazine as recently as 1973. Before that it was just natural female flesh that changed with childbearing and with age. Until women wake up and take begin loving themselves as we are, we will never be really free. In fact, sometimes speaking with women today I feel they actually have less freedom than prior generations, because they have been locked into that cage of being everything to everybody, perfect wives, perfect mothers, perfect housewives, perfect worker bees who struggle only to hit the glass ceiling, perfect beauties, and sexual dynamos. And it's never enough, because no real live woman can compete with the illusion that pornographic magazines and film present--air brushed, and prettified, enlarged here and made smaller there by computer and placed on a lifeless page or on celluloid where there is no personality or humanity to deal with, no wants and no needs and is no trouble to male fantasy. What makes it doubly sad is that men lose also. Instead of having two adults come together in mutual love and respect because they want to be together, they come together out of a natural need that has been distorted on both sides to where it's barely recognizable. Naomi has said it all in this book. It should be mandatory reading for every woman and every woman who has a daughter.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    Political correct approach but away from reality: Example : ¿Men

    Political correct approach but away from reality: Example :
    “Men are visually aroused by women's bodies and less sensitive 
    to their arousal by women's personalities because they are trained
     early into that response, while women are less visually aroused and
     more emotionally aroused because that is their training.
     
    Sorry Naomi-  but this is evolution : in nature -  all males look for impressive females ( feathers bla bla)
    all females look for the MOST  powerful males  to mate. In our world personality is  also a factor but  it is 
    complementary to woman's physical appearance. Women see first the power on a male in terms of success and social prominence and dominance. 
    not because of training but because of chances to provide good genetic material and support. 
    This is nature. The rest is political correctness  - even men who agree with you, secretly,  they would rather be with a less intelligent  but  sexually 
    appealing than  with a bright female who is much less sexually appealing.
     It is amazing to me that someone can disregard nature and evolution to arrive to such a conclusion as Wolf. 
    Men do not get always benefits ---they have to be really successful and socially dominant - prominent ( in proportion to their environments)  
    to be with  a very pretty woman)
    I m referring to the optimal ( first ) choice of man or a woman not the choice made by
     compromises forced by reality. 

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2007

    Excellent Book!!!

    I have had so much resentment toward this societies view of what women 'should be' that I allowed myself to become over weight. Why bother being perfect if these piggish American men won't hold up their end of the bargain! Ever notice how we see an average to ugly man with a beautiful woman? For too long women haven't demanded in their lives better looking men and settle for what society dishes out as 'normal' for women to want.The striving for beauty in women and economic wealth in men,creates a society of vast inequality and depression in women.Many women are depressed because we are made to feel we are NEVER pretty or thin enough to please the men.What are we! Mere toys!Yet the men demand little of themselves in the looks department and this is very frustrating for women.One sided and sexist for sure! Buy the book and have a real eye opener into how sexist this society actually is.Also this perpetuated sterotype about men being visual really has to be done away with.It only adds to the problems between the sexes.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    JUST READ WHAT I HAVE TO SAY

    its not about what other people think im 30 pounds overweight & im perfectly happy with my body but ive decided to go on a diet because its healthier & id like to enjoy my body to the fullest extent. although i do believe that magazines like vogue put pressure on women to weight 120 pds. but vogue has nothing to do with anorexics or bulemics, you dont become anorexic by looking through a magazine its based on their childhood, how they were raised, what exactly is going on through their heads & people like that need to see a psychiatrist. if you look at a picture of a women and it makes you want to stick you hand down your throat or stop eating you have mental problems that need to be solved through a professional. and im only 14 years old, i know 'oh she's a child she doesnt know' trust me dont scwander your life thinking everything if sexist do what you have to do to feel good about your self & being in shape & healthy is one step.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    Lynx

    Thank you. I bark. (Where r bios.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    Snow

    "What is the name of the pack?"she asked.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2013

    Wolfstar

    Bios are in res 7. Pack name is bigtimepack

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2010

    Beauty Myths.

    I felt this book was completely accurate and still is today. It provides insight on innacurate beauty myths and challenges women face daily. I found it to be a very interesting book and almost hard to read at times because I became angry with false statements made. I recommend every woman and man read this to help understand controversial issues between both sexes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted October 25, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2012

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