Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth
Who is Naomi Wolf? And what is The Beauty Myth? Wolf is a female activist, which means she believes women should have the right to social, political, and economic rights in regards to the equality of the sexes. The book Beauty Myth written by Naomi Wolf has been suggested to be read multiple times by multiple people for this assignment. So I had high hopes when I began reading it. The book is about how women fought so hard for power, more money and equality since the first wave of feminism, that society responded by the making of the beauty myth: the standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women to adhere to, which has created an destructive obsession. Wolf reveals the cruelty of the beauty myth being the oppression that it is, at both work and home, in the media, and within relationships.
In terms of how this book relates to my assignment, well, this is where and what the pressure for women to dye their hair boils down to and from. To dye hair, is part of the “beauty” myth women are expected to abide by today. Therefore this pressure to dye hair is linked very closely with similar pressures such as fashion, diet, age roles and gender roles.
“Wolf argues that beauty is the “last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact”. Somehow we’ve been lumbered with the idea that to be beautiful, we have to look a certain way for example: thin, youthful, perfect skinned, silky-haired etc. This leaves your average woman feeling ugly, and old. What better way for males to keep us in our place?
In support of a previous blog post of mine (found here), Wolf argues that women’s magazines have played a crucial role in the selling and promoting of the beauty myth. “diet, skin care, and surgery features, it sells women the deadliest version of the beauty myth money can buy”. And why? Because “advertisers are the west’s courteous censors”.
Wolf makes a point that since the wave of feminism, women have more money than they’ve ever had, therefore you’d think that we would be content in… although this has led us to feeling bad about ourselves physically, meaning the appearance of our physical body. “More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. Recent research constantly shows that inside the majority of the West’s controlled, attractive, successful working women, there is a secret “underlife” poisoning our freedom; infused with notions of beauty, it is a dark vein of self-hatred, physical obsessions, terror or ageing, and dread of lost control.” This has been provoked in women by the advertisements they see, photographs, and beauty in the glossy magazines. (Wolf)
“The quality called “beauty” objectively and universally exists. Women must want to embody it and men must want to possess women who embody it. This embodiment is an imperative for women and not for men, which situation is necessary and natural because it is biological, sexual, and evolutionary: Strong men battle for beautiful women, and beautiful women are more reproductively successful. Women’s beauty must correlate to their fertility, and since this system is based on sexual selection, it is inevitable and changeless.”
Wolf states “Culture stereotypes women to fit the myth by flattening the feminine into beauty-without-intelligence or intelligence-without-beauty; women are allowed a mind or a body but not both.” This is something I experience and hear of a lot! Men are so surprised when they come across a woman who possesses both beauty and intelligence, its like they believe it can’t be real. It seems that men are wired to believe that women are stereotypically either beautiful or intelligent, not both.
“Women tend to worry about physical perfection in a way men seldom do because Genesis says that all men are created perfect, whereas Women began as an inanimate piece of meat; malleable, un-sculpted, unauthorised, raw- imperfect.” Pg 93. Maybe this is where the obsession for beauty originally came from, before we even knew, and its just been reinforced even more thanks to the recent desire in advertising and magazines.
“Does the female body deserve the same notion of integrity as the male body? Is there a difference between fashions in clothing and fashions in women’s bodies?” Pg 270. Yes, isn’t this what the book and society is all about today? Women and men are the same, they should be presented the same and have the same integrity as one another. Sadly, this is still not the case. Women’s fashion is still higher than men’s, women are still feeling worse about their physical appearance compared to men, you could say that men still have the upper hand.
“Is “beauty” really sex? Does a woman’s sexuality correspond to what she looks like? Does she have the right to sexual pleasure and self-esteem because she’s a person, or must she earn that right through “beauty,” as she used to through marriage? What is female sexuality- what does it look like? Does is bear any relation to the way in which commercial image represent it? Is it something women need to buy like a product?” Pg 271
Stereotypically, the first thing many men will look for in a woman is her beauty, this is all women have become; physical appearance. “The Victorian woman became her ovaries, as today’s woman has become her “beauty.” Before this, the woman was only useful for her ovaries, she was only useful to carry the baby and no more. Now, this has changed. Couples have babies before they get married, standards aren’t the same. A women isn’t looked upon for being the child bearer anymore, she is looked upon for her beauty.
Wolf argues that, “The real issue has nothing to do with whether women wear makeup or don’t, gain weight or lose it, have surgery or shun it, dress up or down, make our clothing and faces and bodies into works of art or ignore adornment altogether. The real problem is our lack of choice.” Pg 272. Thus meaning it doesn’t matter how women want to portray themselves; what they wear or what they do, what matters is the fact that they’re made to feel they now don’t have a choice in this matter. Society looks down upon people, particularly women. This therefore leads to the bigger difficulty of the strengths women go to because of their lack of choice; the women who don’t eat so they look skinner, so they’re chosen over that other woman for the job. Or the woman who must be beautiful to attract that man who can help her pay her bills and fend for her family, because she can’t do it alone on the smaller wage she gets compared to the males who do a similar job to her. “The problem with cosmetics exits only when women feel invisible or inadequate without them. The problem with working out exists only if women hate ourselves when we don’t. When a woman is forced to adorn herself to buy a hearing, when she needs her grooming in order to protect her identity, when she goes hungry in order to keep her job, when she must attract a lover so that she can take care of her children, this is exactly what makes “beauty” hurt. ” Pg 273
I found a Youtube video, in which Naomi Wolf is questioned by women about her book ‘The Beauty Myth’. There are some interesting questions asked, as are there interesting answers. Such as…
“Do you think that Michelle Obama being in The White House, will help people with my hair to go any where towards a feeling that the standard for beauty is no longer blonde?”
“We will all become hypnotised by her and him, and the beautiful family. We’ll all be tanning ourselves like crazy. I’ve noticed in an ad there are more beautiful black women everywhere suddenly. I don’t think that speaks well of us. It shouldn’t take someone in this bully pulpit for us to be able to find beauty in ourselves and one another.”
The Hudson Union Society (2009) Naomi Wolf on The Beauty Myth. [online] available from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kjKx_p5KwEk [4th March 2015]
Wolf, N. (2007) The Beauty Myth: how images of beauty are used against women. London: Vintage, 1991
Wilson, E (2005) The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf [online] available from http://www.theguardian.com/books/2005/oct/18/classics.shopping [4th March 2015]
Wikipedia (2015) The Beauty Myth [online] available from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Beauty_Myth [4th March 2015]