CURRENT BOOK:  The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

I finished this book last week after returning from vacation.  Now I am finally caught up and will return to blogging about the book I am actually currently reading!

The theme involves the standards that women are still expected to meet as far as physical appearance and how those standards have been used to suppress women despite the strides that women have made in other areas.  While I agree that it is unfair for women to be judged based on externals to the extent that they are, and that the industries which promote fashion and beauty products have perpetuated this, as with Ain’t I a Woman, I don’t believe that this has happened within society with as much of a deliberate intention to suppress women, as the author seems to believe.

Wolf takes issue with the fact that, despite the strides made by women to break down the barriers which confined them to traditional roles (wherein women were judged based on appearance and women provided certain things to men as wives and mothers in exchange for the financial support provided by men), women are still judged on appearance.  This is a valid point, however, as I understand it, the women’s movement wasn’t about appearance.  Women fought for equal opportunities in school.  Women fought for equal opportunities in the workplace.  Women fought for it to be acceptable for them to have careers and make those careers a priority.  Women fought to be financially independent from men.  Women DID NOT fight for it to be acceptable to be ugly!  Maybe Wolf thinks we should have?

Wolf explores her topic very thoroughly, including discussion of physical and sexual abuse and eating disorders.  One truth she brings up is that many men who hold women to a certain standard as far as appearance are not willing to hold themselves to a standard on the same level or do some of the things that women do in order to look good.  Men expect women to make an effort, but expect women to accept if men do not make the same effort.  And I believe that much of this is still the case.

Something I notice about beauty which I have seen on many makeover shows, which Wolf does not explore, is that the women seem to fall into three categories.  The first category are women who overdo themselves with makeup and provocative clothing to look younger or more attractive.  With these women, the stylists have to show how the overdone makeup and provocative clothing is actually making those women look older.  The second category are women who rebel against the norm of styles and standards.  With those women, the stylists support that the women don’t want or need to be lemmings, but ask the women to consider that people DO judge based on appearance and that it is possible for the way one looks to convey the wrong message which will prevent one from being able to take advantage of certain opportunities in life.  The third category are women who get caught up in their roles as wives and mothers and “let themselves go” due to time and money constraints.  The stylists encourage these women that it is worthwhile for them to make the effort for themselves to look and feel their best.  And many of the weight loss shows go very much into the emotional component and the things that have happened in the person’s life wherein they need to find a way to truly heal rather than turning to food as a comfort for a quick fix.  I wonder what Wolf would have thought of some of these messages, which seem to even go beyond Wolf’s ideas?

Something else I believe, which again Wolf does not explore, is that any woman could look as attractive as the celebrities portrayed in the media if we all had personal trainers and nutritionists and stylists at our beck and call.  I have told my stylist many times that if my husband and I win the lottery I will hire her full-time and she and her husband can live in a guest house on my estate!

The next phase of our movement forward as individual some, as women together, and as tenants of our bodies and this planet, depends now on what we decide to see when we look in the mirror.

In consideration that this book was published a generation ago, in 1991, I do believe that many things have changed over that time.  At least from certain sources, there has been a growing consciousness of the types of messages conveyed in advertisements for cosmetics and clothes, and that many of them are airbrushed and idealized.  Advertisers such as Dove and Weight Watchers have been making an effort to focus on body positivity and feeling healthful, and this is a step in the direction that I think Wolf wanted to see.


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