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The Beauty Myth

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The bestselling classic that redefined our view of 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."

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1990

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About the author

Naomi Wolf

38 books1,327 followers
Naomi Wolf is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Beauty Myth, The End of America and Give Me Liberty. She has toured the world speaking to audiences of all walks of life about gender equality, social justice, and, most recently, the defense of liberty in America and internationally. She is the cofounder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, which teaches ethics and empowerment to young women leaders, and is also a cofounder of the American Freedom Campaign, a grass roots democracy movement in the United States whose mission is the defense of the Constitution and the rule of law.

from http://naomiwolf.org/

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,938 reviews
Profile Image for Crystal Starr Light.
1,357 reviews831 followers
August 31, 2021
A seminal feminist work, "The Beauty Myth" digs into the ways that the pursuit of beauty has hampered feminism. How many women rush to pursue the next makeup line instead of equal pay for equal work. How many women are in a Catch-22 at work - you must be pretty and feminine, but not TOO pretty and feminine, else it's your fault for sexual harassment! At a time when many are saying there is no need for feminism, Wolf shows that sexism is still alive and well and how trying to adhere to the Perfect Woman is holding women back.

As I dig more and more into feminism, particularly the portion where women take great pains to look the part that society tells them (sexual, but not TOO sexual, smart but not TOO smart), I kept seeing this book. Every current feminist work brings it up; therefore, it must be amazing right? Up there with Friedmam's "The Feminine Mystique" and Gloria Steinem? (OK, so I haven't read either, but I DO plan on rectifying that at one point!) So when a friend of mine recommended we buddy read this, I figured, "Why not!"

But - and you knew this was coming - I had a great many problems with this book, from writing style to over-generalizations to some of the messages to how dated it seems now. That is not to say this book has no good points or wasn't influential at the time. I'll bet back in the early 90's, there wasn't as much information about the push for women to be beautiful over their rights. Nowadays, practically every feminist work talks about how women are forced to adhere to a certain beauty stereotype - hence how I discovered this book in the first place!

But just because a book is a "classic", doesn't mean it's above criticism. I can appreciate what it meant to the feminist movement, while also A) not liking it and B) specifying how and why.

First off, the good. Let me allow Wolf's words to speak for herself:

"Whenever we dismiss or do not hear a woman on televisison or in print because our attention has been drawn to her size or makeup or clothing or hairstyle, the beauty myth is working with optimum efficiency."

"If a single standard were applied equally to men as to women in TV journalism, most of the men would be unemployed."

"The myth urges women to believe that it's every woman for herself."

"...to tell a woman she is ugly can make her feel ugly, act ugly, and, as far as her experience is concerned, be ugly, in the place where feeling beautiful keeps her whole."

"If the public woman is stigmatized as too 'pretty', she's a threat, a rival - or simply not serious; if derided as too 'ugly', one risks tarring oneself with the same brush by identifying oneself with her agenda."

"Few women have a strong sense of bodily identity, and the beauty myth urges us to see a 'beautiful' mask as preferable to our own faces and bodies."

"Women's bodies are portrayed as attractive packaging around an empty box...each woman has to learn for herself, from nowhere, how to feel sexual (though she learns constantly how to look sexual)."

"What women look like is considered important because what we say is not."

Young women now are being bombarded with a kind of radiation sickness brought on by overexposure to images of beauty pornography, the only source offered then of ways to imagine female sexuality."

"Men are visually aroused by women's bodies...because they are trained early into that response, while women are less visually aroused and more emotionally aroused because that is their training."

Each and every one of these, I can agree with a hearty, "YES!" How many of our newsanchors are old white guys? How many times must we hear about Katie Couric's hair, when we heard next to nothing about Dan Rather's or Tom Brokaw's? What about how critical we are of other women's appearances and the popularity of "What Were They Thinking?" (Almost exclusively populated with WOMEN BTW - and most as if the stars themselves picked out the garments instead of a publicist!). With quotes like these, how can this book be so bad?

How about ruining it with wild, baseless accusations, generalizations run amok and the most confusing, rambling, never-ending narrative? For each time that Wolf says something great like this, we have to hear things like:

+ "Studies of a users show that violence, once begun, escalates. Cosmetic survey is the fastest-growing 'medical' speciality." -> This was NOT edited; this is how it appeared in the book.

+ Plastic surgery being compared to a violation of human rights, Nazism genocide, and female genital mutilation (no, I am not kidding). Last I checked, plastic surgery was a CHOICE, maybe a "poor choice" women feel like they need to make to keep a youthful appearance, but a choice nonetheless. NO ONE is making women do them - compare that to female genital mutilation, which is NOT a choice by any means!

+ The conspiracy theory that women don't have a choice (such as for plastic surgery or buying makeup). That is, until women DO have a choice and can choose to unite with other women. First off, who is at the head of this conspiracy? Those evul menzfolk? The government? Society in general? Secondly, while some women will cave to society's pressures, many do not. Most days, I don't wear any makeup or use any skincare products. I know tons of women who are likewise.

+ "Women are feeding their skins as a way to feed themselves the love of which many are deprived." Maybe they have acne???

+ No distinction between losing weight FOR HEALTH and to adhere to the skinny model. (In fact, in this day and age of obesity, this book overlooks eating disorders besides anorexia - which the author had as a teenager - and bulimia.)

+ Vilifying cancer patients for breast implants (even though these patients may have had mastectomies!!).

+ "...our portions testify to and reinforce our sense of social inferiority." Uh, no, I eat smaller meals to be healthy. If I ate everything I wanted until I was full, I'd look like a whale (especially with the way the food industry designs food so that we eat more!).

+ "The demonic characterizations of a simple body substance do not arise from it's physical properties but from old-fashioned misogyny, for above all fat is female..." Some fat is unhealthy too? And in this day and age, with obesity on the rise...

+ "Where are the woman activists of the new generation, the fresh blood to infuse energy into second-wave burnout and exhaustion?...up to a fifth of them are so quiet because they are starving to death." Jumping to conclusion much?

+ If you are woman of color or outside the upper-/middle-class bracket, well, I guess you don't suffer from The Beauty Myth, or not like "us poor middle-/upper-class white women". The book is so overwhelming biased towards the white middle-/upper-class woman, it's embarrassing.

And this goes on and on. Generalization followed by conspiracy theory followed by "Woe is me, poor over-privileged middle-class white woman" followed by dubious assertion, all told in the most challenging language possible! It just irritates me to no end to see these great ideas buried and undermined by such faulty sentiments.

There were so many times in my nearly 5 months of reading this that I was tempted to give up. I honestly was doubting I'd ever finish it. If you absolutely must read all feminist works, then you should pick this up, but there have GOT to be better non-fiction books on the subject than this - which is somewhat ironic, given its status as the "go-to manual" for women and beauty.
Profile Image for Ian.
17 reviews
September 25, 2008
A very popular book in the (relatively) modern feminism movement, I have mixed thoughts on this. It's a book I wanted to like but couldn't.

Wolf's basic premise is that "beauty" is an artifical concept that is used systematically to oppress women primarily for political purposes. The book is replete with figures, statistics, citations (a total of 268), and quotes, which are distributed throughout six sections or topics: work, culture, religion, sex, hunger, and violence. In each section, Wolf attempts to show how the concept of "beauty" has historically kept women in positions of inferiority and how it continues to do so. In general, I agree that political oppression does exist and that patriarchal and religious structures are a root cause of this. I also agree that the image of the "ideal" woman that dominates in popular culture is problematic and troubling in multiple ways. But I cannot follow Wolf's steps to reach her over-reaching conclusion.

First, and not necessarily foremost, the information offered by Wolf paints a dismal portrait of how women have been objectified, lied to, and exploited for centuries. I completely get that. But the information appears clumsily pasted together, inconsistently presented, and at times set forth with no citations at all. There were many instances where I wondered if a sentence or phrase in quotations marks was a quote from a source or from Wolf herself. This is inexcusable in any scholarly work, and so in this case it is an additional reason why I don't consider The Beauty Myth a scholarly work. Rather, it is more suitable as a compilation of the research of others. Unfortunately, what Wolf clearly provides as supporting documentation or research is almost exclusively that--supporting documentation. There are scant contrary voices here. We are presented with Wolf's side and only her side. There's little for Wolf to actually dispute because, well, everything proves her thesis. Everything.

Second, I found little in the way of actual argumentation here. What we see are statistics, anecdotes, and statements from others that state how women have been treated in various circumstances, and these are quite alarming and insidious. But she doesn't adequately connect the how to the why. Somehow, broad and general declarations are supposed to get us there, and there are few attempts to address other possible causes.

Third, the problem may not so much be "beauty," but simply the nature of capitalism. At times, Wolf railed against the marketplace and I had the expectation that she was going to channel Karl Marx. Surprisingly, she did not. But the nature of capitalism is that some thrive while others whither. Advertising preys upon the consumer in every avenue of life just as clothing and cosmetics manufacturers use ads to engender desire in their target audience. One "needs" an i-Phone just as a woman "needs" another shade of rouge. This is nothing new. Why must Wolf attribute it to something more grandiose and far-reaching than the simple drive for profit using psychology as a lever and insecurity as a fulcrum? We see this in pharmaceuticals, hair-growth products, gym equipment, auto commercials, herpes medicine, and presidential campaigns. There's no mystery here.

As a whole, it's as if this development of the "beauty myth" were another necessary progression in history, as naturally as it seemed to follow from what preceded it. Wolf posits at one point that the artificial concept of beauty is perpetuated and transformed actively and institutionally, as if there is a grand conspiracy to imprison women by creating an idea of "beauty" as a weapon. But she doesn't satisfy the need (or perhaps just my need) for an explanation. Her theory does imply a conspiracy: a worldwide conspiracy by folks who are positively brilliant and to whom women must be completely transparent and malleable.

On an unrelated point, I was annoyed near the start by the hasty denial of any relationship between evolution or sexual selection and beauty; it was given one whole paragraph. Instead, Wolf says that beauty is subjective and provides a few examples from diverse cultures to make the point. "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," as they say. This is true enough. But in the end, Wolf says, all women are beautiful. Thus, beauty is ultimately a nullity. It means nothing. But Wolf doesn't mind using flattery to make a point.

What astounds me is that in all this discussion of beauty, women, and sexuality, there's virtually no examination of the relevance of gender or homosexuality (check the index--it's mentioned on two pages). Perhaps she wanted to offend her 1991 audience with some pointed statements, but not too much. There's no genuine reflection on what the terms "masculine" or "feminine" really mean, although they're used casually enough as if their meaning is beyond question. And she also attempts to link the practice of plastic surgery to eugenics performed by the Nazis. I found this to be absurd. It's also worrying that Wolf subsequently admitted to Time magazine that some of her statistics in the book were overstated and that it appears she removed some of those figures from later editions.

Although I've used much of this space to criticize Wolf's book, I also think that its examples of open and shameless brutality, psychological as well as physical, against women are enlightening and mortifying. In spite of the book's shortcomings, it raises pointed concerns that demand (and now receive) serious attention. For that, Wolf deserves kudos.
Profile Image for Jessica.
12 reviews8 followers
November 30, 2007
I highly recommend it to everyone, not just women. I think is is really important for men to read books like this, too. It is all about how the A) Our modern ideals of beauty are mostly driven by the advertising industry and not intrinsic cultural or biological preferences, and B) How our modern ideals of beauty put women at a disadvantage to men.

I have a few disagreements with her, listed below, but I agree with her in general and it's a really good book to read, even if you are not going to agree with her, just to make yourself think about some of the questions she raises.


1) Data: she plays fast and loose with her statistics sometimes. I have no doubt that data in the form in which I wish she had presented it (i.e. percentages instead of absolute figures, or comparable figures across time/geography) would still back her up, but her argument is less compelling with the current hodgepodge of data.

2) Biological perspective: I understand that's not what this is about, but as a bio anthro major, I just can't let it go entirely. There are some attributes of modern American beauty, like extreme thinness, that are not found in too many other cultures, and those probably ARE driven by the ad agencies and other cultural institutions as Wolf argues. But, there are other attributes, such as a low waist to hip ratio (having a skinny waist relative to your hips, regardless of the absolute size of your waist) that are near universal. I think the biological theory that this desire is driven by signals that a woman is fertile explain this universality a lot better than Wolf's theories of stakeholders of power that perpetuate cultual ideas useful to themselves. Which brings me to...

3) Who are these cultural oppressors? Wolf never really makes clear who "The Man", my term not hers, that is perpetuating all these ideas. Yes, she does specify that the ad agencies are part of "The Man" and that the average guy is not. But there does seem to be an unwritten undercurrent of an idea that there are power stakeholders out there conspiring to keep women down. I favor explanations that A) don't require one to believe in concerted actions by groups (i.e. conspiracies), and B) assume that all actors are acting in their own self interest. This is why I believe her about the ad agencies. They get more $$$ if they sell more weight loss products and cosmetics, so of course they want women to think they are fat and ugly. But who else besides the ad agencies are responsible for all this?
Profile Image for Lani.
788 reviews35 followers
September 21, 2008
Jesus, I FINALLY finished this book... UGH.

I feel like I have been extremely negative about the last few books I've reviewed, so it's a shame that this is the other one I have left to write up. Because those other books were the ones I was reading to avoid this one!

Naomi Wolf is exactly the reason I don't read much in the ways of feminist tracts. Blahblahblah male conspiracy blahblahblah. It's a shame because some of her points ARE valid and thought-provoking...

The concept of the Beauty Myth hardly needs explaining to most women. I think most self-aware Western women are at this point aware of the manipulation and self-hatred that we are surrounded by on a daily basis. Unfortunately, I think much of the book points the blame outward instead of inward. We can only blame "the patriarchy" for so much. I am more than aware of my own hand in the Beauty Myth and my own unhappiness.

Wolf's book is broken into several chapters, the first few of which I found obnoxious and tired. The book is written in a very academic style, and just beats a dead horse to a pulp. The last few chapters did finally begin to perk up - as I had hoped - as Wolf discussed Violence and Culture and their effects on modern women.

I don't have the energy to put into a good long review of this book, and I'm not sure I even want to waste any more of my time on it anyway. I think slogging through the first 2/3rds of the book was POSSIBLY worth it for some of the later chapters, but I'm not sure I would recommend it to anyone.
August 17, 2022
I've had this book on my shelf for a rather long time, and if I'm honest, I was a little anxious about reading it. I realise how dated it is, but also, I knew it wasn't going to make for light reading. I was right on both accounts, but, quite a lot of it I was in total agreement with.

For instance, it is well known, that in some workplaces, women are judged on their appearance, rather than their personal skills. And yes, this still happens, even more so than people think. We as women, are judged on our clothing choices, and we are objected to these snidey comments, such as not looking feminine enough, or looking too slutty, or, even worse, we are apparently asking for it. I hear this kind of shit regularly, and it makes me angry.

I found that some of the statistics included in here, are not reliable. For instance, in regards to women and eating disorders, Wolf made out that near enough every woman is an anorexic, which is obviously painfully incorrect. Wolf discusses cosmetic surgery, and how it is on the rise that more and more women feel the need to turn to surgery to "correct" their bodies.

I find Wolf makes some interesting and valid points, but I also realised she does this in an odd way. I almost feel like she wanted to frighten the reader, as nearly everything she said, was dramatically exaggerated, when in reality, she could have been discussing possible solutions to these issues.

You know, some sit and blame men entirely for how women feel the need to buy make up, or get their hair done every month, or be fashioned in the latest gear, but actually, it's down to the marketing, and that, I cannot see changing anytime soon. What I would like to see changed, is the women that are used in advertising fashion. What is wrong with a woman, that is over a size 14, that has a couple of stretch marks on her body, with a stomach that doesn't resemble a washboard? I want to see more of these women.

This book had some good parts, but it also had things in it that made me roll my eyes. It was heavy going, and I didn't agree with everything, but I'm glad I finally got to it.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,520 reviews8,993 followers
October 1, 2017
A great book about deconstructing the myth of beauty and recognizing how patriarchy emphasizes our appearances to harm us all. Published in 1990, The Beauty Myth came out ahead of its time, as Naomi Wolf rails against the thin ideal, how companies lure women into buying products by making them feel insecure about their bodies, ageism, and so much more. I feel glad that more and more people talk nowadays about the cruelty of beauty standards and how we can love ourselves for more than how we look. Wolf articulates this message with an extra edge of feminist politics, and I appreciate her fiery demand that we free women from the capitalist and sexist notion that their self-worth comes from the external beauty of their bodies, instead of the radiance of their hearts.

Overall, a good read I would recommend to those interested in body image, feminism, and the intersections of politics and appearances. Wolf does neglect the experiences of women of color, and her writing sometimes drags, so The Beauty Myth does have its limits. However, the book has contributed to the feminist movement in important ways, so I still give it four stars. I will end this review with a quote I really appreciated from the end of the book:

"How to begin? Let's be shameless. Be greedy. Pursue pleasure. Avoid pain. Wear and touch and eat and drink what we feel like. Tolerate other women's choices. Seek out the sex we want and fight fiercely against the sex we do not want. Choose our own causes. And once we break through and change the rules so our sense of our own beauty cannot be shaken, sing that beauty and dress it up and flaunt it and revel in it: In a sensual politics, female is beautiful."
Profile Image for Alieda.
126 reviews7 followers
August 2, 2011
By the time I had read twenty pages of The Beauty Myth, I realized that this is one of the most important books I will ever read. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical of Wolf's central thesis-- that the cultural "myth" of feminine beauty is a political and economic weapon used by the male-dominated world to undermine women's advancement in society-- but, by the time I had finished reading the first chapter, I had a changed perspective of the world. This is a book, in my opinion, that should be required reading. It is a book about the very atmosphere women negotiate daily, and from an early age-- one in which we intuit the importance of our looks, and are apprehensive about our "beauty" as an indication of our status, competence, wealth, power, and credibility-- one in which we are manipulated by powerful corporate advertisers to feel insecure, so we will remain the largest underpaid labor pool, and simultaneously the largest consumers of unnecessary products, in the world. Without this dichotomy, created by the beauty myth, the world's economy would collapse.
Profile Image for El.
1,355 reviews502 followers
July 5, 2015
I have always been wary of reading this book, even though I knew a lot would resonate with me. A part of me knew that a lot of it, however, would make me cringe. Like - oh, I don't know... the overwrought hyperbolic statements and inaccurate history and data. I picked it up thinking maybe I could just get over some of those mistaken details.

God, that was hard.

All of that aside, the positive is that there is a lot of good information in this book. There is a problem in media (and social media, but this predates that), it is oppressive to women, and I feel it does need to be addressed. There is more focus put on what a woman looks like rather than what she is capable of, or her skills. There is still a strong population of people (men and women ) who will read "her skills" and automatically make something sexual and dirty out of it. This is a problem. It's a problem that the Miss USA pageant is tossed off NBC because of truly awful things Donald Trump said about immigrants - not that what he said wasn't reprehensible, but it bothers me that a stupid, sexist performance like a beauty pageant could otherwise have continued, regardless of what damages those images produce for everyone, if he hadn't said something else stupid.

I am on board with a lot of what Wolf wrote. There are problems out there.

But the answer to those problems - rather, the way to get people to pay attention to those problems, is not to exaggerate statistics. Reading this, I was led to believe that every single woman is anorexic, and I actually found myself wondering if I was doing something wrong since I am not anorexic. It was a strange moment in my reading, and I was bothered by it. Eating disorders are a serious enough problem, but the numbers do not need to be inflated. We know women can die from risks due to cosmetic surgeries, it's in the news all the time, but more as an afterthought, a sideline article, something we're all a little shocked and saddened by, but then you hear comments at lunch like "I will need liposuction after this meal...".

We have short memories.

Wolf reminds us of all of these issues, and more. It's powerful stuff, but she makes it seem too powerful. She exaggerates and embellishes her statements, as if a statement alone wouldn't be worthy of reading, or maybe she worried the numbers alone might not make enough of an impression on the readers. Unfortunately, however, it all comes across as a bit paranoid and hysterical - yes, hysterical. That thing that women are constantly accused of being because they are emotional. It's awful, I know. But what Wolf did here too many times for my comfort was make everything seem like a giant conspiracy, something we should be terrified of, instead of offering suggestions or encouraging us to work towards a solution.

I know this is crazy, coming from me, but this needed to be less about the patriarchy keeping us down and more about consumerism as a whole, capitalism. It's consumerism that keeps women going to get their hair styled every few weeks. Do you know why women pay more in hair cuts/styles than men? It's because the hair salons know that women will pay it. Why will women pay it? Because marketing makes us feel like we need it. Is it possible to say that marketing is made up primarily of men, and so they're the ones raising the bar for what a woman should look like? Sure, you could say that. But we still more often than not go for that haircut.

Again, this isn't about blaming the victim. I agree with most of Wolf's points about what are problems in society - this was published in 1991 and, sadly, a lot of the issues are just as common today. In 2009, TV personality Heidi Montag had 10 cosmetic procedures done in one day. 10. She almost died, and later admitted it was the worst decision she had ever made. I can pretty much hear what Wolf would have to say about that.

Did this admission caution others to not consider getting cosmetic surgery? Probably not. Just like the death of Olivia Goldsmith in 2004 during cosmetic surgery didn't deter Heidi Montag from getting 10 procedures done in one fucking day. Goldsmith's death inspired Suzanne Vega write this song, so I know some people are listening, but I wish more would as well.

I don't claim to have all the answers. I would love to see changes in marketing and I would love to see consumers fight back and refuse to pay for these things that claim they will make us look younger and fresher - if we all did that, then marketing would have to change. I would love to see a natural-looking woman on TV who looks her age. I would love to see beauty pageants be a thing of the past. I would love for women to stop putting each other down and side-eyeing each other, and start encouraging each other and supporting each other. I would like for women celebrities to be known for their work rather than what they're wearing on the red carpet, or how their hair looked, or if they look pregnant or not.

There's still a lot of work to be done, and I think Wolf brings up a lot of solid points in this book. But the minute you start talking about conspiracies, watch everyone's eyes glaze over and their ears slam shut. Your good points are suddenly not going to be heard. It makes me sad because, again, there's so much good information here, when you cut through the overwriting.

So, the nutshell version is we need to be better to ourselves - stop trying to change, alter, "improve" upon ourselves. Let's just live our lives and be healthy and work hard and care about each other. And stop letting anyone make you feel there is anything wrong with you. It starts early, and it's hard to overcome. But it can be done, and we can help each other. If we're capable of tearing each other down, just think about how capable we could be to build each other up.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,952 reviews1,293 followers
September 19, 2011
One of the nice things about writing reviews on a place like Goodreads is the audience. I can pontificate about a book, and about subjects like feminism, for as long as I like, which is something I can’t do with my friends in person—at least, as I discovered empirically, not if I want to have friends in person. (Call me!) But you people, you crazy people, are different, because no one is forcing you to read my reviews, so I am going to assume that if you are still reading, it’s because you are generally interested in what I have to say about The Beauty Myth, or perhaps you are some kind of search engine spider indexing this review for Google. (Hello there.)

I’ve thought for a long time about what I want to say about The Beauty Myth. I am a young, white, reasonably well-off male who performs gender in a conventional way, which means in general my life is not all that bad. Part of my ongoing relationship with feminism and gender studies involves acknowledging the privilege and social capital I have in our society, and learning how I can act to mitigate the effects of that privilege. Also, I’m young. Like, I was a year old, if that, when The Beauty Myth first came out. A lot has happened in the past twenty years, and although many parts of this book still ring true, it’s important to note that I have no baseline for comparison. Anything I know about the world of the 1980s is second-hand knowledge. So I had no choice but to read The Beauty Myth as someone firmly grounded in today: this is the only world I have ever known.

For someone like me, who is so young and technophilic, the absence of Internet and World Wide Web in this book is conspicuous. I could not stop thinking about that while I was reading, because it’s a technology I take for granted; I’ll even go so far as to contend that the mainstream adoption of the Web is the most fundamental social change since The Beauty Myth was written. And so how has this change affected the Beauty Myth that Wolf outlines?

In some ways it hasn’t, of course. The double standard of dress, the professional beauty qualifications, is still there. Ads on television and now the Internet are still relentlessly gendered. (Pink beer, anyone?) Cosmetic surgery has only gotten more complicated and more accessible, while botox treatments and tanning parlours abound. The beauty myth is still in operation.

In some ways, however, the advent of the Internet has had a huge impact, particularly when it comes to how the media influences the beauty myth. Wolf criticizes women’s magazines for running so-called “editorials” about a product next to ads for that type of product, lamenting the fact that this is often a condition of getting the advertising. (She quotes Gloria Steinem as saying that advertisers are dubious of the idea that women will look at ads for shampoo without an accompanying article about hair washing!) Yet she adds an interesting counterpoint: we can’t condemn such magazines entirely, because

they represent something very important: women’s mass culture. A woman’s magazine is not just a magazine. The relationship between the woman reader and her magazine is so different from that between a man and his that they aren’t in the same category: A Man reading Popular Mechanics or Newsweek is browsing through just one perspective among countless others of general male-oriented culture, which is everywhere. A woman reading Glamour is holding women-oriented mass culture between her two hands.

This preciousness of media that we otherwise want to criticize for supporting the beauty myth is an interesting point. However, the Web has resulted in an explosion of available spaces for women to congregate and converse. True, it’s not without its disadvantages: by and large websites and blogs continue to be a male-dominated phenomenon. But just the fact that any woman can create (often for free, which removes the need for beauty-related advertising) spaces for discussion among women is something that did not exist twenty years ago. Now there are countless blogs devoted to feminism or other issues of women’s, gender, and sexuality rights. The Web is certainly not an equal space or a level playing field in any sense of these terms, but it is, for the moment, open. That is incredibly uplifting, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of ways the Web has exacerbated the effects of the beauty myth. In the same chapter (“Culture”), Wolf mentions that the pornography industry has the unfortunate side effect of creating unrealistic standards of beauty. Men watch pornography and get this idea of what women are “supposed” to look like nude (and what sex is “supposed” to sound and look like), which puts pressure on women to conform to these fantasies. Of course, we all know that the Internet is for porn, and so in that capacity it has only made the spread of this misinformation easier.

I’m focusing on the media aspect of The Beauty Myth because this is what grabbed me, both because of my fascination with the Internet and because I’m taking an Education, Media, and Gender class right now. One week the professor asked us to come to the next class performing gender differently, to “break the gender dress code”. I wore tights with my shorts; many of my other male classmates wore articles of feminine clothing or even makeup. What about the women? Well the class concluded the exercise was more difficult for them—I don’t know what fashion was like at universities in the 1990s, but these days sweat pants and a T-shirt are quite acceptable for members of any gender, especially given the late nights one stereotypically expects of students! It was more difficult for the women to break a dress code when no such code really existed at the university; some wore jerseys or baggy clothing, and one wore her Carhartt overalls. Nowadays women can wear pants without anyone blinking, but it is still rather uncommon to see men wearing a dress.

Now we enter the dangerous waters of feminist discourse. When I drop the F word in casual conversation, quite a few of my friends (who are mostly women) wince: “feminist” still connotes “man-hating woman” or, less extremely, someone who is concerned with women’s rights more so than rights in general. There is a great deal of resistance to the connotation of feminism as gender equality for all, and at the risk of making a straw man, I think this is why we get “men’s rights” advocates. I have come to the conclusion, however, that there is no proper way to consider feminism except as a movement for total gender equality. Wolf herself makes this point in The Beauty Myth: the myth needs men to continue dressing in very bland, restricted ways, because this prevents men from expressing themselves. It reinforces the false dichotomy of man/stoic and woman/empathetic. If we are to defuse and deconstruct the beauty myth, Wolf opines, then one thing we have to do is start accepting that men can dress up, wear colourful clothing, etc. Suddenly something that was a “men’s rights” issue actually turns out to be a women’s rights issue when considered from a different perspective: it’s not about one gender “winning” over any others; it has to be about equality.

That’s as prescriptive as I’m going to get though. I have been reading a lot about discourse around feminism—the “meta-feminist” discussion, if you will—both because I feel that it better equips me to participate in these discussions and because, as a lover of language and philosophy, it provides insights into where feminism has been and where it is going in the twenty-first century. And I want to avoid attempting to lock my idea of feminism or anyone else’s idea of feminism into a strictly-defined, concrete role. That way lies trouble! However, I just wanted to express the reasoning that let me put to rest any latent concerns about the role of feminism vis-à-vis alternative terms to describe gender equality. Whew. Semantics can be exhausting!

I could probably go on at quite a length about The Beauty Myth. As I said above, I focused mostly on what Wolf says about media. As a future teacher, I am keenly interested in the effects media will have on my students, as well as how our society in turn influences those media. So that was the perspective with which I read The Beauty Myth. There is a lot more to this book, however, then just a treatment of media. Wolf covers so many different aspects of society! This is not a niche book but a broad picture, one which she has organized into eight different chapters. I only wish the chapters themselves were better organized; their internal structure borders at times on the incoherent. The Beauty Myth is not an easy book to read, because some of the facts and stories that Wolf relates are quite visceral in their effect—but she also seems to have so much to say that she can get carried away. The result is both fascinating and frustrating at the same time.

I am reluctant to attach any type of recommendation to this book, because I feel like there would be far too many qualifiers. This is probably not the best introduction to feminist polemics; it is not that accessible and quite academic. Moreover, although it still remains relevant, it cannot but help being dated by now; I think people would be more satisfied seeking out more recent books first. That being said, if you’re like me and interested in questions of standards of beauty, then this could be a rewarding experience. My schedule and my own reading habits made me plough through this book in days when it would probably be something best lingered over while one reads other material, but that’s up to you. As it is, The Beauty Myth definitely earns its memorable status, but how you judge and remember it will depend entirely on the effect it has on your personal philosophy of feminism and gender.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for Andrew.
2,024 reviews730 followers
August 6, 2010
God dammit, this is such an important argument, why can't it be better presented? Wolf clearly takes her cue from Betty Friedan, but Friedan's argument was devastating, fully exposing the manifestations of a myth in our culture. Meanwhile, Naomi Wolf writes a hopelessly sloppy and superficial analysis that falls into one of the great pits of the literature of social change: assumption of conspiracy and/or a myth functioning as a conscious organism instead of a complex assemblage of assumptions, mores, norms, and attitudes. Oh shit, I'll have to bring her up at my secret man meeting next week.

It feels like she had a string of wise observations, and indeed some of them are extremely wise. Does a beauty myth exist? Is the beauty industry evil and manipulative? Do we live in a society that encourages eating disorders and violence against women? The answer to these is absolutely, obviously, yes. But then, rather than generating an argument analyzing how a beauty myth is generated and effected, she merely spits out her data polemically, and some of those data are rather suspect.

As someone who has read and continues to read a lot of critical theory/cultural studies stuff, I hate to say it, but writing like this is a direct effect of the golden age of high theory in North America (roughly 1975-95). Impressions were privileged over data, screeds over arguments. Shit like this could fly with both the reading public and the academic left back in 1989, but looking back, it seems amateurish. Naomi Wolf, please, I really want to like you, but let's do better next time, let's?
Profile Image for Sara.
615 reviews689 followers
September 16, 2019
الله عليكي يا ست ناعومي.
** الكاتبة متكلمة عن اليوجينيا واللي كانت منتشرة في وقت إصدار الكتاب
** الكتاب دا لازم يترجم عربي،جميل جدًا وحرام المكتبة العربية تحرمنا منه لأنه غير مترجم إليها

Naomi talks about the history of beauty, how the myth began when photography was invented and women started to compare their bodies to mistresses of the royal families or the royal family itself. How religion exasperated this myth along with political and economic issues.
Naomi demanded a third wave of feminism in this book, it was written in the 90's to help women overcome the beauty myth and plastic surgeries as they affect both genders now.

Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,673 reviews489 followers
April 23, 2013
I probably should not have tried reading Mercedes Lackey’s Fire Rose after reading this book. That novel, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, has a woman as the central character. The woman, Rose, doesn’t realize how beautiful she is and looks down her nose at other women whom she deems to have looks but not brains. Rose has brains (well, she thinks she does) but doesn’t think that she has looks, surprising considering how much effort seems to be put into assuring the reader that despite her claims Rose is, in fact, a looker.
Wolf has said a bunch of stupid and inane things since this book was first published and is probably known today by most people as the woman who (1) advised Al Gore how to dress (2) wrote a book about genital or(C) accused Harold Bloom of attempting to rape her, years after the alleged event. [Mr. Bloom denies it, and in fairness, the story seems strange and unbelievable]. This is somewhat sad because there is plenty in this book to recommend it, and it has impacted books that have come after it.
That isn’t to say this book is flawless. It’s not. I would’ve preferred more statistics. I wondered why the section on face cream sounded like an anti-abortion pamphlet meets urban legend. Wolf’s experiences at college were gone into way too much. Paradoxically telling us she was a victim of the myth as well as rising above it. For record, Elizabeth Bathory also killed noble virgin girls. It was the virginity that was the draw. In fairness, too, most of the arguments seemed to be supported with examples from white women. The question of race is either left out or subsumed into the larger myth. And this is a weakness. True, Wolf couldn’t discuss whether Beyonce was the break out star because of her skin color or her talent, but surely there must be something applicable example from when this book was first written.
That said, there is much in the book to at the very least make the reader think. The book is at its best when Wolf argues that in a secular society beauty has become a religion. Her comparisons really do give the reader something to think about. Additionally, when she breaks down the ways the myth effects society it is difficult to stay not to see it functioning that way today. At the very least, the section about lawsuits and harassment is worth a read. And she is right – what does it say if women are exposed every day to naked and sexual images of themselves and men are not treated the same way? It is disconcerting. Honestly, why does Cadeaux have to use kidde porn?

And what is going on with Dolce and Gabbana?

See? Now tell me this book still isn't important.
Profile Image for Tanja Berg.
1,904 reviews438 followers
November 16, 2017
Although this book was released in 1991, it is still relevant today. The liberation of women in the sense of getting legal rights as human beings, such as voting rights and access to birth control, lead to a backlash. In order to disempower women, we were made to think we were ugly and inundated with images of what the perfect woman should look like and how to get there. Bulimia and anorexia are still rampant. A woman is still supposed to be wrinkle-free, and we're still supposed to spend inordinate amounts of money on maintenance.

I read an article in Norway that 1 out of 5 women in my income segment has had cosmetic surgery. That is staggering. I almost started to consider it myself. However, surgery is still surgery and that is not a risk I will take unless my health is at stake. There will be no knife to my face and no botox to my brow. In many other aspects I have distanced myself from attempts at brain washing. I haven't bought a beauty magazine (Glamour, Vogue, Elle) or ANY kind of woman's magazine since in my teens. I still care about my appearance, but I am not a slave to fashion and of late, not to size either. Perfection, I am not striving for it. It's too late now anyway, ha ha.

How stronger we could all be, if we would not be made to feel ugly. But we can still rise above it. After all, supposedly, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent. And I, dear reader, refuse to consent. I will not bow to the figurative corset of seeking to be a size that my body does not want to accomodate, or spotless skin and cellulite free legs. My energy is focused on my career and my hard-earned income is spent on books and travel - not beauty treatments.
Profile Image for Hamna.
55 reviews69 followers
March 27, 2023
I really love how the author explains things her writing is so impactful but like most feminist books of its time it’s lacking representation for POC women and LGBTQ+ women :/
34 reviews3 followers
June 21, 2007
This is the second time I've read this book in a two month time period. It's just full of huge ideas. Yes, the author has an agenda, and yes, she comes across a little harsh at times. However, the overall message of this book has changed the way I'll look at my body forever: Love your body because YOU are in it--not the other way around!

My belly fat and butt-fat-dimples don't scare me the way they used to. Fat is just a substance--one that our female bodies need to live, reproduce, and satisfy our hunger. It's not the disgusting monster we've been taught to treat it as. The victorian women called it their "silken layer", and so shall I!

Join me in reading and internalizing this book to change the way we look at our bodies forever. Put down the Cosmo and other "women's" magazines and pick up something uplifting. If this book doesn't convince you to do it, nothing will. Our daughters are depending on us to get off the scales and start living! Why drag them into this mess? We can help create a new world for them.
Profile Image for Julie Ehlers.
1,111 reviews1,414 followers
July 25, 2020
As I have mentioned several times here on Goodreads, I bought this book when it came out in paperback in 1992 and attempted to read it almost immediately. Unfortunately, The Beauty Myth lacked the snap, crackle & pop of Susan Faludi's similarly themed Backlash, which came out around the same time, and which I devoured immediately and then reread several times purely for entertainment value. Although Susan Faludi, like Naomi Wolf, was only in her early 30s, she was already a seasoned reporter and understood that good writing is writing that people want to keep reading. Wolf, on the other hand, seemed to feel her ideas were fascinating enough all on their own and had no need of stylistic flourishes—and by that I mean that The Beauty Myth has literally no stylistic flourishes. At all. So I've picked this book up and put it down numerous times over the years, always resuming reading where I last placed my Brentano's bookmark. I can scarcely believe I'm finally done.

So, uh, how was it? This time around I read the last three chapters: Sex, Hunger, Violence. I don't know if the subject matter was just more interesting, if Wolf's writing got better as the book went on, or if I was just in the right mood this time around (or, just as likely, had finally lowered my expectations the proper amount), but I found these three chapters to be some pretty great stuff.

Wolf's main point is that the pervasive images of women we receive as a culture have nothing to do with who we really are, and if we take in enough of them, we start living our lives from the outside in instead of the inside out, which limits us in many ways. By the same token, the institutions that benefit from these images, from religious institutions to corporations to the medical industry to the media, actually use them to harm women and restrict our rights. While this may not be a new idea, some of Wolf's points actually astonished me with how brilliant, passionate, and on-point they were. I was constantly scrambling for a pen so I could underline one passage or another. I won't quote any of those passages here, both because other Goodreaders have already done so and because if I got started I'd be here all night, but believe me, there's some eye-opening stuff in here. I can see why the book made Wolf's reputation and has become something of a Third-Wave classic.

But don't just read it because of its "classic" status—the sad fact is, this book is now more relevant than ever. Wolf's dream of an active Third Wave did in fact come true, but the advent of the internet set us way back with its copious porn, nasty comments sections, and celebrity gossip websites that pick apart the appearances of some of the most beautiful people in the world (harming all of us in the process). A new edition of this book would have to include all of these influences, but its main points could remain virtually unchanged. How depressing that is.

I would like to give this book five stars, but I have to knock one off for the readability issue. This was Wolf's first book, and I gave some thought to how I would've approached this if I'd been her editor—possible ways to compress it and mix it up a bit stylistically so it would be more entertaining. As it is now, the format is basically, "Here's what I, Naomi Wolf, think about this. And here's what I think about this other thing. And here's what I think about this other thing." It needs some work. But given that it's been almost a quarter century since she wrote it, we're just going to have to be happy with what we've got. I wish everyone would read it anyway.

Edit, July 25, 2020: As I mention above, The Beauty Myth is considered a third-wave feminist classic, so I'm going to leave my review as is, but I want to add that anyone who reads this book should also read "In the Name of Beauty," an essay in Tressie McMillan Cottom's Thick: And Other Essays. The sad fact is, The Beauty Myth has major blind spots when it comes to race. It's still worth reading but it's important to recognize its shortcomings.
Profile Image for Katie Boyer.
157 reviews182 followers
May 30, 2014
SO glad I read this despite how long it took me (I would read a chapter at a time over a few months basically). Each chapter is focused on a different topic (sex, religion, violence, hunger, etc.). I wish I had taken more notes or highlighted more while actually reading it.

Though it was a bit heavy and dense for me at times, it has some really good info and explanations of feelings I have that I have trouble vocalizing or understanding. These problems are not just personal, they are cultural and they are part of our subconscious, everyday lives. Wolf did a lot of research and gave some great facts, stats, quotes, studies, and other references. How can you argue with that? Those hard facts can be quite depressing of course though.

It was also very interesting how relevant all of this info is almost 25 years after it was first published. For example, she frequently uses mainstream women's magazines as examples of a representation of our culture and even hints at how those images will become more and more manipulated to instill unrealistic beauty standards (hello Photoshop...?).

If you're not up for the whole book, I recommend at least reading the last chapter, Beyond the Beauty Myth. It was a great recap and look at next steps. These are important parts of our culture that we should all take time to think about.

Some of my main take aways are:
- Basically, the Beauty Myth tells us beauty (the one type of beauty that is sold by the industry) is what brings happiness and success in all aspects of life. Ugly, fat is the worst thing a woman can be. If she is busy worry about her appearance, she can't have the strength to fight for equality.
- The Beauty Myth takes different forms over time. As women have received more freedom in the outside world, the Beauty Myth had to evolve to keep women unhappy internally. From sexual freedom to food to our own bodies, the Myth has quietly taken over our lives.
- The Beauty Myth tells us to strive for something that is impossible. If make-up and anti-aging products did what they were supposed to do, they would put themselves out of business…The ads straight out lie to us.
- It's also about choice and perceived choice. How much choice do we really have? I CHOOSE to shave my armpits and legs but what would happen if I chose not to? Would I be shamed by strangers, friends, family? Most definitely. Feminism is not about not shaving or not wearing makeup - the problem lies within how you feel when you DON'T follow the rules and do those things. There are unspoken but real consequences for not conforming to the rules of the beauty industry.
- GUILT traps us. If you don’t buy into the make-up/beauty/anti-aging industry, it will be YOUR fault when you age and wrinkle etc. If you do spend money on these beauty products, regardless of their effectiveness, at least you’ve tried and it’s not your fault. There is guilt associated with not trying hard enough — if you are lonely, old, sad, unpretty... it can be blamed on you.
- I could go on and on but you get the point. Maybe I will go back and take more notes and add to this sometime...

NOTE: I was leaning towards giving this a 4-4.5 rating because of its dense, academic nature, which is evident in how long it took me to get through this BUT the amount of thought and questions this brought up for me during and after reading it proves its strength.
Profile Image for Scarlett O.H..
130 reviews1 follower
September 20, 2017
This book really changed my view of the world. I think every woman should read this book. The ranking of women by an officially approved beauty ideal and the invisibility in the media of all non-standard beautiful women is only getting worse now with social media and the popularity contest that this has turned into!

It was a bit hard to get into at first and here in the Netherlands where I live, cosmetic surgery is still not as popular and common as in America (thank god!) but there is enough in this book that is still very true for most women today.

This book asks questions that lead you to think deeper about all the B.S. That you have grown up with and have accepted as true and unchangeable facts and even part of your own character, while actually your way of thinking can be changed if you recognise what is unrealistic and hurtful and you can learn to protect yourself from these influences.

You can't change the world but you can change your own thinking.
Let us see where that change will lead us!
Profile Image for Mar.
197 reviews370 followers
July 19, 2018
Este libro es bestial y todo el mundo (especialmente las mujeres) debería leerlo.

Subiré una reseña completa pronto porque necesito poner mis pensamientos en orden. Pero es increíble.
Profile Image for Literary Ames.
830 reviews396 followers
November 2, 2013
*Cross-posted on Wordpress and BookLikes.

Naomi Wolf does not have a way with words. Dense, vague and ambiguous language; sweeping generalizations; and seeing a deeper meaning or intent where a simpler explanation is more likely and appropriate – which created a conspiratorial air that everyone, or just men, were doing everything they can to oppress women and repress their desires. Frustration had me skimming, and I found myself regularly defending men and questioning women’s complicit behaviour in undermining their own positions in society.

Contrary to Wolf’s implications, not all men are women haters. Sadomasochism is not a new concept, of which the 18th century Donatien Alphonse Francois Sade, also known as the Marquis de Sade, can attest. The role of masochist is not always female and submissive, the male not always the sadist and dominant. No mention is made of the controls in place when acting out S&M to protect both actors in the roleplay e.g. safe words. Wolf’s perception of S&M is most definitely abhorrence for what she sees as the violent degradation of women.

Women are underestimated. They are to have more than one sexual fantasy; can desire to be dominant and submissive at different times, and just because they might enjoy rape fantasy does not mean they want to be raped or believe rape is acceptable. Also, male rape exists – they can be victims too, just as women can be the rapist or the abuser. Not all pornography is disturbingly violent; Wolf makes no distinctions between hardcore and softcore porn and various fetishes.

Men aren't unaffected by The Beauty Myth. Replicas of the beautiful male Adonis grace magazine covers and appear in top grossing movies. Show me covers of the average looking man who doesn't possess a six pack. Men's Health? GQ? Nine out of ten are the epitome of male perfection, but does 90% of the male population reflect this look? No. Men suffer the same self-image problems as women: body dysmorphia, anorexia, bulimia, etc. Bulimia and cosmetic surgery (specifically genital surgery) are the only topics in which Wolf considers men to be victims, in the Hunger and Violence chapters, respectively.

I can't quite decide if Wolf cherry picks her data or if she's ignorant of certain issues due to the time in which The Beauty Myth was written. However, she does make some valid points and highlights issues like female genital mutilation, post-traumatic stress suffered by rape victims, the prevalence of rape in universities and incest in families (Kinsey found incest in 24% of American, Australian and British families), and a possible link between victims of child sex abuse and the desire for cosmetic surgery.

But what I was really interested in was Wolf's opinions on rape after reading the first paragraph of Rape is Rape:

'In the wake of rape allegations against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, feminist Naomi Wolf publicly denied that if a man holds down and tries to sexually penetrate a woman who previously agreed to sex but changed her mind after he refused to wear a condom, he is a rapist. She also denied that penetrating a sleeping woman is rape. Wolf later went further, alleging that it is wrong to keep confidential the names of people who report that they've been raped. She reasoned it encourages false rape claims and that women should grow up and be treated as "moral adults" who stand by their allegations. When the two Assange accusers' names were released, they received death threats and experienced other forms of humiliation, the very reason names are publicly withheld now.'

This is backed up with Wolf's discussion with fellow feminist Jaclyn Friedman [part I and part II]. It's astonishing to me how much the author has changed her opinions on rape. In 1990, when The Beauty Myth was first published, Wolf was telling us how common acquaintance rape is and that victims of rape that don't call it rape still suffer as much as those who do, and twenty years later in 2010, she believed the controversial police report over the rape victims own words. It boggles the mind. How can she not remember writing this?:

'...much AIDS education has been utterly naive. If a quarter of young women have at some point had control denied them in a sexual encounter, they stand little chance of protecting themselves from the deadly disease. In a speakout on sexual violence at Yale University, the most common theme was a new crime that has been largely ignored: when a woman stipulates a safe, or nonpenetrative, sexual encounter, but the man ejaculates into her against her will.' (pg168) [emphasis mine]

What has happened to change Naomi’s mind after twenty years as a feminist and someone who has worked with rape victims?

Moving on. Question: Who is responsible for the evolution of culture? Government? Religion? Marketing directors? The people? Every now and then Wolf derives intent to derail female empowerment by THEM and somehow manages to avoid identifying the person(s) of blame and it wasn’t always obvious. I can see entities like Playboy intending to effect cultural change for financial gain, and with the help of other entities and technological advancement, has succeeded in its quest to make pornography easily accessible. However, this was only possible with majority social acceptance. Without the complicity of the general public, effecting change is difficult. Wolf doesn’t really address this, she prefers to concentrate on her perceived instigators of change rather than the response of the people as a whole.

I couldn’t finish the first chapter, ‘Work’, as it was badly written – almost nonsensical at times - and in desperate need of an editor. I skimmed over ‘Culture’, ‘Violence’ (which actually focuses on cosmetic surgery) and ‘Beyond the Beauty Myth’. Religion was an easier read and mostly made sense. ‘Sex’ is the chapter I concentrated on.

Twenty three years have passed since publication and while I can sort of see why this was groundbreaking in 1990, I find it strange that much of the feminist literature published today still refer to The Beauty Myth. Saying that, most of the topics covered are still relevant but areas of it are seriously outdated and perpetuates inequality by almost completely demonizing men, failing to recognise women's potential to be abusers, and men as victims.
Profile Image for Nabila Tabassum Chowdhury.
324 reviews225 followers
February 23, 2018
বইটা মূলত আমেরিকা বা পাশ্চাত্যের দেশগুলোর জন্য বেশি প্রাসঙ্গিক, যেখানে মেয়েরা ঘর ছেড়ে এসে অন্য সব ক্ষেত্রে নিজের জায়গা করে নিচ্ছে এবং সেক্সুয়াল রেভল্যুশনের সুফল ভোগ করেছে। সেখানে বিউটি মিথ নামের এক জুজু মেয়েদের এই এগিয়ে যাওয়াকে কিভাবে বাঁধাগ্রস্ত করছে, নিজের দেহের সাথে, সেক্সুয়���লিটির সাথে কিভাবে অপরিচিত করে তুলছে এবং নিজেকে অসুন্দর ভাবতে বাধ্য করছে যার ফলশ্রুতিতে মেয়েরা কিভাবে নিজেদের শারীরিক মানসিকভাবে অসুস্থ করে তুলছে এবং তাদের এই অসুন্দর হবার ভীতিকে কেন্দ্র করে কিভাবে গড়ে উঠেছে বিলিয়ন ট্রিলিয়ন ডলারের ইন্ডাস্ট্রি - এসব বিষয়গুলোর মাঝে থাকা বিন্দুগুলোকে জুড়েছেন লেখক। যার সবকিছুর সাথে একমত না হলেও উড়িয়ে দেয়াও সম্ভব হয়না।

আমাদের দেশের জন্য পুরোটা প্রাসঙ্গিক না হলেও, আমাদের মেয়েরা যেভাবে এগিয়ে যাচ্ছে এবং যেভাবে বিশ্বায়নের কারণে ভাল-খারাপ যে কোনও কিছুই আর ভৌগলিক দূরত্ব মানছে না, তাতে করে এই বইয়ে উল্লেখিত ব্যাপারগুলো আমাদের উপর আঘাত হানতে খুব বেশি দেরি করবে সে দুরাশাও করতে পারছি না। তাই আগে থেকেই প্রস্তুত থাকলে হয়তো আমাদের পশ্চিমা কাউন্টারপার্ট যতটুকু ক্ষতিগ্রস্ত হয়েছে ততটুকু না হয়েও পারা যাবে।

সেপ্টেম্বর থেকে পড়তে থাকা এই বইয়ে চারশোর বেশি জায়গায় হাইলাইট করেছি। যেসব রিভাইস করে নিয়ে বিশাল আলোচনা ফাঁদার ইচ্ছে থাকলেও আলস্যের কারণে আপাতত সেই আশা ত্যাগ করে ঘুমাতে যাচ্ছি। অবশ্যপাঠ্য, তাদের জন্য যারা মানুষ হিসেবে নিজেদের চিন্তা চেতনার জায়গায়টাকে অন্ততপক্ষে পুরুষতান্ত্রিকতামুক্ত করে গড়ে তুলতে চান।
Profile Image for Sarah-ann.
10 reviews
June 14, 2021
In spite of my own mind, I cannot blame this book for some of its more outdated aspects. Wolf could not have predicted the impact social media would have on beauty standards in modern society, which makes the sections of the book that look hopefully towards the future ring depressingly hollow. However not being on the cutting edge of feminist theory does not necessarily diminish the value of this book, rather I found it to be a great personal reminder of what is truly important when considering our own bodies as women.

In my darkest moments, I can find myself becoming disconnected with my own body, seeing it as broken, incomplete, and in constant need of repair. I measure myself by the yardstick of doctored photos and doctored bodies seen every day on my feed and always rule myself as falling short. Sometimes, I need a reminder that all of that is pure, 100%, grade A bullshit. It's a reminder that I am allowed to be angry that I have been sold to, and that I, above all, can opt out of all of it. That at least, is deeply comforting.
Profile Image for Maja  - BibliophiliaDK ✨.
1,097 reviews675 followers
February 3, 2021
Sadly, this book is still very much relevant today...

"'Beauty' is a currency system like the gold standard."

"The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men's institutions and institutional power."

"It would be pathetic if young women had to go back to the beginning because we were taken in by an unoriginal twenty-year campaign to portray the women's movement as 'not sexy'"
April 15, 2023
Recent research consistently 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 of aging, and dread of lost control.

A great book about the danger of the beauty myth, the pornography industry and other great topics.
Got myself a physical copy so I can take some notes and put some Post it’s in it.
Profile Image for Yellow Rose.
38 reviews9 followers
August 21, 2012
According to the author beauty is a myth,I think the authors book is a myth. So much information and literature is published saying quite the contrary in fact that most women want to be beautiful and feminine no matter how much the feminists brainwash them. For scientific knowledge on the subject please read the "Survival of the Prettiest" By Nancy Etcoff.

Wolf writes about Work and complains that women work so much that and that now there is a standard of beauty that she must look good for a job, because according to the author a working woman should go with sweats no make up and be accepted even though she is a news anchor woman, yes makes sense.

Now she also complains that women work outside the home and are doing all of the house work jobs too while the husband sits around and does nothing. and a feminist is complaining about it? It is thanks to feminism that women who don't want to work are forced into the workforce by brainwashed populace and college professors who think that potential is wasted if a woman has no career. This is insane why is she complaining over something that feminists fought for so much, yet they are still unhappy.

The Religion section of the book contained no grasp of reality she used misinterpreted texts and compare them women dieting and buying cosmetics, as if media is brainwashing them.

In the section on Sex she complains that and I quote directly from the book "In the decade during which women became political bout womanhood, popular culture recast tender, intimate sex as boring" (134). Okay why is she again complaining about that? It is exactly free sex that feminists wanted, but once they realized that if a woman whores around most men don't take her seriously and want nothing to do with her then the feminists complain that "oh it must be the man's fault". Which is not his fault it is the fault of the sexual revolution which actually was ushered in by feminists if you don't believe me read the readings of Greer or Valenti and other feminists how they glorify promiscuity in women.

She talks about hunger how the big bad media is making women anorexic and bulimic, in fact she is wrong because studies show that women turn to these diseases because of lack of control and this comes from usually the fact that women do not and cannot control their sexuality they are forced to have sex by society which tells them that women can be like men and feel nothing after sex however this is untrue and makes many women depressed. Read the Return To Modesty by Wendy Shalit good book.

Overall worthless garbage and feminist propaganda.
Profile Image for Bloodorange.
720 reviews196 followers
January 1, 2020
To live in fear of one's own body and one's life is not to live at all. The resulting life-fearing neuroses are everywhere. They are in the woman who will take a lover, go to Nepal, learn to skydive, swim naked, demand a raise, "when she loses this weight" - but in the eternal meantime maintains her wow of chastity or self-denial. They are in the woman who can never enjoy a meal, who never feels thin enough, or that the occasion is special enough, to drop her guard and become one with the moment."

This had beautiful moments, but many, many more extremely manipulative moments.
- misrepresentation of statistics in the "Hunger" (eating disorders) chapter;
- manipulative chapter titles - the one on cosmetic surgery was entitled "Violence";
- using striking, but unrelated images, to evoke strong emotional response in the reader (The moment where she compared being older, and less socially visible, to a house arrest used against political activists? And then moved on smoothly from Victorians abusing the idea of mental condition to limit, contain women, to stomach clamping?).

On the whole - -maybe I am a little too old to love this book (my students did), maybe it is all obvious to me by now, but it did allow me to see two things, at least, that I see a lot of on the internet, in a new light.

- Wolf writes about food and food disorders, and mentions development of eating-related rituals among people who don't need enough - I think we can classify Instagram food porn/ taking pictures of one's meals as such.
- There has been a visible tendency in a blogosphere to tell women that they need to go inwards, focus entirely on themselves, in order to hone their sense of style and style themselves in a way that represents their true self. This might be a post-feminist version of the "Beauty Myth";only this time, instead of adapting to the external beauty standards (which are at least specific, when at least we know whether something is available to us or not); our energy, which could be used to change the world, is consumed by the task of getting to know ourselves. Like Zoolander, we look in a puddle and whisper "Who am I?", because we believe that through getting to know ourselves we will become beautiful.

This was a great buddy read, again - thank you, Karin!
Profile Image for Lolly K Dandeneau.
1,866 reviews238 followers
February 28, 2009
I especially liked the chapter on sex. A lot of women I know and have known and likely will know certainly have issues with their own sexuality and thinking about it in terms of 'am I sexy to HIM' rather than what makes me feel sated or what makes ME feel sexy. We are a very image based society. But I have also seen a turn around where men are starting to obsess about being good enough too, however, they are nowhere near the overload of an IDEAL BODY we women have to suffer through. Now that I have a daughter heading into her teen years, I realize even more how society makes women feel bad about themselves if they aren't some air brushed ideal. I don't know ONE woman who does not feel bad about herself physically be it her breasts, weight, hair, etc. Even though this book is a bit outdated now, i find it sad a lot of things still have not changed.
Profile Image for Vartika.
400 reviews633 followers
July 22, 2022
Review from May 2020:
"For every feminist action there is an equal and opposite beauty myth reaction."
This is the central thesis of The Beauty Myth, which challenges the notion of 'beauty' as a metric for women's valuation and identifies its usage, especially in modern times, as a deliberate and debilitating counter to the emancipation gained by western women under first and second wave feminism.

And it's true. While beauty has always been pain, it has more subtle implications from the twentieth-century onwards. Women, irrespective of their abilities, have for long been required to be pretty in order to be taken seriously, but can also be considered too pretty to be taken seriously — ever since the movement for women's liberation took hold, we live in a "Get You A Girl Who Can Do Both" culture that ensures, in effect, that women are kept out of affecting any real power or influence.

Naomi Wolf in this book discusses how the modern associations of 'beauty' with youth and thinness have literally emerged to subdue women's increasing role in public life and to create newer forms of consumerism to replace the sales target formerly occupied by the housewife with the feminine mystique. In what appears to be a cogent attack on the burgeoning beauty industry, it posits 'beauty' as a product of patriarchal-capitalist collusion, designed and renewed to ensure the perpetration of the status-quo. It also brings to fore the specific biases 'beauty' imposes on women (especially how we see them in the media) and how it supplants religion, replaces sexual taboos with oral ones, and even uses the rhetoric of cults to retain patriarchal control over what Simone de Beauvoir called "the second sex".

Of course, significant portions of The Beauty Myth, written as it was in 1991, are dated — this book anticipated and even acted as a manifesto for a 'third wave' of feminism in the West, and nearly 30 years later we are living amidst the most visible (though least potent) leg of the movement today. Professional and gendered discrimination on the grounds of appearance is legally prohibited, three-dimensional women characters have finally begun trickling into popular culture, and the fashion industry is becoming more inclusive of race and sizes (although it is yet an industry).

Of course, these aforementioned strides can be attributed more to neoliberal appropriation of the aesthetics of feminism than to feminist politics. However, if your brand (forgive me this pun) of feminism is liberal, this book is also more relevant than ever in the age of Instagram (not to mention the age that chooses Trump and dismisses Warren, both despite everything that makes their case), where role models are now available to young women in supposedly more diverse moulds than ever, but where feminine success has also become overwhelmingly predicated on our adherence to standards of beauty and fashion. Wolf here writes that women can only stop being prey to the beauty myth when the idea of beauty is no longer set for them by someone else. While social media makes it seem like democratisation has arrived, in reality it is still brands and advertising that shape our ideas of beauty — and they are in many ways more 'compulsory' than before.

What I liked about The Beauty Myth was its methodical exposé of the beauty industry as a fraudulent profit-making machine that first creates and then cyclically preys on several points of lack of self-esteem in women. In Chapter 4, Wolf writes energetically about the criminally deceptive tactics of the skincare, anti-ageing, and weight-management industries, also bringing the unchecked gender bias in medicine into the picture with special focus on cosmetic procedures, whose dangers are deliberately hidden from women. This book also explains well how 'beauty' hurts men as well by creating a profitable gulf in male-female relationships, and foreshadows advertisers' eventual turn to exploit a 'male' beauty market. In talking about 'beauty' as wasteful consumerism, it also sheds light on the environmental impacts of the beauty myth.

Further, this book is accessible in language and rhetoric while remaining full of the political provocation (of a kind) and emotional evocativeness fit for the (liberal) feminist cause. Women deserve better, and this book deftly brings together the more visible 'hows' of it. Wolf's thesis as is could still benefit from revision, such as that it is perhaps not the external definition of 'beauty' that remains the problem, but that there is a definition at all.

What I would have liked most, of course, would have been an analysis more grounded in systemic critique and less grounded in binary gender, but given the general bent of the author's work I knew better than to expect critical scholarship or radical ideas in any measure. This is a work of pop feminism that makes all the obvious choices/mistakes associated with the genre: it lacks an intersectional or material analysis and is written in a generalising tone that builds the narrative of a supposedly unified, singular, depoliticised Feminism. However, it presents some attractive (!) ideas that could potentially work as stepping stones for readers who may go on to develop a more substantive feminist politics.
Profile Image for Emily.
120 reviews577 followers
November 8, 2017
This book took me forever to get through! My favorite part was how it put into words things I’ve thought or felt but was unable to vocalize. However, it does feel a bit dated, it’s incredibly dense, and I thought some of her generalizations were a bit problematic. I definitely see why this is considered essential reading on the feminist bookshelf, but its density dulled the power of the message for me.
Profile Image for Barbara (The Bibliophage).
1,086 reviews152 followers
December 23, 2018
Inspired by The Beauty Myth and by its author Naomi Wolf, I went to the gym this morning with a new set of eyes. And no makeup, my hair pulled back in a poof of raggedy curls on my head. Oh wait, that’s how I always go to the gym or the pool for my workouts. But the nudges and whomps on my head from Wolf’s 1990 book feel as relevant today (or possibly more so) than it must have then.

Naomi Wolf is a scholar and philosopher, as well as being a feminist writer. She analyzes the details of women’s lives across the centuries, focusing on the twentieth. And specifically, she discusses how the demands and expectations of “being beautiful” have changed through the eras.

More importantly, Wolf explains what motivates patriarchal society to develop a construct like the “beauty myth.” What is it that men gain when women invest time, money, and effort in meeting a specific beauty standard? Well, it’s a large part of what makes out economy go around. It keeps women’s attention away from spheres that are typically male-dominated like politics and science. And what it does to women’s self-esteem is just pure patriarchal evil.

We may be reaching for a glass ceiling, but the beauty myth is a ton of concrete attached to our feet.

But how does it work? Well, by focusing women’s eyes on their faults. Then, the myth offers them proposed solutions, such as diet, exercise, skin care, makeup, and plastic surgery. Each of these is gigantic industry with each successive generation joining in the fray. Somehow all of these things are going to make women more beautiful, which is a perceived requirement in life. Because, as Wolf tells it, beauty is required for jobs, love, and sexual fulfillment.

Beauty—achieving and maintaining it—is also a competitive sport. And god forbid you should get older next year. The myth pits women against each other, when in fact they could and should join together and throw out this corrupt system.

My conclusions
I highlighted my Kindle book 475 times. Every time I turned a page, I found a new “aha” or “holy crap” moment. Wolf opened my eyes, while often making me cringe at behaviors and events. If you have the slightest interest in women’s studies or feminism, this book is a must read!

Originally published on my book blog, TheBibliophage.com.
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