Given this project’s topic, I figured it was high time I read The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf (pictured below). First published in 1991, it is stunningly insightful, the kind of book that makes you howl with joy because author’s words ring so true – and sends you into a murderous rage because the author’s words ring so true.
For this entry, I will simply share a passage from the book. Then, in a follow-up entry, I’ll write about some of the ideas that the book has sparked within me.
“During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing medical specialty. During the past five years, consumer spending doubled, pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal. 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 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.
“It is no accident that so many potentially powerful women feel this way. We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth. It is the modern version of a social reflex that has been in force since the Industrial revolution. As women released themselves from the feminine mystique of domesticity, the beauty myth took over its lost ground, expanding as it wanted to carry on its work of social control.
“The contemporary backlash is so violent because the ideology of beauty is the last one remaining of the old feminine ideologies that still has the power to control those women whom second wave feminism would have otherwise made relatively uncontrollable: It has grown stronger to take over the work of social coercion that myths about motherhood, domesticity, chastity, and passivity, no longer can manage. It is seeking right now to undo psychologicallly and covertly all the good things that feminism did for women materially and overtly.
“This counterforce is operating to checkmate the inheritance of feminism on every level in the lives of Western women…” (Wolf, 10-11).
All excerpts taken from: Wolf, Naomi. The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York: Harper Perennial, 2002.