The Personal and the Political

Throughout this project, I have focused primarily on feminine beauty as it plays out in our daily lives, and what it means on a personal level. However, I have always known that there are, of course, political and social dimensions and implications to the construction of feminine beauty. Through The Beauty Myth, author Naomi Wolf has helped me to understand just how political it is.

The beauty myth, Wolf argues, demands that all women be beautiful – this beauty being defined in such a way that no woman could ever be naturally beautiful. It is a tool wielded by the masculine power establishment, threatened by the inroads the women’s movement has made over the past four decades, in every aspect of our lives, including our work, our bodies, our sexuality and our pockets.

In relation to work, Wolf shows that as women have entered the workforce through a variety of different jobs, there has been a correlating pressure demanding that women all fit into a very narrow definition of beauty. As legislation helped women gain rights in the workplace, other laws were being created which argued that women must look a certain way (determined by their boss) if they wanted to keep their jobs. This applied not only to women in the “display professions” such as modelling or acting, but to those in all jobs. As women have been able to make money of our own, we have been required to spend more and more on products that will allegedly help us to attain this Professional Beauty Qualification, as Wolf says.

Another area in which the beauty myth plays an important role is, of course, sex, and our sexuality. Wolf argues that the power structure, through advertising companies, the media and other avenues, equates beauty with sex. Women are told over and over and over that if we are not beautiful – again using a very narrow definition – we are not sexy, and not deserving of sex.

Along with The Beauty Myth, I am also reading a book called Facing Codependence. One of the core symptoms, or consequences, of codependence (according to the author) is the inability to value oneself appropriately. Someone who has lived in a codependent family will often not value herself, or will really struggle to do so. She will struggle to value herself just as she is – not when she has the perfect job, the perfect house, the perfect partner, nor when she has accomplished her list of tasks for the day, cooked healthy meals, cleaned the house, etc.

My mind is connecting this idea with Wolf’s ideas on beauty. Society, the power structure, large corporations, etc. all want us to feel bad about ourselves, to not value ourselves just the way we are. What if we were able to value ourselves? That would be a huge triumph, both personally and politically.

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3 Responses to The Personal and the Political

  1. Claudia says:

    The Personal is Political, the title of Carol Hanisch’s 1970 essay. You’re theory is absolutely right – keep women feeling bad about themselves and they won’t have the confidence to move outside of themselves. Another good book is Steinem’s “Revolution From Within” let me know if you want to borrow it.
    Terrific writing, Liz!
    Much love,

  2. Mary says:

    Wonderful, insightful writing Liz. All so true. Your question is such a powerful one: “What if we were able to value ourselves, JUST AS WE ARE?” I think that as women we spend so much of our time, money and energy trying to change. The crazy thing is that, if we discard the beauty myth, we have a blank slate and have to come up with our own system for valuing ourselves! If we do not base our worth on how we look, the clothes we have, how thin we are, how much we accomplished that day, etc., then what do we base it on? It is a totally foreign concept to tell ourselves that we have value just for being who we are!

  3. Mary – good point about the great unknown of creating our own value-system. The levels of co-dependence go so deep.

    And I think you’re on to something, Liz, about how these societal structures that impose beauty standards are as responsibility for co-dependence as familial structures!

    Also, the idea of “display professions” made me think of this narrative video my friend Molly made, How it often feels that any profession a woman is in (especially though tailored for women) are display professions.

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