Book Review: The Beauty Myth

The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

Rating: 5 stars
Published: 3/17/09
Genre: Feminism, Non-fiction
Read: 10/11/17


Summary from Goodreads:
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.” 

In essence, the “beauty myth” boils down to the idea that the only worth of a woman comes from her appearance. Now, this book is about 25 years old, so plenty has changed, and I personally believe that most women nowadays know that this is very untrue, but at the same time emotionally and subconsciously, most women are still affected by it, and many still allow it to control them.

One point the author mentions several times is that real men like real women. They do, in fact, like how we actually look. While I don’t have much experience with romance myself, I can relate to this with my girlfriends. I have told them before that I like their faces without makeup. They were genuinely surprised to hear that. Yet it is entirely true. I like them for who they are, not what they look like. And because I love them, I love their bodies, their faces, their flaws exactly as they are. No matter what they look like, I will love them. If this is how real men in love with real woman feel, I so wish they would shout it from the rooftops. So many women need to hear this so badly.

I find the idea that it’s not men, but advertisers who are pushing women to believe the “beauty myth” very interesting. While it is something I’ve recognized in a case-by-case basis, it’s kind of crazy to realize that maybe there really shouldn’t be an “us” vs “them” mentality between women and men or a women and other women. It should be all of us against an industry that is intentionally causing physical and mental anguish.

One topic I do think we have seen major improvement on (but still not nearly enough!) is eating and eating disorders. As a relatively recent college graduate, I can tell you that none of my friends had eating disorders. Yes, plenty of them tried this or that diet, but I never saw them do anything physically damaging to themselves in order to be a certain weight. A lot more women seem to be okay with eating until their full. In fact there are YouTube channels dedicated to women eating. Though of course, that is just another way to fetishize a woman, and we don’t know what she does before or after so we can’t say for sure if she’s going to go throw up after, if she starves herself in the meantime, or if she over-exercises.

I did take several Psychology courses in college, so my experience could be different than what a lot of people see, but there also seems to be a lot more recognition these days as anorexia nervosa and bulimia as mental disorders. This is a huge step in helping women with these diseases to get help, though of course before that the US of A will have to work on recognizing mental health as just as important as, if not more than, physical health.

I think the most horrifying part of this book for me was the plastic surgery section. There are so many terrible possible side effects, that aren’t even uncommon, and women aren’t told about them, even if asking point blank. It’s absolutely disgusting. I never knew that people have actually died from getting liposuction, or how violent a procedure it actually is. The description of it had me cringing away from the book. I love how the author included, in this section and others, a scenario where it was men in this position in order to show the proper shock and outrage we should all be feeling when women are asked to do these things. As women, we’re told we have to do anything we can to look a certain way, and in an effort to do so, we’re destroying our bodies.

I would absolutely love to see more people read this book (I’ll be recommending to everyone I know!). As I said above, I do think a few of the topics are a little dated,  but they are still entirely relevant in today’s conversation. If more women would read this, I can only hope that they could learn to recognize when the images portrayed as “sexy” don’t match what they look like, they realize it’s only because it’s one version of sexy, it’s not the only possibility. That when they think they need to wear this make-up, or can’t rock this style, or need to eat less, or talk less because “that’s what a man wants,” it’s not true – or if it is true for a particular man, that they realize he’s not worth a moment of their time. That they could learn to love themselves for who they are and what they look like, no matter what that is. Men on the other hand, could learn so much about the position women are in, hopefully learn to put less emphasis on these things or verbalize that they don’t, and potentially open up avenues to talk and help women overcome so many massive hurtles.

Have you read The Beauty Myth? What are your thoughts?

4 thoughts on “Book Review: The Beauty Myth

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