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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women Paperback – 5 Sep 1991


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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; New Ed edition (5 Sept. 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099861909
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099861904
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 13 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,954 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"A smart, angry, insightful book, and a clarion call to freedom. Every woman should read it." (Gloria Steinem)

"Powerful... No other work has...so honestly depicted the confusion of accomplished women who feel emotionally and physically tortured by the need to look like movie stars" (New York Times)

"The most important feminist publication since The Female Eunuch" (Germaine Greer)

"A brilliant, bracing book...The world has changed - a bit - over the past decade and a half, but not enough: this remains essential reading" (Guardian)

"Essential reading" (Fay Weldon)

Book Description

Provocative, punchy and important, this is one of the essential classics of modern feminist literature.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 72 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 11 Nov. 2000
Format: Paperback
Think women are finally equal? Think feminism is passe? Think again. In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf puts forward startling and controversial arguments to suggest that women are still, even now, obstructed and held back by society in a systematic and organised way. The key idea in this book is that as women fought for freedom and equality, and broke down so many barriers in the mid twentieth century, society responded by creating the Beauty Myth: an increasing obsession with beauty and appearance which consistenly hampers women from fulfilling their potential. The Beauty Myth, suggests Wolf, is the one single lasting inequality that holds back women today. This obsession with beauty arose massively in the last half of the century as a direct reaction and back-lash to the emancipation that women were finally achieving in other areas of their lives. In a enlightening and sometimes shocking read, Wolf answers questions like: why do women wear make-up? Why are so many women obsessed with their weight and constantly dieting? Why are there no greying, older women in respectable positions in the media? Why are women so afraid of ageing? Why, above all, are these preoccupations seen to be normal and correct, even obligatory to have the 'proper' experience of womanhood? The Beauty Myth diverts women's time, money, energy and intelligence into something that does not challenge the status quo. $20 billion a year is wasted on trying to achieve the impossible goal of 'beauty'. Women living in western society have an extra burden imposed on them that men do not have: they must be beautiful to succeed in work, love, sex, and life. The myth affects all aspects of a woman's life.Read more ›
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77 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Angelica Tatam on 22 Jun. 2010
Format: Paperback
So, Wolf's basic argument is that much of the direct sexism of the past has been replaced with sexism based on the nebulous idea of "beauty" - while women have theoretically gained virtual legal equality with men, the structure of patriarchy has increasingly deployed myths about "beauty" as a means of preventing women from realising this equality in any real sense. What is promoted as a universal ideal of beauty is in fact linked to particular kinds of behaviour - kinds of behaviour, of course, useful to the perpetuation of male dominance - and so freedom and success for women are constructed to be at odds with the ability to meet this ideal. As long as we accept the idea that our worth is defined by our attractiveness, and that this attractiveness is defined according to the imperatives of patriarchy, we can never achieve freedom.

All of which is a perfectly fine argument - a little self-evident in ways, but Wolf fleshes it all out reasonably competently, with a decent sprinkling of the kind of shocking examples and statistics that aren't particularly difficult to find in a world which remains deeply sexist (which fact I'd have thought is pretty obvious, but which can easily be proven by a zillion studies for anyone who remains doubtful of it).

However, beyond this, Wolf's privilege shows painfully. It is impossible to create a meaningful discourse around the way in which the idea of "beauty" has been constructed without having at its core the ways in which sex and gender intersect with race, class, sexuality, disability etc. The false universal ideal of beauty isn't only one which constructs women as passive, subservient etc. - it is also one which is very strictly white, middle-class, heteronormative, non-disabled and cisgender.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Cogito Ergo Sometimes on 13 Nov. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
... especially twenty years on now that things are not better but worse, and ordinary men are now being sucked in as victims of the beauty myth too. It was always done to all of us - though the damage was worse to women's self-esteem this impacted hugely on the kinds of relationships women were able to have even with men who truly love them for themselves - and now it's even worse for women because men are falling for it too. Some parts of this left me angry and shaking, others with a tear in my eye. A few bits seemed not quite right or under-thought to me, but not many, and basically it's full of nuggets of utterly terrifying truth.

Like I said. Essential.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. J. E. Gray on 17 Mar. 2011
Format: Paperback
I was given this book as it is deemed to be in the top 30 books of all time (a rather thoughtful present for my 30th birthday!)

My overriding view - it has aged. The most up to date reference is 1991, and therefore at best it is 20 years old, and therefore whether you still believe in the examples of equality or not, that is now down to your personal beliefs and opinions, which will vary dramatically depending on a multitude of factors.

Nonetheless, it is an education. It will give people the scenarios in which to develop their own opinions, rather than bein conditioned through media. There are some particularly interesting points about the acceptability of rape as a result of soft porn advertising, a great section on "miracle face creams" and what we are really being sold, and some insightful comments on the cult like behaviour of the dieting industry. One great theme comes out during this section - that women are striving for an ideal body shape that is physically impossible!

I'm off to burn my bra!
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