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

4.1 out of 5 stars 60 customer reviews

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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: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 7,105 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback
I loved this book. I completely recognise the world that Naomi examines as being where I live even though she is American and I am English. I already knew a lot of what she wrote (esp. about the diet cycle) but had felt that my feelings must be to do with excusing my failure to fit the mould - you know size 10 (US6), hoards of male admirers, job to die for, facial features just so, boob size just so, bottom size just so, the list is endless, etc. I am now confident that I am not a failure - far from it, I am succeeding at not being manipulated and bullied by the institutions and organisations that are ultimately only interested in making money out of people (mostly, but not only, women) by playing on artificially created insecurities.
This book should be a must read for all women and they should re-read it over the years. As you age it is more difficult to fit your body (and mind) into the beauty mould and the truth of the beauty myth becomes more apparent.
As a reasonably politically aware woman who is financially self supporting this book was fantastic cos it articulated so well the constant pressure on women that affects my life all the time. If you protest against this pressure you are labelled as a woman with a chip on her shoulder. This is not the case. There is a conspiracy - however inadvertent most of the conspirators are.
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... 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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