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on 26 August 2016
great book for gender / media studies
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on 13 November 2011
... 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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on 28 August 2008
An interesting and insightful look at the way modern society uses beauty ideals to undermine women socially and psychologically, in order to keep its politics and economy in order. The book covers various aspects of this repression, from sex and work, to surgery and dieting. It occasionally veers into slightly OTT territory near the beginning, but by the final section, 'Beyond the Beauty Myth' the reader is fully on the side of the achievable vision Wolf presents of a united womanhood in which competition and striving for acceptance via beauty is replaced with sisterhood, freedom and confident sexuality. Thought-provoking and very relevant in today's size 0-obsessed culture.
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on 13 November 2011
I'm not going to say this book is perfect, or was perfect when it was written, but it is nevertheless empowering to anyone who has ever felt inadequate in the face of advertising or peer pressure, or anyone who constantly strives for 'perfection' in their image. There are parts of it which took things too far - likening beauty to a religion, for example, which makes a good point about the idolisation of glamour, but doesn't necessarily deserve an entire chapter. Also, she never really addresses why mankind has it in for women; she makes the assumption that politics and corporations don't want women in their ranks - which may well be true, but would encourage incredulity in someone who didn't already share that sentiment. Also, the book is growing out-of-date - it doesn't acknowledge the pressure put on men to the same ends that is increasingly true today.

However, for the most part, Wolf was incredibly persuasive, and it's great to hear my own thoughts fired back in such an eloquent manner. I doubt I will ever diet again. By the end, it gave me a sense of how I can remove the pressure to be an 'ideal', at least from my own life, and finally feel confident in myself - Wolf writes in a way which makes you feel as well as think, and I'm very glad I read The Beauty Myth.
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on 17 March 2011
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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on 11 November 2000
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. It affects the way women are treated in work, it affects the way female sexuality is viewed, it affects young girls psychologically, it infuses our culture totally. Striving after the myth, a woman shows all the signs of being taken in by a cult religion. Under the myth, femaleness is inherantly wrong and flawed and must be continually corrected. The female body is seen as an ugly mistake. Alone, it is just not good enough and needs artificial methods to make it acceptable. The amazing thing is that this fact has not been realised by women in modern society who in every other way consider themselves free individuals. Reading this book may at last open our eyes. 'Men' in general are not to blame here, the myth debilitates them too. It surely must be true that if women, more than half of the population, are not free, then men are not really free also. They are shut out from having relationships with women as they really are. Wolf also points out that the myth may be starting to attach itself to men. It is in their interests to demolish it. This book was published in 1990, and perhaps some things have changed a decade on (however I doubt it - the ludicrous furore about Julian Roberts' armpits(?!), herion chic, the recent ad for eyeshadow "shout without opening your mouth"). I also think that Wolf does not always succeed in convincing the reader of her more controversial ideas; I could not always relate to some of the more extreme claims. However, I guarantee that if you are a woman there are parts in this book that are so blindingly true you will be almost shouting out agreement as you read. The book opens our eyes, it is a wake up call, reading it takes us out of our own culture to see its craziness from the outside. After reading this book I promise you will see western culture differently and hopefully you will be inspired to change things, even in your own life. I recommend this book to everyone, male or female. If you are a man, reading this book may shock you and make you see women differently. If you are a woman, this book will probably change your life.
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I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. The cumulative scattered flakes of various women’s lives congealed into the impetus to finally read this book, one of the classics of feminist literature: A truly beautiful woman who truly thought she was ugly (and was not just fishing for compliments); an accomplished professional woman with an imperceptible lump on her nose who had to go through the horrors (as Wolf so well describes) of a “nose-job”; women who have to get breast implants that destroy the beauty and feel of a breast. And then there was all this generalized dissatisfaction with who they were – physically – far more so, than mentally.

Another “flake” that underscored what I felt was wrong about this book came from one conversation with an NGO “activist,” in Hanoi of all places, who was on a campaign to have landmines banned. Again, I was a “receptive audience.” Landmines were a scourge of some countries, notably Angola, Cambodia, and to a lesser extent, Vietnam, in which landmines were just one subset of the perils of unexploded ordinance, all of which were just one subset of the damage done to the country, which included the use of chemical weapons, such as Agent Orange. The NGO activist was trying to impress me with her many hard quantitative facts that fit so neatly into a spreadsheet… but as I pressed her on the methodology… the “how could you possibly know have many landmines were originally buried… how many remain… how many injuries were caused in time of war, and latter… I could tell she was largely just making it up. Good intentions, no doubt, and a shield of quantitative analysis, but isn’t that how McNamara operated?

With Naomi Wolf, the dubious stats starts early, and I noted another reviewer was disconcerted by the blunt, conclusory statement made on page 22: “Women work hard – twice as hard as men.” The worst chapter that contained a staccato machine-gun fire of dubious factoids is the one entitled “Hunger.” Consider: “One fifth of women who exercise to shape their bodies have menstrual irregularities and diminished fertility” (p192). At Treblinka, 900 calories was scientifically determined to be the minimum necessary to sustain human functioning” (p195). Scientifically?? “For women to stay at the official extreme of the weight spectrum requires 95 percent of us to infantilize or rigidify to some degree our mental lives” (p199). “Nothing justifies comparison with the Holocaust; but when confronted with a vast number of emaciated bodies starved not by nature but by men, one must notice a certain resemblance” (p207). Men?? Other chapters contain similar dubious factoids, like the percentage of rapes, and the extraordinary high percentage of rapes that occur between individuals who know each other, including spouses. Or, in the chapter on “Work”: “In the United States, partners of employed women give them LESS help than do partners of housewives” (p23).

‘Tis a pity, all of the above. Because there is so much to like about this book, and Wolf’s critical thinking about why “things are the way they are.” For example, I felt that her chapter entitled “Religion,” in which she describes how “the Beauty Myth” came to replace and utilize many of the techniques of organized religion, particularly in regards to the control of women. Likewise, the chapter on “Work” was strong, and I thought her discussion on the legal arguments, and abuse of the legal system in the promotion of something called the “Professional Beauty Qualification” most beneficial. In essence, can you fire a “Playboy bunny” which she gets to old, fat, or ugly… and how that concept might spread to any job held by a female. The chapter on “Violence” mainly describes not rape, as one might assume, but the assault by the underbelly of the medical profession (and some other assorted hucksters) who essentially convince women that they are not “real women” without some surgery… and how some women actually become “surgery addicts.”

Who are “the who”? Wolf never discusses who actually creates and enforces “the Beauty Myth.” Are they the proverbial five guys, in the backroom, with the cigars and brandy, who decide how they will control the rest of us? Or, is it something much deeper, about the human condition, relating to fundamental competition for a sexual or economic “prize”?

This book was originally published in 1991, thus, it was, for all practically purposes, pre-internet. Wolfe includes a new introduction written in 2002, in which she discusses the progress… and the steps back… which occurred in the intervening decade. And now, a decade and a half later, another update would be most appropriate. In particular, yesterday I was treated to the very battered-face of Ronda Rousey, as the lead article on the CNN website. She was the Ultimate Fighting Conference loser, in 47 seconds, to her Brazilian opponent. ANY discussion about “pornography” should commence with that battered face, the “fans” who spend so much to see it, and a mainstream news source that would published that face – without criticism – while shielding its tender readers from the pictures of the dead and wounded from the many wars we fight.

Wolf’s account carries numerous footnotes, but these are not directly tied to her quotes, a sampling of which were provided above. She references the works of several other leading feminists, for example, Betty Frieden, Susan Faludi, Catherine McKinnon and Andre Dworkin. The latter, and her influence, in particular, has concerned me. I gave Dworkin’s Intercourse a 3-star review. On the other hand, I was most impressed with Faludi’s Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women which I gave 5-stars to. As indicated, I was disappointed with this work, which, in addition to the above, contained serious redundancies and other editing problems. Overall, 3-stars.
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on 11 January 2013
As a sufferer of Body Dysmorphic Disorder since the age of 14, the topic of physical beauty has been a very sensitive and poignant subject for me for quite a long time. I have made quite a lot of progress over the last decade since my diagnosis, but still have far to go. "The Beauty Myth" attracted me because I thought it might give me some insight into why physical beauty is such a big deal in today's society. Although the book is now over 20 years old, the subject is more true now than ever before.

The question "why is beauty so important in today's society?" is very complicated. Everything from attraction to misogyny seems to be an answer, and so this question continues to have people confused. This book offers a few explanations which to some may seem far-fetched and even conspiratorial. To others, they may be a startling realization which may free them from the trap of the beauty myth.

I enjoyed the book. The chapters did feel a little long and drawn-out to me, but I found this book enlightening. Instead of seeing the images of "beauty" as a universal ideal that all men love and desire, I can start to see them as simply advertising for profit. Instead of seeing long glossy hair, clear skin, big eyes and small, slim curves, I can start to see hairspray (just £8 to improve your whole day), face wash (£5 for beautiful, clear confidence), mascara (£6 for unbeatable attitude), and diets (I'm thinking of you, Jenny Craig). Models and celebrities, made up for hours, then airbrushed, not because we should ideally look that way, but because if we THINK we should look that way, we will SPEND money on products by brands that are featured in the magazine. There are other reasons for the beauty myth, that I will not go into here in too much detail, but include Naomi Wolf's assertion that the beauty myth was created when women no longer responded to the message that they should all be "the perfect housewife," in order to keep women from realizing their full potential.

Overall, the book has a feel that it encourages women to be confident, strong, smart, independent, and wise, and to support one another instead of seeing eachother as competition. (Which, sadly, is honestly something a lot of women do.) It is a good feminist read and I recommend it to any woman who feels suffocated by the pressure to be beautiful in today's society. I recommend it alongside Female Chauvinist Pigs and Living Dolls: The Return of Sexism.
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on 20 May 2011
Whilst I realize there are more modern editions of this book, this is the version I've read and I wish to convey how interesting a read it is, for both men and women. This has certainly gave me a new respect for feminism and a new regard for the daily struggle women face against advertisement, mixed messages of the media and social pressure to look and act a certain way.

The chapters are well titled and broken down, you don't have to read this book cover to cover but can dip in and out and read the aspects of the beauty myth that you most associate yourself with. For me, the chapters on Hunger and Sex were the most poignant, they gave me a serious shock as to how widespread eating disorders are among college students, which I imagine hasn't improved over time.

I recommend this book to anyone who has suffered for beauty, has loved someone who has suffered for beauty or anyone who has an interest in how the world shapes us. An excellent and thought provoking read.
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on 4 May 2014
An amazing book that I have been recommending to female friends and women everywhere since I read it. A truly eye opening study of how women are portrayed in the media and advertising and how Western ideas about beauty have created traps and obstacles to stop us getting ahead. Read this, and have your mind blown. It's time to stop being complicit in our own oppression.
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