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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women is a nonfiction book
by Naomi Wolf, published in 1991 by William Morrow and Company. It was republished in 2002
by HarperPerennial with a new introduction.

The basic premise of The Beauty Myth is that as women have gained increased social power and
prominence, expected adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women.
So many aspects of “the beauty myth” are, to make women feel less powerful;
in this case, just when their power, magnetism and sexuality are at their

In her introduction, Wolf offers the following analysis:

Wolf argued that women were under assault by the "beauty myth" in five areas:work. Every woman should read it.000 women were dying every year from anorexia. we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. Ultimately. Criticism[edit] Christina Hoff Sommers criticized Wolf for publishing the claim that 150." With the publication of The Beauty Myth. Wolf criticizes the fashion and beauty industries as exploitative of women. but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically. economic pressure. [D]uring the past decade.[2] Impact[edit] Wolf's book was a quick bestseller.[5] Sommers claimed that the actual number is closer to 100. violence. but claims the beauty myth extends into all areas of human functioning. an intrinsically unattainable standard that is then used to punish women physically and psychologically for their failure to achieve and conform to it."[3] British novelist Fay Weldon called the book "essential reading for the New Woman". and even legal judgments regarding women's appearance to undermine us psychologically and politically".. meanwhile. eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty. Wolf argues for a relaxation of normative standards of beauty. the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us. and a clarion call to freedom. but winning praise from many feminists. religion.[4]and Betty Friedan wrote in Allure magazine that "The Beauty Myth and the controversy it is eliciting could be a hopeful sign of a new surge of feminist consciousness.. ahead of legitimate films and records combined. and hunger. Wolf became a leading spokesperson of what was later described as the third wave of the feminist movement..More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before. and Gloria Steinem wrote.[1] ” Wolf also posits the idea of an iron maiden. Second-wave feminist Germaine Greer wrote that The Beauty Myth was "the most important feminist publication since The Female Eunuch".. women breached the power structure. sex. [P]ornography became the main media category. such as Jennifer Baumgardner[citation needed] and Amy Richards.. garnering intensely polarized responses from the public and mainstream media. Wolf writes that women should have "the choice to do whatever we want with our faces and bodies without being punished by an ideology that is using attitudes.. and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal.[citation needed] claimed to be much too .“ The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through. "The Beauty Myth is a smart. a figure which others. insightful book. angry.

A common belief of women[vague] is that the lower the number on the weight scale. Anorexia nervosa is a “serious mental health disease that involves compulsive dieting and drastic weight loss”. The same is argued in Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex in which she recounts the effects of . Sommers stated that Wolf had retracted the figure. Women and men alike are faced with ideal bodies. PhD. Magazines. critics allege that often times for women many of the beauty standards are neither healthy nor achievable through diets.[7] Humanities scholar Camille Paglia also criticized the book. Many feminists believe that the beauty myth is one of the last and most successful systems in place to keep male dominance. posters. makes escaping these ideals almost impossible.' Schoemaker calculated that there are about 525 annual deaths from AN.5 million people in the United States alone[9]”.[who?] the Beauty Myth is simply a myth. However. In the same interview. only some of the many platforms today that perpetuate beauty standards for both men and women. as women increasingly focus their attention on their physical appearance. it is argued.low.[8] Connection to Women Studies[edit] According to some Women's Studies scholars. According to Naomi Wolf. claims that the death totals may be underreported because death certificates don’t cite eating disorders per se as a cause of death. These ends to the sacrifices often outweigh the means as failing to embody these ideals leaves women targets to criticism and societal scrutiny. for example. the prettier she’ll be regardless of what sacrifices her body needs to make. arguing that Wolf's historical research and analysis was deeply flawed. on this hypothesis. an anorexia statistic in any edition of the The Beauty Myth should be divided by eight to get near the real statistic. These unattainable goals are then cited as an explanation for the increasing rates of plastic surgery. bodies that are marketed as attainable through diets and gym memberships. Anorexia nervosa is one of the most prevalent eating disorders in Western countries “affecting an estimated 2.[6] Similarly. but its existence is a powerful force in keeping women focused on the purist of beauty and providing both men and women with a way to judge and limit women due to their physical appearance. Women’s ideals often place a larger importance on weight loss than on maintain a healthy medium. Anorexia nervosa’s deep psychological roots make it difficult to treat elongating the recovery process to a life-long journey. 286 times less than Wolf's statistic. This weight loss is the result of deliberate self- starvation to achieve a thinner appearance. television ads and social media sites are. more than 90 percent of anorexics are girls and young women. the focus on equal rights and treatment takes second priority. Of this number. a scathing 2004 paper compared Wolf's eating disorder statistics to statistics from peer- reviewed epidemiological studies and concluded that 'on average. an ideal that is heavily policed for young women today. Jeanine Cogan. The daily presence and circulation of these platforms.

these changes encompass a “huge array of social expectations including physical appearance but unlike the social expectations on boys. Beauvoir cites things such as clothing. freckles. legitimacy. According to Dr.societies conditioning of young women into performing femininity. In her argument. and passivity. The ideal body time we have today of full-chested and hourglass figures began in the early 1950’s and has since led to a spike in plastic surgery and eating disorders. the social expectations on girls and women usually inhibit them from acting freely[10]”. women with a thinner frame and small bust were seen as beautiful. the desperation to reach such a standard led to an increase in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. reporting the good looks continue to be associated with respect. diction and manners as subjects of scrutiny women face that men do not. In 1920. "most women agree. and power in their relationships[11]". youthful model [has] supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood. White women and women with fair skin were seen as the ideal body further segregating women into subgroups and justifying the unfair treatment of black women. domesticity. all of which have been used to keep women powerless. beauty standards are shifting socially constructed ideas imposed on women. Over the course of history. make-up. chastity. and/or skin imperfections led to scrutiny by other. the ideal female body type changed to represent the pale complexion. In the early 1900’s. beauty ideals for women have changed drastically to represent societal views. In the author’s view. evaluations and promotions off physical appearance is only further policing women to place aesthetic beauty before their work and skills. cinched-waist ideal. Wolf argues that this standard of beauty has taken over the work of social coercion formerly left to myths about motherhood. Studies reveal that women today strive to achieve beauty ideas because they understand the correlation between aesthetic beauty and social standing. the girl realizes not only to what degree her body is physically changing but also how these changes have begun to impact her freedom. The focus of this passage is on a young girl who’s unaware of the differences that exist between her body and that of her male friends. According to Beauvoir. During her adolescent years. As illustrated by the aforementioned changes. Basing hiring. race and skin color were the main factors for being considered beautiful. The Beauty Myth Summary The Beauty Myth The basic premise of THE BEAUTY MYTH is that forced adherence to standards of physical beauty has grown stronger for women as they gained power in other societal arenas.[12] During slavery. “the gaunt. sun spots.” The myth of beauty spreads the belief that an objective measurement of . Vivian Diller's book Face it: What Women Really Feel as their Looks Change and What to do About It.

PMID 16864310. Beauty is about behavior. and that men must want such exists. June 24. Reviews 4. In a final chapter Wolf calls for a third wave of feminism that will dismantle the societal machinery that enforces adherence to the beauty myth. ^ Willens. Carlsbad. 20.1080/10640260490444619. 158– 164. 10 2. Calif. ISBN 9781401925413. Scholz. Oxford: Oneworld. and in sex and sexual relations.cfm 7. it is carefully thought out and backed by exhaustive research. Eat Disord 12 (2): 97–102. pp. The qualities labelled “beautiful” in women in any given time period are no more than symbols of female behavior considered desirable at that time. The Beauty Myth.: Hay House. To Naomi Wolf. ISBN 9781851687121. 3. ISBN 9781601520425. 17-18. pp. not appearance. it is about men’s institutions and power. 5. 86. 2004. 131. References[edit] 1. The Beauty Myth. http://www.). Parks. (2010). Face it : what women really feel as their looks change and what to do about it : a psychological guide to enjoying your appearance at any age (3rd ed. the beauty myth feeds a multibillion-dollar cosmetics industry. in the religious sphere. and keeps women from rising too high in the workplace by offering a way around antidiscrimination laws. doi:10. The Tyranny of Beauty. 218. she also discusses relationship to violence against women by men and by women themselves in the form of eating disorders and cosmetic surgery. Kim Hubbard.". 10. 6. Vivian Diller with Jill Muir-Sukenick . San Diego. Feminism : a beginner's guide. in the media and culture. 1991. . "A critical appraisal of the anorexia statistics in The Beauty Myth: introducing Wolf's Overdo and Lie Factor (WOLF). Peggy J (2009). People. Sally J. However. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 9. edited by Michele (2011). and that woman must want to embody it. pp. "Has Feminism Gone Too Far?". 179. 6– 10. Besides weakening women psychologically. Wolf contends that the beauty myth is really not about women. pp. While occasionally didactic. THE BEAUTY MYTH is an impassioned book. Wolf offers chapters on how the beauty myth functions at work. CA: ReferencePoint Press. ed. 8. Pressure to Look Good Equals Oppression.

most confident generation of women ever. Breast surgery is almost universal in pornography. The field of cosmetic surgery. I noted that a burgeoning epidemic of eating disorders was engulfing what should have been the feistiest. and pornography is almost universal in the sexual coming-of-age of both young women and young men. But despite these pressures. In 2004. Pornography was chipping away at young women’s sexual self-esteem just as insult-ridden advertisements for anti-aging creams were shaping the way women thought about the experience of getting older. a substantial subset of women are simply not buying the hype. 11. fashion ads showcase women who look as if they should be hospitalized. Calif. Their results demonstrated that about 17 percent of women felt more trapped than ever by the ideals of attractiveness. those images now have greater impact than they did when I wrote the book. gotten worse. ISBN 9781412965941. as well. Thousand Oaks. Ryle. indeed. especially breast implant procedures. Robyn (2012). . One would have thought that with all of this trending “worse” that the fear of aging would be worse. many of the issues I warned about have. was booming. When my book was published in 1991. The body size of fashion models and starlets has dropped still further. Since then. Questioning gender : a sociological exploration. The technologies of cosmetic surgery have become so commonplace that there are communities in which women with unreconstructed faces are seen as bucking the norm.: SAGE/Pine Forge Press. The way we looked determined our value to society. beauty brand Dove commissioned an international study to see how women felt about themselves and what it meant to be beautiful.

more dangerously. is just as powerful. in surfing the Web. Fashion arbiters such as Vogue editor Anna Wintour used to set a bar for style. into her mirror. are “change agents” who are defining beauty for themselves. about 30 percent. The fear of aging was certainly bad when I was 26. today. whatever one’s size. in talking about their weight goals. and few use the hectoring. as if finding her first wrinkle was the equivalent of getting word of a terminal illness. rather than attaining an artificially low body weight. when anti-age cream manufacturers would refer to wrinkles as “lesions” and aging as a “disease. as the power we derived from our physical appearance dwindled. there is a far greater sense that what you see on the street. When “The Beauty Myth” was published. Today.” and the standard ad image was a barely middle-aged woman looking. Celebrities such as Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson use this language of fitness. manipulated by advertisers and marketed for profit motives is part of the conventional wisdom. There is also a new skepticism among women of all ages about the role of the old gatekeepers of the beauty myth. insulting tone of the early ’90s. or wears enchantingly offbeat glasses. stricken. The rest. The rhetoric today is focused on being as healthy as possible. how they should feel. not a fringe argument. it was a steady decline. Smart advertisers for beauty products court women’s raised confidence. girls were still learning that they would. After that? Well. Fashion brands and magazines are now simply a subset of the many influences around women. Our .about 53 percent have good days and bad days. like hothouse flowers. competing for their attention rather than dictating how they should look and. in a friend’s delightful outfit. A co-worker who has let her hair go fabulously gray in a flattering cut. bloom briefly in their late teens to mid-20s. can be as great an influence as the September issue of Vogue. rather than thinness. the notion that beauty ideals are socially constructed.

even though I had thought long and hard about the dangers of the beauty myth. I would start to mourn my youthful physical self and that. at events I have attended recently. sense of self-esteem and sexual cachet rise rather than fall as they head toward midlife. the showstoppers are no longer the young beauties in their 20s. harbingers of their own future decay. and young women were expected to see the women who should have been their mentors and role models as faded has-beens. Older women were encouraged to see their younger counterparts as threats and usurpers. I would feel a sense of existential loss of self when my appearance began to change. I personally expected that when I entered the middle of my life. Rather. . well-off women whose status.) The change in social norms around the issue of women’s aging is immense. But I am coming out with this and hope that many midlife women will join me: Those pangs of loss have largely not happened. Not for me and not for the women I know and admire. When I am at a social occasion.only hope to hang on to an increasingly precarious sexuality and sense of self- esteem lay in magical potions and powders. (Indeed. those who draw all the light in the room are the women of great accomplishment and personal charisma — and these are usually women in midlife. cadres of conventionally beautiful young women seem now to be treated almost like wallpaper or like the catering staff. or perhaps in the surgeon’s hands. I do not see younger women looking at accomplished women in their 40s with pity or derision: I see them looking ahead with admiration and even envy. There is now an influential and growing demographic of educated.

The archetype of the Evil Queen and Sleeping Beauty has been laid to rest. And. someone isn’t less cool as she gets older. Because of advances in health and well-being awareness. laughing. as our friend at the party sought to do. These signs of accomplishment merely add to the allure of many midlife women — women who. and even thriving children. self-knowledge. if a woman is taking care of herself. think of doing so with a shudder. it is understood. I heard variants of this: “Today. but in my own circles.” remarked another friend. “I want to mentor younger women. admiring husbands or ardent lovers. Many older women no longer see younger women as rivals in the same way. sexual magnetism and awareness. many women I know are entering midlife feeling as good as (and looking better than) they did in college.” said one 54-year-old psychologist. when he described why he was only attracted to women his own age. at least. His ego. not compete with them. She is just as cool or cooler. there isn’t really a difference sexually between a younger and an older woman — except that the older woman is more comfortable with herself and more sure of herself. it is considered more macho for a man to have an accomplished woman his own age on his arm. When I asked my single male peers why they were dating or having relationships with women their own ages rather than younger women. when asked if they would like to be in their 20s again. But they also have professional success. These women liked themselves far more in midlife than they had at an earlier age. “I have empathy for them.” As one eligible man in his mid-40s put it. a 48-year- old photographer. and the older women saw younger women struggling with the same issues of self-awareness they had faced in their own youth. “I get a brain and a body!” . can take it. Certainly some men my age still date or marry younger.

But when was the last time you heard an older woman say. at the risk of sounding socially incorrect. the social “script” insists that we’re supposed to adopt a rueful tone — Oh.” . be exhilarated and overjoyed. in public — “Actually. it takes more effort at the gym to maintain a certain level of fitness. And while I don’t love working harder for an outcome. *** At midlife. But that kind of self-care is not about being enslaved to external “beauty myth” pressures: It is about loving yourself.It is true that “taking care of herself” is not an insignificant issue. seduce and be seduced. But I look at it with a kind of gentle curiosity: So that is what that will be like! Certainly.” So. A 59- year-old teacher said: “I’d rather look great for who I am than try to look 19. that first strand of gray. A great many of us really like where we are. I am going to deviate from that script. valuing your unique body and looking after it accordingly. I feel happier in my skin than I did when I was younger. A great many of us don’t feel particularly wistful or rueful about our earlier physical selves. Sure. and I invite all women of a certain age to join me. and I look into the bathroom mirror and see a sheen of gray. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for a body that can move and hike and swim. I am startled when I forget to put a color rinse in my hair. But at midlife. and all of this in the blessing of being free of serious illness. getting older is more than tolerable — it’s great!” Let alone: “I really like it. that first crow’s-foot. you also know what an incredible gift a healthy body is. It’s simply more acceptable for women to be self-deprecating about the signs of aging. I like where I am.

I know — finally — what I like to wear and am comfortable not bothering with what I don’t. really good. I love being able to appreciate the beauty of other women and feeling appreciated myself — and appreciating myself. enjoy the journey and do not worry about the future. is it true or not true that women get depressed about their appearance as they get older?” “It is a myth. That is not a bad trade. Older women hear: I love your eyes. On the street.” she said. It is all good.I asked a therapist who works with midlife women. And it only gets better. There are no wicked witches. Really. To anxious young women. young women are told: Give me some. I love not being in physical competition with other women.” There are many other delightful surprises about being at this stage on the journey. You know more about what feels good to wear. BIO SKETCH OF AUTHOR BOOK SUMMARY CHARACTER SKETCH . I don’t miss the brutal sexual harassment that young women receive from men — and I love the far gentler flirtation or civil compliments from cab drivers and park chess players my own age or older. I want to say what I wish more older women had said to my generation: Relax. You are more able to like the way you look. “You know more about staying fit. “In your experience.