Every Monday, The CSPH takes a look at a book or film focusing on an aspect of sexuality. This week we are featuring The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.
“Having no fat means having no breasts, thighs, hips, or ass, which for once means not having asked for it.” -The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf
Naomi Wolf is an important figure in the third wave feminist movement and currently runs a blog examining inequalities politics and society. Her first book, The Beauty Myth, is a rather modern academic book examining how beauty keeps women restrained in relation to work, culture, religion, sex, hunger, and violence. The main premise is that as women become stronger in society, standards of beauty for women have become harsher.
Offering a more in-depth look into how the beauty myth operates rather than why, or examining the causality behind the beauty myth, much of the book reads as intuitively plausible, minus the quasi-conspiracy theory parts. A few generalizations seem over the top, such as makeup sellers using cult practices to maximize promotions of their product. In my opinion, the strongest chapters are on work, hunger, and sex, due to their arguments being more persuasive and more interesting to me. While there are notes in the back of the book, footnotes would have been much more convenient.
Wolf does tend to beat a dead horse with repeating some of her ideas, especially in the beginning. Additionally, Wolf also very quickly shuts down any argument about measures of beauty correlating to evolution.
If a second edition of this book were produced, it would be interesting to examine how stupidity has been eroticised; how the beauty myth has spread to males; how gender presentation, class, and race affect the beauty myth; and an examination of the beauty myth with respect to queer people. If the beauty myth does exist, beyond the effects of the beauty myth existing, then it would be interesting to read about how exactly it was purposefully formed. Unfortunately, the current version of The Beauty Myth is written for and caters to a very straight, middle-class, white, and cisgendered audience.
All in all this is a powerful read, showing many cases of brutality and unfairness against women. The book is very thought-provoking as to the meaning of feminism, and how to try and promote it without backlash. I would recommend this to any woman who wants to examine their personal concept of beauty, and to any person who wants to think more about society’s interactions with beauty.