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Books for budding feminists: Naomi Wolf, the beauty myth

The book that made me realise that I was a feminist was “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolf. It is essentially about the ways in which images of beauty are used against both men and women to make us feel more vulnerable. The book has chapters focusing on different aspects of life, work, religion, culture, sex, hunger and violence and the ways in which the beauty myth is relevant to them.

The core message of the book is, as the title implies, that beauty is a myth. It is defined as an entirely subjective construct that is determined only by the observer. Now, we should read this and think – excellent, everyone is beautiful. Instead, due to the conditioning of society, we think – I’m not beautiful; nobody could possibly think that I am. It is devastating to realise that our current culture is not only raising people to think this way, but that it encourages them to act upon it. Dieting advertisements are everywhere and when was the last time you saw a doll that wasn’t below a size 8?

The reason we feel so insecure and negative about our bodies is because advertisers and global corporations want us to. If we don’t think that horizontal stripes make us look fat then we won’t go out and buy something else to replace everything horizontal about our wardrobes. If we don’t buy things then they don’t get any money. The whole reason that we are being fed images of impossible beauty is so that we are constantly dissatisfied and therefore likely to continue to purchase products to help make us ‘beautiful’.

Of course, advertising companies and global enterprises are never going to allow us to reach a stage where we feel completely comfortable, because that would mean a drop in revenue. What we need to do is learn to ignore the messages they send us. We need to learn not to care if blonde tips are suddenly considered oh so passé and to instead appreciate our bodies and appearance as we are.

If we don’t, then the same vicious cycles that have been occurring for years will simply continue. Anorexia and Bulimia will continue to flourish; women will waste hours in front of the mirror each morning and men will grow more and more dissatisfied as their gym sessions fail to give them the muscle bulk they desire. I’m not saying we can’t try to improve our appearance or physique, just that, like Naomi Wolf recommends in the Beauty Myth, we should change our appearance on our own terms.

We are all beautiful. No corporation or ad can tell us otherwise unless we give them control of our minds. It wasn’t until reading this very well constructed, well-argued novel that I realised how far under the influence of advertising I have been for so long. I remember seeing products in magazines and feeling as though I just had to have them – I had to. I actually felt as though I needed them and convinced myself that I would have problems without them. Not only did this waste a lot of my money but it didn’t do any favours for my self-esteem either.

Despite buying everything the model was wearing and following the workout and skin care routines prescribed in magazines, I still didn’t look like the girl on the page. It was a crushing cycle that repeated probably hundreds of times before I eventually sunk my nose into the Beauty Myth (and subsequently left my chin on the floor for a week).

The Beauty Myth was a truly eye-opening experience for me and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It doesn’t matter if you are the most body confident person on the planet or someone too afraid to let others see you in a bikini. This book will quite literally change the way you think. I dare you to read it and see how it changes you.

5 thoughts on “Books for budding feminists: Naomi Wolf, the beauty myth

  1. I found the Beauty Myth difficult to read and I couldn’t get past the first couple of pages. I had heard really good things about it but it was highly convulted, it probably didn’t help that the copy I got from the uni was falling apart and had bits highlighted in it.

    I used to be very anti-advertising but then I did an advertising course and really enjoyed it. It is easy to blame advertising somewhat but we’ve become alot smarter and really do question the advertising around us a lot more than ever before. I think it is a primal thing to want to beautiful because unfortunately beauty will give you a leg-up in this world.

  2. Hi Shannon,

    Thanks for your comment – it’s always good to hear alternative opinions. 🙂

    It is true that there are many sides to every issue, and advertising is no different. There is plenty of fantastic advertising out there (the ‘not happy jan’ commercial comes to mind), but there is also so much out there that is doing a lot of harm in the big picture.

    After reading your comment I do wonder about the role advertising plays in the way beauty is held in such high regard by society. I am tempted to say that advertising likely has had a big impact on ‘the beautiful people’ being offered leg-ups. What do you think?


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