The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

by Naomi Wolf

Paperback, 1992




Anchor (1992), Edition: Reprint, 368 pages


The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today's world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women's movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues, may prove just as restrictive as the traditional image of homemaker and wife. It's the beauty myth, an obsession with physical perfection that traps the modern woman in an endless spiral of hope, self-consciousness, and self-hatred as she tries to fulfill society's impossible definition of "the flawless beauty."


½ (488 ratings; 3.8)

User reviews

LibraryThing member the_awesome_opossum
The Beauty Myth is a good intro to women's studies and how women are trapped by conflicting expectations of their gender. Naomi Wolf argues that post-second wave feminism (the 1970s), women were put under greater pressure by gender expectations - because we still have to be beautiful and defer to
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men and have families as before, but now a career and independence and strength are expected too. We have built a society in which women are told to be both confident and submissive.

Wolf discusses our unattainably narrow standard of "beauty," which shames women into thinking that they're deficient and barely able, out of pity, to creep about in society. There are images of physical violence and self-loathing in advertisements, mainstream media, and pornography - created by men, internalized by women. One of the best statements that Wolf makes is "A misogynist culture has succeeded in making women hate what misogynists hate."

Wolf is careful to stress, both in the introduction and conclusion, that this book is not "anti-beauty." Women ought to be free to wear lipstick or overalls or both, without people "reading" their appearances as anything. But we live in an overwhelmingly visual society, with all of these connotations, expectations, and biases firmly in place already. The Beauty Myth raises our awareness of the absolutely unhealthy, hateful ways in which women are put down, and of the fabricated gender expectations that our society wrongly fosters.
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LibraryThing member peptastic
This is one of those books that you intellectually know but need reminders from time to time that a lot of our beauty ideals are mass marketed from advertisers. At least I do.It's so easy to forget when it is so engrained in our culture that stick skinny is beautiful, perfect flawless skin [not
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going to happen for me no matter what.] and shiny hair, etc.Wolf's theory is that a lot of this started when women entered the workforce. The power base needed a new way to keep women down.I think she's not wrong but it's not the only reason the diet industry [totally the blame for the obesity epidemic] and cosmetic industry are so big. It's a huge factor for a lot of people. There's got to be a reason why so many guys aren't held to this level of perfection and feel entitled to a hot girl. Our movies, advertisement, culture do hold up what society feels but also is a huge pointer in how society are told to feel. Naomi Wolf makes that point about that in the place women's magazines have held in the cultural psyche. We place unfair and unrealistic burdens on ourselves for an unobtainable goal. Yes deep down we know that companies come up with new problems and solutions to sell stuff. It doesn't stop from me spending loads of money on moisturizers though.Personally, I heard more negative stereotypes from my mother that men were visual than in the movies. Movies and books would sometimes at least let the "plain" Jane get the career and guy. Alright, books sometimes let the plain girl get the happy ending.I think some of the negative reviews I read on Amazon gleamed from the fact they thought Wolf was placing all the blame on men. Wolf divided the beauty standards into categories and the first one happened to be the work place where women's appearances have been used against them. Men do get away with sexual harassment if their target is beautiful [she was asking for it] and if she's "ugly" [it's not harassment if they are making fun of you apparently.]It's a fact that men do make more than women without a degree in many fields. It was probably especially so when this book was published.She also gives us background information in how ad copiers have power to censor the magazines by pulling adverts if they run something that opposes the product they sell. Advertisers can be quite powerful. No one calls sexism when they pull from regular shows so I don't think Wolf is wrong here.I don't think it's man hating to say that a lot of feminism has died down because people think you have to hate men to be a feminist. Or that you have to be ugly to be feminist. I'm not ashamed to say I believe in equal rights for everyone. I'm not a beauty queen so I suppose that means nothing coming from me. [I only placed second in a first grade beauty pageant]Sexism is just one example out of many that those in power will use to keep the work labour cheaper.This book is out dated since botox hadn't reared it's ugly head yet. Women are being encouraged to get preemptive botox in their '20s and not to smile less they develop lines. That's hardly the fault of Wolf that she didn't predict that.In a nutshell it probably isn't telling us anything we don't know but what we keep forgetting since the beauty myth is so ingrained in our culture.Wolf hits it on target that the problem with the beauty myth is that it comes from outside approval so it can always be taken away.
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LibraryThing member caanderson
I enjoyed the book but kept getting angry every time it points out how girls and women are treated. Naomi Wolf makes point after point of how religion, media, and advertising are hurting girls and women. The daily attacks on us need to stop, we are not and have never been something to dice up and
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LibraryThing member smallself
She lacks the tact of Friedan, but this was a book that needed to be written.
LibraryThing member wellreadcatlady
There are a lot of good points Naomi makes about the pressure women face when it comes to being a "beauty" and how no matter how we dress or what we do, we can't win. My issue with this book is that it doesn't explore in depth the rise of the beauty myth in advertising and because of that it reads
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like a conspiracy theory to keep women down, rather than try to look at other factors that played a role. Still an interesting read, especially from a historical standpoint because you can see how we have progressed and where we are still experiencing the same problems from when this book was written in the early 90s.
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LibraryThing member eilonwy_anne
What is the Beauty Myth? I've read a lot of discussion about body image, beauty standards, and objectification, and this book comes up often, but I didn't know what the central "myth" was. Now I think it's more of a network of myths, a Gordian knot that Naomi Wolf tries to slice through here. The
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Beauty Myth might be expressed:
1. The beauty standard is objective and immutable (often, "based in inescapable biological fact") rather than cultural.
2. Women's value is determined by their beauty. (value to society, partners, even themselves.)
3. While beauty standards are "immutable", women are not, and they have a duty to "better themselves" through beauty processes. (Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, with all the messy virtue/hard work/obligation baggage that idea brings.)
This is only part of it, but it's a good start, I hope.

When I first started reading this book (originally published in 1991), I wasn't sure it had aged well. The frantic world of 1980's business Naomi Wolf describes in the Employment section has shifted (though not for female broadcasters, as a local news retrospective spot I saw today, with images of the same anchorman with a different anchorwoman in each decade, attests). The stranglehold of women's magazines on women's dialogue that Wolf discusses is almost hilarious to someone whose reading on feminism and body image largely comes from blogs!

However, I soon began to find material that was more resonant with the present day. The dissections of language in advertising -- the spiritual, the martial -- were enlightening. The chapters on "Hunger" and "Sex" made the whole book for me. The section on the author's own experience with teen anorexia was poignant and added depth, but the entire section was chilling, and sadly, still extremely relevant. I have long found the pseudo-Puritan language of "virtue" around self-denial of food noticeable and creepy, so Wolf's detailed attention to this and other metaphors was really interesting to me. I found her discussion of the psychological and political implications of female hunger/dieting disturbing, provoking, amazing. "Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women's history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one."

The questions raised in the "Sex" section about the construction of desire and difference in heterosexual relationships were interesting and sharp as well. Finally, the closing sections, which call for change through creativity and positivity, were a pleasant dose of hope and encouragement after the depressing realities discussed throughout the book.

I wish I could say that this book hadn't aged well, but it has. While the web may have connected women with each other and given them chances to subvert, support, and connect across generational lines, it's also given an organizing boost to eating disorders, and added more channels for images of "beauty" and "sex" to enter our lives. I don't agree with everything in the book (and I'd love to read an updated version with new data and more focus on the beauty myths' effects on women of color) but the book is thought-provoking, pithy, and incisive.
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LibraryThing member drinkingtea
Parts of this book make important points about issues that need to be addressed. On the other hand, it is a stretch to call some of the things problems, which makes the whole work seem shaky.
LibraryThing member heinous-eli
All the theory in this book is well-supported by insightful research and statistics. The book for anyone seeking a better understanding of the link between capitalism and the oppression/suppression of women.
LibraryThing member MsNikki
Foolishly lent this out before I finished it. So I need to buy another copy and read it. The little I read has stuck with me though.

Like the only professions where woman are paid more than men are modeling and prostitution. Damn!
LibraryThing member elliepotten
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
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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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LibraryThing member nilchance
My parents gave me this at 13, and it changed my world. I stopped hating myself and started questioning the media. It kept me from sinking deeper into a burgeoning eating disorder. In short, I can't recommend it enough.
LibraryThing member Ceilidhann
I like a lot of what Wolf says, even if she frequently says it in the most overwrought manner possible, but I'm not sure the book completely stands up on its own merit. It's a long book, much longer than the most recent feminist pieces I've read, but for all of Wolf's trumpeting and data quoting,
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she gets a little conspiratorial at times, then she'll just blame the patriarchy with no further explanation. It got tiring after a while. But it does discuss some important topics like our modern ideals of beauty and the values we all place on them, be it subconsciously or otherwise. It is difficult for me to separate this work from the author and her recent fuckery with the Julian Assange rape accusations however.
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LibraryThing member martensgirl
Rather like Greer, Wolf is a writer who makes me think. Neither make an easy read; I spend a great deal of time disagreeing with them and then yet more time trying to work out exactly why I am disagreeing with them. Both make though-provoking books. Sadly, in Wolf's case, most of the disagreement
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comes from her referring to things through the lens of feminism and forsaking all others. Whilst the book has many references at the back, it is not clear when she is using her references or merely drawing parallels between unrelated things.
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LibraryThing member njgriffin
Despite being nearly 30 years old its still a solid and relevant read.
LibraryThing member kemilyh1988
Trite and unconvincing. Stereotypes abound. Nothing new was said. I guess it is a bit dated, but still.


Original language


Original publication date


Physical description

368 p.; 5.25 inches


0385423977 / 9780385423977
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