The “normal” size for women in Hollywood and in the fashion industry is nearly 60 pounds lighter and six sizes smaller than the average American woman. One would be hard pressed to find a woman who is not affected by this, whether emotionally, physically or both. Unrealistic ideals lead many females down an unhealthy and dangerous path of chronic exercising, extreme diets and overall dissatisfaction with their bodies. But how can a couple of scrawny, emaciated actresses and models cause so much physical and psychological damage to millions of intelligent and beautiful women?
In the 1991 book “The Beauty Myth,” author Naomi Wolf argues that it is not just the idolized women in the media that are detrimental to women, but rather our culture’s image of beauty as a whole. According to Wolf, this image comes from television, advertisements, women’s magazines and pornography. These sources end up forming the concept of “beauty” into a weapon, which is then used to ultimately make women feel badly about themselves when they fail to live up to the “ideal.”
In “The Beauty Myth,” Wolf does not discount the fact that beauty is important and that it aids in our attraction to one another; her issue is that beauty is very often defined as extreme thinness and youthfulness. She explores six areas of life where major problems come about because of the beauty myth. These six areas are work, culture, religion, sex, hunger and violence.
The most interesting section to me in the book was probably the one I could relate to the most; hunger. Wolf asserts that the beauty myth successfully convinces women to “willingly” go hungry. They are told to restrict their caloric intake to such dangerous levels, even lower than famine victims in third-world countries. This lie usually leads to ironic weight gain, eating disorders or both. The vicious cycle was experienced first-hand by Wolf, who writes about her struggles in a brutally honest fashion.
The section on religion is equally fascinating. The quest for thinness, Wolf claims, has replaced the quest for moral virtue and heavenly salvation. She shows how this quest has the same effects that religion once did, which is that of keeping women preoccupied and ultimately submissive.
The beauty of “The Beauty Myth” is that it successfully — and overwhelmingly — brings to our attention the tremendous amount of lies, manipulation, and tactics that go into keeping the beauty myth alive, and keeps women trapped in a constant state of guilt and low self-esteem. At times the book feels a bit on the “conspiracy theory” side, but perhaps it’s just because these shocking truths have been hidden from us for so long that they feel too outrageous to be true. “The Beauty Myth” is a book for everyone. Men, for perspective’s sake, would benefit greatly from reading this book. Parents of young women would gain nothing but a deep understanding and awareness of what their daughter goes through by picking up a copy for themselves. And last, but never least, women should take this book seriously and begin breaking free from the beauty myth that controls their lives.