Continuing my pick of books in celebration of International Women’s Day this week, a book that I can honestly say changed my life, and which I would encourage every woman to read. Time to get a bit serious y’all.
Even before reading this book, I used to joke that if women used the time spent Excessively Preening more effectively, surely we would run the world – or at least join the men in running it, which would be a nice joint enterprise. You may think this is a bit melodramatic, but if you count up the time spent each day, each week, over the years of a woman’s life, that’s a lot of wasted female time. Meanwhile, the men run free, with all those extra hours to themselves and their self-development.
Wolf posits that this obsession with life-controlling, time-consuming and money-draining beauty rituals – the constant worry of dieting, the war against body hair, the ludicrous sums spent on anti-ageing products- isn’t borne from some sort of preternatural vanity peculiar to the female sex. Rather, Wolf argues, there is a cultural conspiracy to pressurize women with unreal expectations of beauty in order to control them, and this conspiracy grew as women started to gain more power in other fields, such as the workplace. It’s also a helpful money spinner. So, we may be spending less time at the mangle, but we’re spending more time pruning ourselves, and therefore are not much better off.
25 years on from its first publication, this book still holds its power – and still needs to. We’re brazillianing, we’re vajazzling, we’re designer-vaginaring, we’re thigh-gapping… well I ain’t, I’m down the local with a Pina Colada and a packet of salt ‘n’ vinegar Real McCoys. That’s ‘cos I read this book! The evidence to support Wolf’s view is compelling and made me realize that not only is it exhausting to try to be physically perfect, but that on principle I should stand up to the beauty industry bullies and start to be more accepting of myself. As those awful L’Oreal adverts say – because we’re worth it!