The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

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!


12 Comments Add yours

  1. Rachel says:

    Sounds like a great read!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. edbucks16 says:

    Well, that certainly confirms something I’ve always wondered about! Among other things, how come hair which grows naturally on legs etc is regarded as normal for men, but shocking for women? And why do my sisters with their poker straight hair spend half an hour every single day with straighteners? Why was going out one day without wearing make up regarded as “brave” in the recent “no make up selfie” charity trend? My own make up collection gets used approximately five or six times a year…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha! It’s insane isn’t it! I think the impact on women’s confidence is even worse than the lost time and money. We need a factory reset on this stuff. We’ve been brainwashed!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Jan Hicks says:

      Body hairlessness is about infantilisation. A man who prefers a woman without body hair (and all her lovely pheromones that nestle in that body hair) is showing a preference for children. That’s what I think, anyway. And as for designer vaginas and labial surgery, how is that not the same as FGM? Modern society sends such a toxic message to young women and girls about their bodies.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Completely agree with you on these points Jan, the FGM one in particular. In fact I see lots of parallels in things less fortunate women are forced to endure, and a western/middle-class/more-fortunate-woman-version that is deemed ‘liberation’ – FGM vs designer vaginas, stripping vs burlesque…I could go on! It’s insane and I have no idea how we got to this place. Bronte

        Liked by 1 person

  3. viktoriap says:

    I am so glad you wrote about this! I always feel that someone should write an updated version of this book. Like “The Beauty Myth 2.0” or something, and include all the NEW beauty myths and trends that have emerged since it was written.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! Yes, there could definitely be scope for that! I think the last revised edition included a section on how men were being drawn in to the pressure to look good. However I would love to know what Wolf said about things like young girls’ obsessions with selfies and wot not. Such a powerful book!


  4. gertloveday says:

    I decided once I got past teenage years that there was no reason at all that women had to work at their appearance,beyond being clean! (With the money I;ve saved on cosmetics I;ve bought several mansions, a few Monets and a stable full of vintage cars). Now that I’m ahem, a bit more than a teenager, it amazes me that women think they have to look younger than their age. If I ask any one “why?” they seem a bit stunned and I’ve never had an explanation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree. It’s as if we don’t think we’re good enough once we get past 35. And there’s an element of brainwashing, as we grow up seeing older women chasing the fountain of youth, and it almost becomes a part of life that we do not question. Hence why we do not know the reason for it when asked!


  5. Haha great post! I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while. I hate the way women are portrayed in the media and encouraged to think about our looks more than our brains and personalities. But then I also love getting glammed up too XD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s about balance, I think – and being sure that you are genuinely doing things on your own terms and not on the basis of some skewed societal expectation.

      Liked by 1 person

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