The Beauty Myth – Naomi Wolf

Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to make my way through the wide range of feminist non-fiction out there. I’ve hardly made a dent in the ever-growing list, but I can finally tick off The Beauty Myth.

I found it quite slow going, a problem I often have with non-fiction – it makes your brain work harder than fiction! But I kept at it and it was definitely worth the slog.

Published about two decades ago, it’s not surprising that the book often comes across as dated, but shockingly it is at times still very relevant. However, I found myself very torn while reading.

I didn’t like the sometimes forcible way Wolf tries to get her point across, being especially unfair to men at times. It’s not helpful to write statements such as, “Men…since they made gods in their own image, feel that their bodies are essentially all right. Studies show that while women unrealistically distort their bodies negatively, men unrealistically distort theirs positively”. In my experience, this is untrue but if I’d read this as a teenager, I may have just accepted it as fact. Feminism in today’s society should be about mutual respect and education, rather than being on the attack or ignoring the fact that men have insecurities too. However, I also understand that there was a time when women had to be more forceful – for example, where would the UK be today, if members of the suffrage movement hadn’t fought so fiercely and fearlessly for the women’s right to vote?

Lots of The Beauty Myth does not reflect my experience – probably through a mixture of luck and the fact that attitudes have changed. But, sadly, every now and again I read something that perfectly describes the way I feel (or have felt) about the way I look, and it has helped me to understand why I might have these struggles. And also, as the #MeToo movement has shown, every woman I know has experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lives. That’s why I think it’s still a useful book to read, bearing in mind that the statistics will be outdated and understanding that it was written a good couple of decades ago. Some issues are still the same, but we have different battles now too.

I’ve found it hard to articulate my thoughts on this book and I’m afraid this post has come across more negative than I’d intended. So I’ll end by saying that I think The Beauty Myth is an incredibly useful read. It has helped me to step back and think about the history of the idea of female beauty, as well as looking more closely at my own relationship with my appearance. It’s helped me to understand the world of advertising and the power the beauty industry has. In today’s airbrushed world of social media it’s hard to escape images of seemingly perfect beauty. This is contributing to the increasing number of young people (both male and female) who suffer from mental health issues and this is why books like The Beauty Myth are so important.

What I’d really like to read is a cut-down and updated version of The Beauty Myth, can anyone recommend something?

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