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The Beauty Myth

How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

By Naomi Wolf
10-minute read
Audio available
The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf

The Beauty Myth (1991) will help you understand the anxiety that surrounds women, and the cult of beauty that dominates our society today. It identifies the patriarchal and economic forces that shape the unfair expectations and norms that women face. Learn how we can be better equipped to build a less biased future.

  • Anyone struggling with a negative body image
  • Women who feel pressured into looking a certain way
  • Feminists concerned about modern standards of beauty

Naomi Wolf graduated from Yale University and continued her studies as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University. Her other books include Promiscuities, Fire with Fire and Misconceptions, all of which were international best sellers.

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The Beauty Myth

How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

By Naomi Wolf
  • Read in 10 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 6 key ideas
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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women by Naomi Wolf
Synopsis

The Beauty Myth (1991) will help you understand the anxiety that surrounds women, and the cult of beauty that dominates our society today. It identifies the patriarchal and economic forces that shape the unfair expectations and norms that women face. Learn how we can be better equipped to build a less biased future.

Key idea 1 of 6

Current standards of beauty are a political means of controlling women and maintaining the patriarchy.

The women’s rights movement has made significant progress in the past few decades. But even though women have gained legal and reproductive rights, as well as more freedom to pursue higher education and enter previously male-dominated professions, there has also been some backlash.

As women have made legal and economic strides over the past 50 years, we’ve also seen an increase in detrimental portrayals of female beauty. These images are being used with growing efficiency to work against the progress women have made, creating what is known as a beauty myth.

The beauty myth claims that there is an elusive quality called “beauty” – a quality that women should do everything in their power to pursue, achieve and maintain.

The myth enforces certain views. For instance, that beauty is an inherently good and beneficial quality and that, without it, women are worthless and invisible.

Consider women who are at the top of their professions. Even with all their achievements and success, the pressure to look good doesn’t cease. If anything, women with more power and status are scrutinized more and the pressure to look beautiful only gets worse.

The beauty myth is the final mechanism of cultural ideology with the power to control women, women who have otherwise been liberated to freely pursue their desires.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the social value of women was measured largely by their work within the domestic sphere. Their lives took shape around attributes like work aptitude, physical strength and fertility – not beauty.

With industrialization came increasing freedom for women. To maintain the patriarchy, a new, subtler and more deceptive method for undermining women’s freedom and power was needed.

This is what the beauty myth does: it keeps women trapped, self-destructively competing with themselves and each other. And since images and standards of beauty change, the identity of women is constantly vulnerable and in need of external validation.

In the next blink, we’ll see how this myth plays out in the workplace.

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