The Beauty Myth
Define a beautiful woman. Think about that definition for a moment. What adjectives are used in the description? Are words like strong, happy, content, good friend, someone to trust, or hard working used? Are the inner qualities of a woman the ones used to define beauty? Or are words like thin, good bone structure, striking face, shining hair, full lips, or pert breasts used in the definition?
All our lives we have heard the adages "Beauty is only skin deep" or "Beauty is as beauty does" or that it is the inner person that defines us and our appearance. Yet around us, the "world" in general reacts differently. How much money is spent on products to improve how our outer shell looks? How often do we judge a woman on her appearance first, then on her abilities? How often do we, as women (or men) avoid another woman because of how she is put together on the outside, not taking the chance to discover what she is really like?
No one can live up to the ideal of "beauty" in American culture. It is usually what someone else has. Yet if I were to walk up to someone who is outwardly beautiful and ask the right question, that person could tell me all her own flaws that detract from her image. No body is perfect or ever will be. These pictures of perfection are constantly thrown at us through commercials, co-workers, doctors concerned for "our health", pornography, books, television, and movies.
This excellent book shows the reader just what women face culturally in developed countries. All the images around us tend to make us devalue ourselves, thus keeping our status lower. For years women were second class citizens to men due to economic and health reasons, Those reasons don't exist now, so a new subtle method has come along. Women, especially feminists, have shown how they are not less important than their male counterparts. Yet "the good ol' boy" system still abounds. Naomi Wolf makes us examine ourselves and our reactions to other people.
This book made me angry - at myself for the times I buy into the beauty myth for either myself or my daughters - at actors and models who present themselves as the perfect woman (exceeding thin and lovely - but keep in mind that if they weren't they wouldn't have their career) - at advertisers who are selling the beauty products so women can "improve themselves" or "become a new person" - at cosmetic surgeons who help sculpt the body (check out advertising in any paper or local magazine in Southern California) - and at women who fall into the myth rather than celebrating themselves for who they are. This is only the beginning of the list of my anger.
Wolf also plainly states that to acknowledge the beauty myth problem can help promote it and make it worse rather than improve the condition. The last chapter of this book gives practical suggestions as how to debunk the importance of a woman's appearance while building up ourselves as whole people.
This book came out in the early 1990's. One of the issues she predicts is how the myth of the importance of our appearance will affect out inner selves is starting to apply to men. Ten years later, we can see that in our advertising and world. It is still subtle, quiet, but it is there. Beware The Beauty Myth, and learn to love yourself and others for the inner qualities and strengths. (And yes, I know how difficult this is! I'm my own worst detractor - silly, isn't it?)
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