The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women
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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women

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3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  9,032 ratings  ·  429 reviews
The bestselling classic that redefined our view of the relationship between beauty and female identity. In today's world, women have more power, legal recognition, and professional success than ever before. Alongside the evident progress of the women's movement, however, writer and journalist Naomi Wolf is troubled by a different kind of social control, which, she argues,...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published September 24th 2002 by Harper Perennial (first published 1990)
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Lani
Jesus, I FINALLY finished this book... UGH.

I feel like I have been extremely negative about the last few books I've reviewed, so it's a shame that this is the other one I have left to write up. Because those other books were the ones I was reading to avoid this one!

Naomi Wolf is exactly the reason I don't read much in the ways of feminist tracts. Blahblahblah male conspiracy blahblahblah. It's a shame because some of her points ARE valid and thought-provoking...

The concept of the Beauty Myth har...more
Jessica
I highly recommend it to everyone, not just women. I think is is really important for men to read books like this, too. It is all about how the A) Our modern ideals of beauty are mostly driven by the advertising industry and not intrinsic cultural or biological preferences, and B) How our modern ideals of beauty put women at a disadvantage to men.

I have a few disagreements with her, listed below, but I agree with her in general and it's a really good book to read, even if you are not going to ag...more
Crystal Starr Light
A seminal feminist work, "The Beauty Myth" digs into the ways that the pursuit of beauty has hampered feminism. How many women rush to pursue the next makeup line instead of equal pay for equal work. How many women are in a Catch-22 at work - you must be pretty and feminine, but not TOO pretty and feminine, else it's your fault for sexual harassment! At a time when many are saying there is no need for feminism, Wolf shows that sexism is still alive and well and how trying to adhere to the Perfec...more
Ian
Sep 25, 2008 Ian rated it 2 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Sarah Palin
Shelves: nonfiction
A very popular book in the (relatively) modern feminism movement, I have mixed thoughts on this. It's a book I wanted to like but couldn't.

Wolf's basic premise is that "beauty" is an artifical concept that is used systematically to oppress women primarily for political purposes. The book is replete with figures, statistics, citations (a total of 268), and quotes, which are distributed throughout six sections or topics: work, culture, religion, sex, hunger, and violence. In each section, Wolf att...more
Chris
I probably should not have tried reading Mercedes Lackey’s Fire Rose after reading this book. That novel, a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, has a woman as the central character. The woman, Rose, doesn’t realize how beautiful she is and looks down her nose at other women whom she deems to have looks but not brains. Rose has brains (well, she thinks she does) but doesn’t think that she has looks, surprising considering how much effort seems to be put into assuring the reader that despite her c...more
Alieda
By the time I had read twenty pages of The Beauty Myth, I realized that this is one of the most important books I will ever read. Admittedly, I was initially skeptical of Wolf's central thesis-- that the cultural "myth" of feminine beauty is a political and economic weapon used by the male-dominated world to undermine women's advancement in society-- but, by the time I had finished reading the first chapter, I had a changed perspective of the world. This is a book, in my opinion, that should be...more
Andrew
God dammit, this is such an important argument, why can't it be better presented? Wolf clearly takes her cue from Betty Friedan, but Friedan's argument was devastating, fully exposing the manifestations of a myth in our culture. Meanwhile, Naomi Wolf writes a hopelessly sloppy and superficial analysis that falls into one of the great pits of the literature of social change: assumption of conspiracy and/or a myth functioning as a conscious organism instead of a complex assemblage of assumptions,...more
Literary Ames {Against GR Censorship}
*Cross-posted on Wordpress and BookLikes.

Naomi Wolf does not have a way with words. Dense, vague and ambiguous language; sweeping generalizations; and seeing a deeper meaning or intent where a simpler explanation is more likely and appropriate – which created a conspiratorial air that everyone, or just men, were doing everything they can to oppress women and repress their desires. Frustration had me skimming, and I found myself regularly defending men and questioning women’s complicit behaviour...more
Rachel
Jun 20, 2007 Rachel rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: all women
This is the second time I've read this book in a two month time period. It's just full of huge ideas. Yes, the author has an agenda, and yes, she comes across a little harsh at times. However, the overall message of this book has changed the way I'll look at my body forever: Love your body because YOU are in it--not the other way around!

My belly fat and butt-fat-dimples don't scare me the way they used to. Fat is just a substance--one that our female bodies need to live, reproduce, and satisfy...more
Ceilidh
I like a lot of what Wolf says, even if she frequently says it in the most overwrought manner possible, but I'm not sure the book completely stands up on its own merit. It's a long book, much longer than the most recent feminist pieces I've read, but for all of Wolf's trumpeting and data quoting, she gets a little conspiratorial at times, then she'll just blame the patriarchy with no further explanation. It got tiring after a while. But it does discuss some important topics like our modern ideal...more
Sam
I consider myself to be an intelligent, successful woman. At the age of twenty-four I have a very good education, a meaningful job, the respect of my colleagues, the love of my friends and family and I'm engaged to be married to a man who loves and respects me inside and out. I know all of this, but as much as I tell myself that I want to be judged on these qualities alone, I can't help but want to be thought of as pretty too. I worry about my appearance - the length and colour of my hair, the c...more
Katya
Having mixed feelings for feminist manifestos seems to be the theme for me lately.

As a 'feel good for yourself' read, The Beauty Myth definitely finds the mark. It points out why exactly women feel inadequate because their bodies are not good enough, and why that is not true. I was especially touched of her portrait of an aging woman, where the wrinkles and laugh lines aren't a stigma of shame, but, on the contrary, evidence of a full life. I think this is an important message any woman should c...more
Ben Babcock
One of the nice things about writing reviews on a place like Goodreads is the audience. I can pontificate about a book, and about subjects like feminism, for as long as I like, which is something I can’t do with my friends in person—at least, as I discovered empirically, not if I want to have friends in person. (Call me!) But you people, you crazy people, are different, because no one is forcing you to read my reviews, so I am going to assume that if you are still reading, it’s because you are g...more
Whitney
"So the beauty myth sets it up this way: A high rating as an art object is the most valuable tribute a woman can exact from her lover. If he appreciates her face and body because it is hers, that is next to worthless. It is very neat: The myth contrives to make women offend men by scrutinizing honest appreciation when they give it; it can make men offend women merely by giving them honest appreciation. It can manage to contaminate the sentence 'You're beautiful,' which is next to 'I love you' in...more
Cam S
Jun 15, 2007 Cam S rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: every woman I know
It's so melodramatic to say that every woman should read this book, but, well, every woman should read this book. Published in the early '90s, it definitely touches on points that have changed and evolved over the past 15 years, but the foundations of Wolf's argument are just as relevant today as they were then.

Wolf does get a bit preachy at times--I found myself skimming through sections where I felt a little like I was being beaten over the head with a point that had been adequately stated al...more
Lena
Jul 08, 2012 Lena added it
Shelves: feminism
This books makes the strong connection between mysogeny in popular media and consumerism. I agree with what Wolf says though I think that much of what she says about the objectification of women now applies to men to some degree as well.

The main point that she presents in the book is that even though modern Western women have a lot of new found rights and freesoms, they are still being subjected to the same kind of social control they experienced before the womens liberation movement. She expl...more
ayanami
Good arguments but presented really poorly. The first couple of chapters talk about the beauty myth like a conspiracy, as if there's a group of men holding meetings going "Hmm, how shall we make women feel inferior this time?" Naomi Wolf never clearly identifies "the oppressors" (which I infer from the text that it's a combination of various factors, including social hierarchy, the economy, and so on) though she does mention much later in the book that regular men are not into the thinness and b...more
Teresa
The Beauty Myth is pretty brave. It is brave because Wolf claims that women are living under a form of medieval mind control. This system of oppressive thoughts is created by the beauty industry seeking to make a profit off of women's insecurities and is perpetuated by patriarchal institutions that have a vested interest in withholding rights from women. This is a brave claim because it is so easy to refute. I can hear a critic say, "How do you know what women are thinking, Ms. Wolf?" And while...more
Yellow Rose
According to the author beauty is a myth,I think the authors book is a myth. So much information and literature is published saying quite the contrary in fact that most women want to be beautiful and feminine no matter how much the feminists brainwash them. For scientific knowledge on the subject please read the "Survival of the Prettiest" By Nancy Etcoff.

Wolf writes about Work and complains that women work so much that and that now there is a standard of beauty that she must look good for a job...more
Felicity
What is the Beauty Myth? I've read a lot of discussion about body image, beauty standards, and objectification, and this book comes up often, but I didn't know what the central "myth" was. Now I think it's more of a network of myths, a Gordian knot that Naomi Wolf tries to slice through here. The Beauty Myth might be expressed:
1. The beauty standard is objective and immutable (often, "based in inescapable biological fact") rather than cultural.
2. Women's value is determined by their beauty. (val...more
Punk
Non-Fiction. Wolf argues that the media presents an unattainable ideal of female beauty in order to control women's behavior, divide their attention, curb their independence, erode their confidence, and turn them against themselves and each other, all for political gain.

I agree with a lot of the things Wolf says: women are underpaid compared to men; women have to put up with hiring practices that discriminate based on age and looks; women are treated as objects; women are often the subject of se...more
Lolly LKH
I especially liked the chapter on sex. A lot of women I know and have known and likely will know certainly have issues with their own sexuality and thinking about it in terms of 'am I sexy to HIM' rather than what makes me feel sated or what makes ME feel sexy. We are a very image based society. But I have also seen a turn around where men are starting to obsess about being good enough too, however, they are nowhere near the overload of an IDEAL BODY we women have to suffer through. Now that I h...more
agnes barton-sabo
I feel like the ideas in this book are important enough that they transcend the shortfalls in the writing itself. I really would recommend this book to everyone I know. For some it is going to be "too preachy" or "too angry," and some may get caught up in how dated it feels or the (questionable) statistics. Ultimately though, it articulates important ideas at the center of feminism and I'm APPALLED at some of the negative directions other reviews and comments have gone. You don't need to be blam...more
Stephanie Botkin
This book really surprised me. As a 16 year old high school student this is not the type of book that I usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised. I am interested in this topic and when looking for a book this one seemed to fit my criteria perfectly.Although it is a bit outdated the message still stands true, and many of the issues that Wolf addresses are still valid concerns today. I liked that the language was sophisticated enough, but still manageable and enjoyable to read. Wolf has so man...more
Unwisely
I am not entirely sure how I missed this book - I read Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women around when it came out and was involved in plenty of feminist things in college. But I had missed this one somehow.

In some ways this book pulled me back into the college world - the battles I still fight at work (tell me that there's no need for feminism any more and I may have to punch you) are personal and I don't have connection to a greater struggle. But more than that, the book articu...more
Catherine
From the reputation of The Beauty Myth, I expected to find it difficult to digest, but in fact it's an easy read. I suppose I simply forgot to take into account the presence of the usual anti-feminist messages in nearly everything we hear. Funny how we're expected to do that.

Wolf's thesis is that women are constantly bombarded with images of unnatural beauty. The resulting expectation that all women meet these standards in addition to doing whatever is necessary to carry out our jobs places a he...more
Genevive
It's an in-depth scholarly work that is not an easy, but rather, a must-read for any person concerned with women's health, well-being and equality. Wolf taps a deep well of real-world examples - ranging from disturbing to horrifying - to lay out a clear-headed and damning argument against those who create and profit from ever-shifting and unattainable standards of beauty for women. She points out the heartbreaking truth: women in our society die twice, first when they lose their "beauty" and aga...more
Marije
Jun 17, 2012 Marije rated it 2 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Feminists who know their classics and who don't object to an academic style
Shelves: feminism, non-fiction
This is an important and awkward book.
I struggled reading it, but I found its message important enough to keep going, even when sometimes I was at a loss about what to think or how to understand Wolf.

My impression is that she has a clear view of how the world works, and she collected a huge amount of facts, statistics, and anecdotes to support that view. Only, when you are not sure she is right to begin with, it is hard to be convinced by all the information she gathered. She has valid points, b...more
Allee
I know this is a seminal classic and all, but I found a lot of it almost.. insufferable. Perhaps it's because I'm living in a world where the beauty myth has been punctured and exposed, to some extent. The book was written in 1992 so it's about a world I've largely never known. It was also explicitly aimed at upper middle class white women who apparently take women's magazines very seriously. I somewhat fit that demographic, and I'm just not that interested in reading more about it. I'd rather s...more
Stephanie
I’m pretty excited about taking away something from every new feminist book I have read thus far; from this book I take away a new distaste for cosmetic surgery, among other things. This was a hefty book and a bit of a wade (there seemed to be a lot of repetition in the earlier chapters), but I enjoyed the information Wolf included. Broken down into sections, the ones I enjoyed best were Work (speaking about instances of dress code, sexual harassment and other ways that ‘beauty’ determine the wo...more
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Naomi Wolf is the author of seven books, including the New York Times bestsellers The Beauty Myth, The End of America and Give Me Liberty. She has toured the world speaking to audiences of all walks of life about gender equality, social justice, and, most recently, the defense of liberty in America and internationally. She is the cofounder of the Woodhull Institute for Ethical Leadership, which te...more
More about Naomi Wolf...
The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood Promiscuities Vagina: A New Biography Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries

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“Women who love themselves are threatening; but men who love real women, more so.” 303 likes
“Sadly, the signals that allow men and women to find the partners who most please them are scrambled by the sexual insecurity initiated by beauty thinking. A woman who is self-conscious can't relax to let her sensuality come into play. If she is hungry she will be tense. If she is "done up" she will be on the alert for her reflection in his eyes. If she is ashamed of her body, its movement will be stilled. If she does not feel entitled to claim attention, she will not demand that airspace to shine in. If his field of vision has been boxed in by "beauty"--a box continually shrinking--he simply will not see her, his real love, standing right before him.” 164 likes
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