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The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women Paperback – September 24, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 168 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In a country where the average woman is 5-foot-4 and weighs 140 pounds, movies, advertisements, and MTV saturate our lives with unrealistic images of beauty. The tall, nearly emaciated mannequins that push the latest miracle cosmetic make even the most confident woman question her appearance. Feminist Naomi Wolf argues that women's insecurities are heightened by these images, then exploited by the diet, cosmetic, and plastic surgery industries. Every day new products are introduced to "correct" inherently female "flaws," drawing women into an obsessive and hopeless cycle built around the attempt to reach an impossible standard of beauty. Wolf rejects the standard and embraces the naturally distinct beauty of all women. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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This valuable study, full of infuriating statistics and examples, documents societal pressure on women to conform to a standard form of beauty. Freelance journalist Wolf cites predominant images that negatively influence women--the wrinkle-free, unnaturally skinny fashion model in advertisements and the curvaceous female in pornography--and questions why women risk their health and endure pain through extreme dieting or plastic surgery to mirror these ideals. She points out that the quest for beauty is not unlike religious or cult behavior: every nuance in appearance is scrutinized by the godlike, watchful eyes of peers, temptation takes the form of food and salvation can be found in diet and beauty aids. Women are "trained to see themselves as cheap imitations of fashion photographs" and must learn to recognize and combat these internalized images. Wolf's thoroughly researched and convincing theories encourage rejection of unrealistic goals in favor of a positive self-image.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (September 24, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060512180
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060512187
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (168 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,761 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
In The Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf argues that our culture's images of beauty -- found on television and in advertisements, women's magazines, and pornography -- are detrimental to women, as well as to the men who love them. She demonstrates that the concept of "beauty" is a weapon used to make women feel badly about themselves; after all, no one can live up to the ideal. Wolf DOES agree that beauty plays a legitimate role in our lives and in our attractions to one another. The problem, she says, is when beauty is defined as thinness, pertness, and youthfulness taken to extremes -- extremes that are literally unattainable for healthy women. And I agree.
Wolf's book explores 6 areas of life in which problems result from the beauty myth. Each has its own chapter that can be read on its own and still make perfect sense. I suggest starting with whichever interests you the most. They are as follows:
* WORK. Here, the author details the way the concept of "beauty" can be used to discriminate against women in the workforce. If women are too pretty, we're not taken seriously; if women aren't pretty enough, we can legally be fired for their perceived "homeliness." Then again, if we're too pretty, it's our own fault when they're sexually harassed; if we're not pretty enough, people doubt men would have actually harassed them. The author offers a dizzying list of legal cases lost by women which demonstrate the extent of this catch-22 -- compelling stuff.
* CULTURE. This focuses on the role of women's magazines (the sole arbiter of women's culture) in shaping our lives, by selling us on the need for beauty products by making us feel bad about themselves.
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Format: Paperback
Interesting to me that the male reviewers seemed to uniformly hate this book! Settle down, guys--we're not all going to stop shaving and exercising, and if you don't have Paris Hilton panting over you, believe me, it's NOT because of anything Naomi Wolf said!

Whatever I may think of the author and her philosophy, as a rule I like a book that makes me see things in ways I hadn't before. This was one of those books. I don't agree with everything the author writes, but after borrowing it from the library, I had to buy it for myself so I could write in the margins about all the "a-ha!" moments it prompted. Sadly for those who like black and white, beauty, like most things, is on a continuum. People cite Etcoff's "Survival of the Prettiest" in opposition to this book, but if the premises of "Prettiest" were completely true, then after thousands upon thousands of years of evolution, why aren't we all collectively lovely? Why aren't the women who have the most offspring (ie, the fittest) also the Cindy Crawford clones? One of my former evolution professors, David Wilson, just published a study showing that people who shared common goals and interests rated each other as more attractive than they rated strangers.

I'm short, overweight, and past my prime in years, but I'm evolutionarily fitter than average (3 children), and have a strong husband who is a good provider (the biologically desired currency for males), and he even loves me!--from where I stand, it looks like most women can safely drop a lot of their beauty obsession, and I think Wolf says a lot that would encourage us to.
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Format: Paperback
I have read many books on feminism over the past few years, and have read books that dispute some of the statistics in this book. Nonetheless, it is a good read, because it makes you aware of things that are going on in the lives of young women.
Whatever the numbers, the fact remains that young women are slowly killing and disfiguring themselves in the name of that ever-unattainable, ever-subjective idea, "beauty." Is it really significant is five women a year die of bulimia or anorexia or if it's closer to five hundred? The fact remains that something is seriously wrong with these girls to make them think that they have no other way of being socially accepted. Does it matter how much the cosmetic surgery industry really grosses annually? After all, ten years or so after this book is written, we have shows on prime-time television like "Extreme Makeover," in which someone contacts the show and tells them how horrible they feel about themselves because of a physical flaw--a nose that is too big, eyes that are too wide-spaced--and the show promptly signs them up to be hacked away at, made into a modern-day Galatea, for the viewing pleasure of America. If you have watched this show, you also know exactly what Wolf is trying to convey in her chapter on Violence. She states that women are always told that they can look better in some way...and sure enough, once they get into the doctor's office, suddenly the nose is not the only problem anymore. Liposuction, [body part] job...sign me up. In watching another special on cosmetic surgery on MTV not long ago, two women were portrayed whose highest goal was to be--of all things for young women today to desire--[Magazine] bunnies.
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