The Beauty Myth Revisited
By Rayni Joan

Naomi Wolf's book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women, was first published in 1991 and was greeted with the kind of controversy (as in Limbaugh's "feminazi" balderdash) always reserved for threatening ideas. In the preface to the paperback edition of The Beauty Myth, Wolf responds to what she sees as fallacious arguments aimed at her treatise.

First of all, she insists she wasn't anti-beauty, but rather pro-choice. She says women shouldn't be put down for unpopular choices or for that matter, popular choices. I second that. An old friend of mine from the women's movement who recently reconnected with me via e-mail -- let's call her Thea -- lambasted a mutual friend of ours -- let's call her Diane -- because she dyed her hair and had a facelift. "Diane betrayed the feminist values we all worked so hard for," insisted Thea. "She got suckered in." When I pointed out how negative and judgmental that assessment was, Thea agreed, but added, "She deserves it!"

Wolf thinks critics tend to pit "the feminist" against "the Beauty Queen." But how complicated this is when feminists pit themselves against each other. Ouch!

Wolf says she is not averse to sexy, fashionable images of women, but rather the way these images crowd out all others. She'd like to see more balance. So would I. I ask: "Where are the scrubbed, ruddy faces of middle-aged women growing organic food and selling at Farmers Markets? Where are the images of yoga teachers, painters, carpenters, gray-haired, no-bra wearing, roly-poly 45-year-old potters, 55-year-old photographers, 65 and 75-year-old active, lively beautiful lined-faced women who can serve as role models and heroines?" Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, remember?

Research shows that women's self-esteem plummets after looking at air-brushed images of perfection in fashion and beauty. Is it any wonder that cosmetic surgery is at an all-time high and growing annually? Wrinkles used to indicate character. What do they indicate now? Poverty?

In the spirit of Naomi Wolf's Beauty Myth, I call for photographers to show us not just the extremes of perfectly beautiful 14-year-olds in Victoria's Secret catalogs or exotically beautiful 100-year-old Native American women with deeply lined faces, but ordinary, lovely, non-Botoxed, non-nipped, non-tucked grandmothers whose faces beam with love.