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
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.