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The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf Changed My Life | Book Review

“Most urgently, women’s identity must be premised upon our “beauty” so that we will remain vulnerable to outside approval, carrying the vital sensitive organ of self-esteem exposed to the air”

-Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth, 1990)

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf cover

I’m sitting here at my computer, my fingers trailing the letters of my keyboard. 

There’s a sense of unknowingness as I type and retype, trying to find the right words.

How do I give justice to this brazenly honest account into the historical foundation of a woman’s oppression, one that bravely dares to pull back the curtain of society to examine the core of everything we have ever known?

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf changed my life. It allowed me to reexamine the world around me, and how deep-rooted the confines of gender truly go.

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What is the Beauty Myth?

The Beauty Myth is the idea that the more legal and material freedom women achieve, the more strictly and cruelly images of female beauty come to weigh upon us. Wolf believes that there are five parts to the Beauty Myth; work, religion, sex, violence, and hunger.

Referencing what Wolf calls the Iron Maiden, she recounts that women have been put into a cage of unattainable beauty standards. Furthermore, goes on to challenge such ideals that have kept women under the hand of the patriarchy. 

“The victorian woman became her ovaries, as today’s woman became her “beauty”.”

-Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth, 1990)

Our Culture

As a child, I remember standing at the checkout line of the grocery store seeing trashy magazines adorned in bright bold letters, telling you how to get your beach body ready in time for summer, or how to lose ten pounds in one week!”  And what about the ones that criticize female celebrities? You know, the ones spent making fun of their cellulite or speculating on when they’d finally lose their pregnancy weight?

What effect does this have on a growing child’s psyche?

What about ads displaying anti-aging skincare? Models barely over the age of 50 with perfectly airbrushed faces, selling women ridiculous pseudo-scientific claims. Or what about those razor commercials where the model shaves her already hairless legs?

We have been indoctrinated into believing that we have to alter our natural state. That our bodies are not okay as is.

It’s a subconscious selling of our own appearances, starting the second we are aware of our surroundings. Before we even realize what is happening, these sexist ideals have already made a home in our subconscious. It’s no wonder women make up most of those suffering with an eating disorder, which Wolf often speaks about in her book.

When a culture in which you grow up in tells you you are not good enough, you start to believe it.


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Now, what do I think?

How can we dismantle the societal expectations of beauty but still uphold a sense of autonomy? Can we buy into this capitalist culture of makeup, skincare, shaving, anti-aging, and weight-loss ideals and still break out of this iron maiden?

I’m honestly not sure.

If you asked me last year, I probably would’ve said “sure, it’s their choice”! But with further examination, I truly don’t know how much of it is a choice, versus, what we were taught to believe. I think it’s a gray area. But I think we should be open to the examination of our choices and where they come from.

For example, if a woman cannot comfortably leave the house with no makeup on, without spiraling into a state of discomfort or self-hatred, we should probably re-examine some things. As bitter of a pill this is to swallow, being aware of this, I believe, will be the best course of action to dismantle the beauty myth.

With that being said, I do believe that there are women (and men) who truly enjoy makeup, skincare, etc,. This isn’t to say we can’t enjoy these things. Like mentioned above, I want to preserve our right to personal-autonomy and choice, something we historically haven’t always had. But also be able to critique and analyze things from an unbiased perspective.


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How the Beauty Myth changed my life

While reading this book I came across a movement called the Body Neutrality Movement.

Body Neutrality unlike Body Positivity, teaches people to respect their bodies and what it allows us to do, and to put less emphasis on our outer-appearance.

I believe The Beauty Myth and Body Neutrality go hand-in-hand. The neutrality of this movement works effortlessly alongside dismantling the crux of the beauty myth.

This book also reminded me to analyze my own choices and how that relates to the beauty myth. I always felt that I dodged a patriarchal bullet in a lot of ways; I rarely- if ever wear makeup, I hate to shave, (although I often times do), and I just naturally steer-clear of a lot of stereotypical feminine ideals since they do not appeal to me.

But with that said, sharing that I don’t always shave, in front of anyone who happens to be reading this, is a bit scary. My visceral reaction is to proclaim, “please don’t judge me!”

As you can see, I am not immune to such stereotypes. But reading this book has given me a new level of courage to battle these sexist expectations head on.

The Beauty Myth changed my life. And I hope moving forward, I can use this newfound confidence and insight to help be rid our patriarchal shackles and help build us a better, less-limiting future.

The woman wins who calls herself beautiful, and challenges the world to fit her vision.

-Naomi Wolf (The Beauty Myth, 1990)


Update as of July 2020: If you liked by review on The Beauty Myth, I now have a post all about body neutrality!

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  1. This sounds absolutely incredible. All of the featured quotes here make me want to read more. This is going on my TBR straight away. Thanks for sharing this, I’d never heard of this book before! x


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