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NAOMI WOLF: BEAUTY MYTH - November 1st, 2010

Naomi Wolf (born November 12, 1962) is an American author and political consultant. With the publication of The Beauty Myth, she became a leading spokesperson of what was later described as the third-wave of the feminist movement. She remains an advocate of feminist causes and progressive politics, with a more recent emphasis on arguing that there has been a deterioration of democratic institutions in the United States.
In the early 1990s, Wolf garnered international public notoriety as a spokesperson of third-wave feminism as a result of the tremendous success of her first book The Beauty Myth, which became an international bestseller.[13] In the book, she argues that "beauty" as a normative value is entirely socially constructed, and that the patriarchy determines the content of that construction with the goal of reproducing its own hegemony.

Wolf posits the idea of an "iron-maiden," an intrinsically unattainable standard that is then used to punish women physically and psychologically for their failure to achieve and conform to it. Wolf criticized the fashion and beauty industries as exploitative of women, but claimed the beauty myth extended into all areas of human functioning. Wolf writes that women should have "the choice to do whatever we want with our faces and bodies without being punished by an ideology that is using attitudes, economic pressure, and even legal judgments regarding women's appearance to undermine us psychologically and politically". Wolf argues that women were under assault by the "beauty myth" in five areas: work, religion, sex, violence, and hunger. Ultimately, Wolf argues for a relaxation of normative standards of beauty.[14]

In her introduction, Wolf positioned her argument against the concerns of second-wave feminists and offered the following analysis:
The attitudes toward women at that time are pretty obvious: women were seen as walking wombs, and anything they did to expand their usefulness in the world was attacked as a threat to this reality. That women could have had more to offer society beyond the children they bore was not conceivable or allowed.
The advent of the two world wars changed the rules. It now became important to society for women to leave their homes and work for the war effort. Advertising in women's magazines jumped on the bandwagon:
"A Pond's cold cream ad of the time read: 'We like to feel we look feminine even though we are doing a man- sized job...so we tuck flowers and ribbons in our hair and try to keep our faces looking pretty as you please.'" A cosmetics ad "admitted that while the war could not be won by lipstick, 'it symbolized one of the reasons why we are fighting...the precious right of women to be feminine and lovely.'" The propaganda in women's magazines of that day emphasized that it was okay to work in the factory, live on your own and earn your own salary, so long as you stayed feminine. And, of course, the goal of all women's magazines was to be the sole source on how to be feminine. "Women's magazines needed to ensure that their readers would not liberate themselves out of their interest in women's magazines."

Wolf's basic thesis states that there is a relationship between female liberation and female beauty:
"The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us...During the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty...pornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal...More women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers."

The Beauty Myth is the last (and most dangerous) of a long line of lies concerning the rules of feminine attributes and behavior. It is the most dangerous because it has succeeded in effecting women's internal sense of themselves. It has created a standard of femininity that is impossible to attain, and women are reacting with increasingly obsessive behavior in their attempts to measure up. Energy that might be used to further positive goals is turned inward instead--dissipated in guilt, shame and unhappiness at one's physical faults.

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