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How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women

by Naomi Wolf

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1991
ISBN: 0-688-08510-5
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

 ``Being a woman...makes you hungry, weak, and sick,'' says Wolf, a British scholar, journalist, and poet who argues that the contemporary myth (meaning false ideal) of beauty--youthful, slender, flawless--was invented by a male power structure in order to prevent women from fulfilling the feminist ideals of the 70's. According to Wolf, a whole generation of women (by which she means white, educated, professional, childless, probably single), crippled by a male-generated myth of beauty that does not apply to them, are hungry (the woman who earns a $100,000 a year ``has a bodily income of 1,000 calories a day''), sexually deprived, physically mutilated, and addicted to beauty rituals that leave them feeling anxious and unfulfilled. Along with masses of undifferentiated statistics (90% of women surveyed say they weigh too much), imaginative displacements (men having sexually enhancing cosmetic surgery), and perceptive analyses of cosmetic advertising (creams, shampoos, conditioners with sexual attributes substituting for failed relationships with men), Wolf, an immensely talented and resourceful writer, offers some controversial, certainly memorable analyses of contemporary female behavior: a college campus, for example, resembles ``the Holocaust''--''a vast number of emaciated bodies starved not by nature but by men.'' This repeated shifting of responsibility to men for what women look like, or eat, or how they feel, Wolf says, is itself a denial of the autonomy that women as human beings should have, and that, as feminists, they seek to define only in an economic and political sphere. In spite of the anger, the generalization, the hortatory tone, the shifting from the implicative ``you'' to ``we,'' this book should be read by men who are bewildered by women and by women who are too busy raising children, or earning a living, or creating a life to deal with this finally tangential and avoidable non-issue. Powerful, angry, and maybe influential.