BEAUTY BOUND by Rita Freedman


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From the start, Freedman makes clear in her insightful study that she is not writing an anti-beauty book. She does however, challenge what she considers popular misconceptions about beauty--especially the myth of ""women as the fair sex"" and offers many radical theories and solutions to change Western woman's obsession with beauty. As a psychologist, Freedman analyzes beauty as a sociological symptom. "". . .belief in beauty as a feminine trait is culturally programmed. Society teaches us to suspend logic, to ignore contrary evidence, and to accept half-truths about women's bodies. Through socialization, myths that connect beauty with women survive the passage of time and resist periodic attempts to challenge them."" Considering woman to be the beautiful sex and man the powerful sex has been convenient all these years, according to Freedman. A cursory search for prominent males and their opinions of the ""other"" sex yields up defamatory remarks about women's inferiority made by Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Freud and a procession of quotable writers. Freedman is essentially examining the paradoxical question, ""How can woman be glorified as the fair sex while at the same time be demeaned as 'the other sex?'"" She explains this dichotomy by noting that mythical beauty elevates women as a class, compensating for their lower status. ""The idealization of female appearance camouflages an underlying belief in female inferiority. Just as excessive narcissism has its roots in self-loathing, the myth of female beauty grows from the myth of female deviance. Beauty helps to balance woman as a misbegotten person.""As further proof of beauty as a social force, Freedman asserts that its ideals are defined by different cultures (or neurotic masses). ""What can one say about the mental health of a culture that defines the ideal female body as grossly emaciated? Or the ideal female foot as the size of a doll's? Or the ideal waist as small enough to be encircled by a man's hands? Or the ideal face as being unlined forever?""Although questions such as ""Am I motivated to display myself out of fear or out of pleasure?"" ""What will happen if I abandon one item or one attitude of cosmetic pretense and live without it momentarily?"" cannot be ignored, Freedman uses them to show that ""we will never know what the natural components of masculinity and femininity are until the cultural constraints have been lifted. By moving beyond the boundaries of beauty, we may explore our androgynous potential and discover who we really are.""Freedman espouses the antithesis of today's different, but equal idea. ""Physical attractiveness is a human trait, neither masculine nor feminine."" She does not object to beauty per se, ""but the assumption that beauty is imperative to femininity.""As any good psychologist, Freedman proposes to change this assumption by challenging it. ""Questioning even one cosmetic convention that feels contraining is a gesture of courage and rebellion. Small acts do create new reality."" A compelling interrogation.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Lexington