Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.

So, this book blew my mind. I realize a lot of stuff in it is kind of dated (it was first published in 1991), and sometimes Naomi Wolf gets a little bit dramatic with her descriptions, but still. It's one of those things where I had some ideas about some of the things she talks about (everything from shaving to age to plastic surgery and in between) but this kind of threw all the facts connected to those ideas in my face. It pushed me to reevaluate my own beauty regimes, thinking about them in terms of what they take up financially and time-wise, and question all of them and why I participated in them. Was it all really for me or was it for everyone else?(and then I stopped shaving). One of the most shocking parts to me was the part about dieting where it basically lists off calorie counts for a bunch of popular diets and then compares then to the calorie intake of that of a starving person in a third world country - and they're pretty much all the same numbers.

The book is broken up into sections: work, culture, religion, sex, hunger and violence. Work delves into multiple court cases wherein women have been fired/harassed/basically whatever other bullshit you can think of for being too pretty, too ugly, too scantily clad, too modestly clad, etc. Basically highlighting that women have been given little to no options when comes to how to "dress for success". Culture expands on this idea of damned if you do and damned if you don't along with introducing the idea of Beauty Porn. Religion and sex of course goes further into the idea of everyone but women controlling women's bodies. Hunger mainly deals with diet culture and violence mainly with plastic surgery.

In a lot of ways this book to me was reminiscent of Backlash by Susan Faludi. It's kind of a thorough look at what the mass media tells us, what that means, what is the truth, and how everything looks if you try stepping back and looking at things logically. Pretty fucked up.

This is a little off topic but makes sense, I was talking with my friend about why in general, drag queens made more sense to us then drag kings. Drag in a lot of ways is playing up the absurdities of gender, and the way society wants women to portray themselves is not only completely absurd but totally alien, therefore it's easier to push these already absurd beauty regimes even further. A lot of this book was basically peeling apart different aspects of what female beauty is supposed to be in order to reveal how bizarre and a lot of times destructive it is.

So, though it was real depressing and kind of dated, it's had a pretty big impact on how I think about the idea of beauty and what it means.


de la Cruz, Cathy said...

Marissa--this is one of those books I always kept pushing to the back of my TO READ list because I assumed I somehow knew it all (kind of like Food Inc. and Fast Food Nation), so I'm extra glad you wrote this. I think I could use this book more than ever right now. xo

de la Cruz, Cathy said...

It should also be mentioned that in my Profile pic, I had my hair chemically straightened which took over 6 hours and $100s of dollars, not to mention the assistance of two hairdressers who couldn't have been paid that well. I HATE THE IDEA OF BEAUTY SO MUCH.

Tobi Vail said...

I grew up in the 70's and the post-70's early 80's and then was punk in the mid-80's (which in the u.s. was really anti-style) I had a lot of anti-beauty, anti-fashion in me anyways. I remember being really aware of a lot of double standards and making careful choices about what I would and would not do... then in the early 90's I got into playing around with clothes and wearing make up and costumes on stage, as a playful thing, trying to create a character and push the boundaries of what I was supposed to be. It felt good to be more girly when I was in a feminist band and wear A LOT more make up than I ever do in real life...but to see riot grrl become so commodified and what happened after-wards...make me rethink this a bit...then as I got older I started to rage again, against all this programming that tells us we have to hide our gray hair and buy a lot of chemicals to put on our face so our skin doesn't age etc. I've also never really cared what I looked like, but in my 30's I started to feel pretty self-conscious, which is totally new to me. I've always felt comfortable in my skin and happy wearing jeans, but as I got older I started feeling the pressure to "have a look" or something. Anyhow, this is something I'm still dealing with but I am feeling more positive than negative feelings. I started working out and stopped dying my hair. Both moves have been really positive for my self-esteem. Lifting weights, running, yoga all makes me feel healthy and happy to be in my body. Having a gray streak down my hair makes me feel like a crazy old writer/superhero, like Susan Sontag meets Cruella de Ville...

But the most powerful thing I want to share is how bad beauty products are for our bodies. The industry is literally killing us. The fact that there is an economy of toxic, poisonous chemicals that we pay thousands of dollars a year on (hair dye, make up, other "anti-aging" beauty products is really what feminists should focus on when talking about "beauty" regimes.

Here's a good place to start:

seriously spend some time's important information

de la Cruz, Cathy said...

Thanks for your comment, Tobi. I'm not lying when I say I learned a lot about how totally awful make-up is (from a physical standpoint alone) from Stella Marrs postcards when I was 18/19 years old. Like these: