The Beauty Myth Revisited

 Posted by on April 4, 2010  Add comments
Apr 042010
 

Nearly twenty years ago, Naomi Wolf wrote a book called The Beauty Myth.

Wolf argued that the beauty industry was yet another means by which the patriarchy kept women opppressed, and I remember thinking at the time that  there was no need to blame a theoretical patriarchy.  It seemed to me, and still seems to me, that the effort was coming from big business, via magazines like Cosmopolitan.  Furthermore, plenty of women out there were ready to impose unrealistic body images on their sisters without needing men to do it.

After all, how many men do you know who notice what a woman is wearing, or what toner, cleanser or foundation she uses, or what hair colour she got put in today?

Will I give you a rough estimate?

All right then.  None at all.  Approximately.

And by the same token, how many women do you know who fix other women with a gimlet eye and can forensically strip their make-up layer by layer in a five-second passing glance, while at the same time naming their clothes labels and making a shrewd guess at the total cost?

Will I give you a rough estimate?

All right then.  Every single one.  Approximately.

This isn’t a bad thing.  It’s good that half the world gives a shit about clothes and appearance and generally behaving as if they didn’t shuffle out of a cave half an hour ago after skinning a brontosaurus.

It’s a good thing, as long as it doesn’t become the tyranny we witness today, the relentless pushing of body image and beauty and fashion.  The tyranny of the superficial in pursuit of profit.

Naomi Wolf was right about the oppression of women through the beauty industry.  It’s no accident that anorexia and bulimia are predominantly illnesses of women and girls, and it’s coming from the unattainable goals forced on women and girls by big business.

Little boys are not bombarded with body images in the same way as little girls.  Little boys are not pressured to be attractive.  They learn about being more masculine, and while I know this brings its own pressures, for the most part the means of achieving this aspiration is through sport and healthy living.

Girls are not taught that attractiveness comes from within, from being strong and fit and healthy.  We know that they drop out of sports far earlier than boys.  Girls are pressured by the industry to diet, to buy clothes and to apply external potions in pursuit of attractiveness.  Very young girls are sexualised too soon by the beauty and fashion industry, and bombarded with images from every angle, including magazines, television and the internet.

It seems to me that if there’s any oppression going on, it’s coming  from big business, the sort of business that has the resources to play with people’s minds, to insert subtle, subliminal messages into everything we view and everything we read.

And therefore, in my opinion, we should view every conduit for this propaganda with suspicion.

_____________

A las barricadas en lippy

  14 Responses to “The Beauty Myth Revisited”

Comments (14)
  1.  

    I lived in Germany for many years, a country, like Holland and lots of other North European places, where women dress far more casually and for comfort, and freedom. In my former home town of Hamburg women rarely if ever passed comment on each others looks. Most ventured out at night in jeans and trainers and didn’t drink till they were pregnant. Coming back to Ireland was a shocker. Girls would pass comment about another females clothes and hair as if she had failed some basic humanity exam.

    When I was a teenager I didn’t wear much make up and mostly knocked about in jeans. Don’t get me wrong, I love to dress up trashy when the mood takes me. It seems the years of girlhood from 10 to 16 have disappeared and every tweenager looks like the next, sometimes too sexy for my brain to handle, and I’m a mere Woman. It’s true that Men couldn’t care less, Women should take that as a blessing and lay off each other, Irish Women esp, what’s the deal anyway and where have all the girls with amazing red, curly hair gone?

    Besides where’s the sense in getting dressed up like a lap dancer in shoes you can’t dance in, only to end up with your face in a kebab and your arse in the air on a Saturday night. As an average looking bird, I’ve been chatted up more often when I’m out in my slobs, not so scary then.

    I have to admit that I am a big fan of make-up and the rescue remedies it offers. face looked like it’s been boiled in oil? No problem, a wash and a coat of pan stick and I’m sorted. I’ve gotten the hump in the past when a man didn’t notice this or that outward effort. Or when he met me in the pub in his manky jumper and I was all prettified. The other side of that is the possibility of a man who will notice and pass remark when you look your normal, not so amazing, real self. Which one is more the real you?

    Great, no more shaving my feet!

  2.  

    I’ve always dressed outside the box, and for years in college I had a shaved head and went braless (after reading the beauty myth funnily enough)I would still classify myself as not being much of a girly girl, I rarely wear make-up and I haven’t worn heals in years. But now as I’m heading into my late 20’s I’m noticing the judgment more and more from other women. I’ve been called lazy for choosing not to wear make, and other women have scoffed when I profess no interest in designer labels. You are right I have very rarely got this pressure from men, only from vacuous Jock boys who want their women to look like starved barbies.

    I’ve always stuck to my guns that dressing well is about self confidence and felling good in whatever you choose to wear. I do find myself in a strange conflict now as I’m working in the world of fashion, which is riddled with so many vices. I suppose the only thing to do is change opinions slowly from the inside.

  3.  

    “And by the same token, how many women do you know who fix other women with a gimlet eye and can forensically strip their make-up layer by layer in a five-second passing glance, while at the same time naming their clothes labels and making a shrewd guess at the total cost?” Not me, that’s for sure and I is a woman. I never notice these things. Personal opinion there.
    The Dove self esteem fund my arse, all they want you to do is buy their soap.. power of suggestion. POS51 in another form.
    You buy our soap you have “real” beauty.. whatever.

  4.  

    I honestly do not notice (other women) and find it uncomfortable when comments are passed about my appearance especially by other women, I cringe and feel obligated to return a simular remark, spare me. Grumpy old me. Actually that reminds me, on a recent outing with the girls I got told off for commenting on my age, that I was not old or past it ( never mentioned past it), I like being 50 I feel whoopee didn’t I do well, I’m going to be a granny and yeah sometimes my pea brain can feel sorry for that waistline and the rest of me that moved to Australia but every now and then I get a post card and thats good enough for me. I’m off to soak in some asses milk now, I hear it’s good for the eyesight.

  5.  

    heh – I notice all commenters so far are female. Because you’re right, Bock, when it comes to girls spending shit loads on makeup, we males really couldn’t give a damn.

    To be honest, I couldn’t tell you right now if my wife is wearing any make-up, and she’s right across the table from me.

    The only time makeup makes a difference for me is when I’m waiting for-god-damned-ever for the girls to finish up whatever they’re doing so I can finally head out to the pub, where it’s so dark their efforts won’t be noticed anyway.

  6.  

    I never notice what anyone male or female is wearing either, and I hate it when I hear those comments going on.
    In fact, I have stopped going to certain annual events because I just can’t bear the judges judging everone in the room. What’s that about?
    I hate superficiality.
    I think I’m in touch with my masculine side, and glad of it.

  7.  

    Beauty fades…. dumb is forever.
    (from the mouth of the infamous Judge Judy) :)

  8.  

    Mairead – “In fact, I have stopped going to certain annual events because I just can’t bear the judges judging everone in the room. What’s that about?
    I hate superficiality.
    I think I’m in touch with my masculine side, and glad of it.”

    Well at least you’re above sarcasm anyway :)

  9.  

    I wasn’t being sarcastic.
    We’re always on about men being in touch with their feminine side…. well, on this point I’m in touch with my masculine side in that I don’t even think or care about how someone looks.
    Is that sarcastic?

  10.  

    Oh, sorry then Mairead. I thought it was a crack at Bock for the blog awards post;
    “In fact, I have stopped going to certain annual events because I just can’t bear the judges judging everone in the room. What’s that about?”

    I get the being in touch with your masculin side part.

  11.  

    heh! I’ve always treated awards as suspicious.

    the “Golden Spiders”, for example, you apparently need to pay to be considered?

    I wonder do people need to pay to be considered for the Oscars or the Nobel?

    I actually /do/ believe that the Ignobel awards are probably the most honest, as sometimes (Irish Police *ahem*) the recipients don’t even bother turning up.

    it would be nice if awards could be offered and the recipients are truly surprised they received them (as in, they didn’t go and submit a form to be part of it…). that would make an interesting event as you would not have a clue beforehand who’s going to have a chance of winning.

  12.  

    O right, Craic, no I haven’t been to those awards ever.
    I’m not an awards type of gal – hate the dressing up.
    I meant my husband’s annual work “do” – torture for years.

  13.  

    That video scares the bejeesus out of me… it sums it up so well. Being a ma of an impressionable 5 year old girl, it’s targeted at me, but I’ve no clue what to do. Ban Barbie? Blinker Bratz? Most of the things she owns are Disney related… she’s already a sheep, the evidence is everywhere and it’s impossible trying to get rid of negative imagery in her life.

    Personally I think it’s down to the mothers. If a mother gazes in the mirror and exclaims that her arse is getting big, daughter is listening. The more a mother complains about her flaws and those of others, the more her daughter is dismayed that her idol is not happy. We as adults need to set a better example but we’re blissfully unaware of this, we just blame the media, it’s our own fault!

  14.  

    I think the video was produced by Dove, but their ad campaign is probably as insidious as any of the others. Maybe even more so, since it’s wrapped up in a right-on image.

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