Through a series of chapters, Wolf examines the relationship between female identity and female beauty, looking at the ways in which they interlink. She explores the notion that, even though women have progressed rapidly in their quest for freedom and equality, they are increasingly stunted by a preoccupation with their looks. As Wolf puts it in her recently added introduction: “Though my peers no longer cared much about maintaining the perfect household – the ideal of femininity against which out mother’s generation had rebelled – they were obsessed with another kind of perfect: physical perfect, as measured against fashion models and film stars.”
As a journalist, so far I have been most hooked by Wolf’s chapter called Work, which looks at broadcast journalism specifically . She points out that, whilst men often appear on television looking natural – think grey hair, asymmetrical face, receding hairline – women almost always appear looking perfectly groomed and heavily made-up. Wolf questions such double standards, asking how different broadcast journalism would be if men and women were treated equally. “If a single standard were applied equally to men as to women in TV journalism, most of the men would be unemployed.” Wolf wrote this over twenty years ago, but the same point can be made today.
A I continue to read The Beauty Myth, I am becoming more attuned to references to beauty across the internet. For example, there have recently been numerous headlines announcing the fact that actress Sienna Miller considers fellow actress Keira Knightley to be the most beautiful woman she has ever seen. Whilst this is probably true – and Knightley is nothing short of beautiful – for it to be written about so extensively highlights our preoccupation with how we see one another, and what we find attractive externally.
Perhaps due to social media’s focus on how things look rather than what they mean, those who look good are now thriving more than ever. For example, if you take Instagram, countless people (mainly female) have become online icons solely due to their physical appearance.This is not to say that I do not care about or appreciate one’s appearance. I enjoy reading about beauty (for example, the latest skin products and make up ranges) and love talking about it with my friends. However, I think it is important to approach the subject holistically, and appreciate the fact that beauty is something everyone can possess – it is not reserved for those considered to be genetically perfect.
Whilst there are parts of The Beauty Myth that I do not necessarily understand (yet), I champion the book’s view that, in order to liberate ourselves from the pressure of being “beautiful”, the only thing we need to change is the way in which we think. As Wolf puts it: “If we are to free ourselves from the dead weight that has once again been made out of femaleness, it is not ballots or lobbyists or placards that women will need first; it is a new way to see.”