The Beauty Myth | Naomi Wolf

Summary of: The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women
By: Naomi Wolf


Dive into the summary of ‘The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women’ by Naomi Wolf, a fascinating examination of how evolving societal standards and images of beauty have been affecting women’s progress and wellbeing. Explore the historical origins of the beauty myth, the development of professional beauty qualifications, and the advertising tactics used by magazines and companies to fuel this myth. Understand how the beauty myth creates a double standard that leads to discriminatory practices and negative effects on women’s physical and mental health. This summary will shed light on the impact of the beauty myth in various aspects of society, such as the workplace and interpersonal relationships.

The Beauty Myth

The women’s rights movement has made great strides in the last few decades, but the quest for beauty has become a tool to undermine women’s power and freedom. The so-called beauty myth claims that women must achieve and maintain beauty to be valuable and visible. Women with power and status are under increased scrutiny to look their best. The beauty myth is a cultural mechanism that controls women, who have otherwise been liberated to pursue their desires freely. The myth keeps women trapped in self-destructive competition, and images and standards of beauty constantly change, making women’s identities vulnerable and in need of external validation.

The PBQ System and the No-Win Situation of Working Women

The increase of women in the workplace after World War II threatened the power structures and led to the creation of a discriminatory system known as Professional Beauty Qualification (PBQ). Appearance became the most desirable trait for women, with PBQ professions like actresses and models dominating the workforce. The PBQ system spread to other workplaces, allowing employers to determine whether a woman was pretty enough to work. Women faced a no-win situation of discrimination, with cases like Barnes v. Costle determining that women could be fired for being too attractive and Hopkins v. Price-Waterhouse revealing that women were denied opportunities for not being feminine enough. The PBQ system made it impossible for women to win, contributing to gender inequality in the workforce.

Beauty Image Myth

The use of unrealistic beauty standards in magazines and media works in favor of companies that sell beauty products by perpetuating a myth that fuels industries such as the diet, cosmetics, and pornography industry. In the past, magazines used images of the happy housewife to promote housewares as a way to prevent them from pursuing a career. As women joined the workforce, magazines shifted their approach to sell “perfection” and “beauty” products. Unable to meet these unattainable standards, women purchase products that perpetuate the myth, contributing to the success of these industries. The power of beauty is derived from keeping our society patriarchal, as explored in the following section.

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