Inspired by The Beauty Myth and by its author Naomi Wolf, I went to the gym this morning with a new set of eyes. And no makeup, my hair pulled back in a poof of raggedy curls on my head. Oh wait, that’s how I always go to the gym or the pool for my workouts. But the nudges and whomps on my head from Wolf’s 1990 book feel as relevant today (or possibly more so) than it must have then.

Naomi Wolf is a scholar and philosopher, as well as being a feminist writer. She analyzes the details of women’s lives across the centuries, focusing on the twentieth. And specifically, she discusses how the demands and expectations of “being beautiful” have changed through the eras.

More importantly, Wolf explains what motivates patriarchal society to develop a construct like the “beauty myth.” What is it that men gain when women invest time, money, and effort in meeting a specific beauty standard? Well, it’s a large part of what makes out economy go around. It keeps women’s attention away from spheres that are typically male-dominated like politics and science. And what it does to women’s self-esteem is just pure patriarchal evil.

We may be reaching for a glass ceiling, but the beauty myth is a ton of concrete attached to our feet.

But how does it work? Well, by focusing women’s eyes on their faults. Then, the myth offers them proposed solutions, such as diet, exercise, skin care, makeup, and plastic surgery. Each of these is gigantic industry with each successive generation joining in the fray. Somehow all of these things are going to make women more beautiful, which is a perceived requirement in life. Because, as Wolf tells it, beauty is required for jobs, love, and sexual fulfillment.

Beauty—achieving and maintaining it—is also a competitive sport. And god forbid you should get older next year. The myth pits women against each other, when in fact they could and should join together and throw out this corrupt system.

My conclusions

I highlighted my Kindle book 475 times. Every time I turned a page, I found a new “aha” or “holy crap” moment. Wolf opened my eyes, while often making me cringe at behaviors and events. If you have the slightest interest in women’s studies or feminism, this book is a must read!

I didn’t intend for this to be a year of feminist / women’s studies reading, but that’s what it became. And this book was the perfect finale to an amazing list of books. Here’s what I read:

Asking for It
Delusions of Gender
Women & Power
Keep Marching
Good and Mad
We Were Feminists Once

Another couple of books fit on the edge of this topic, and must be mentioned too.

Gilded Suffragists
Text Me When You Get Home
Ask Me About My Uterus
Living an Orgasmic Life

So 2018 has been the year of the woman for me, and I couldn’t be happier. In fact, I feel empowered and ready for a fight. The next two years, or maybe two decades, may be just that. All of these books have offered me grounded and brilliant information about why women have fought for rights and freedoms. They’ve explained why we must keep at it. Giving up is NOT an option!

The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf