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Summary of The Beauty Myth 

Short summary

Being stuck in a constant battle to meet society’s expectations of physical beauty is exhausting. New hair colors, different makeup techniques, perky breasts, a flat stomach, the list goes on. Women around the world are caught in the beauty myth, an unwavering focus on what society deems to be physically perfect. The truth? The idea of perfection is different depending upon who you ask, and achieving something completely unnatural is simply going to lead to negative places. Is it any wonder that many women struggle with low self-esteem, low self-worth, and even eating disorders? Attempting to reach an impossible so-called beauty standard is a losing battle, but it’s one that countless women attempt every day. Dr. Naomi Wolf, best-selling author and University of Oxford graduate, attempts to break down this myth and understand what drives this obsession with reaching so-called perfection.

Key points


The truth behind the beauty myth

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? Most women will admit to being less than pleased with the reflection that appears in the mirror, but when you ask them why their answers are shocking.

It’s often not that they don’t think they’re beautiful; it’s that they’re trying to measure up to what society says is beautiful. The so-called ideal of physical beauty includes having long blonde hair, white skin, a skinny body but large enough breasts, and being just the right height to carry it all off. The sheer number of women who fit this actual picture naturally is small, yet that doesn’t stop huge numbers from attempting to reach an impossible ideal.
Society has an unspoken rule that a woman must look a certain way to be considered beautiful. Who made these rules?
Trying to fit into a category such as this can be extremely damaging for women. Not only can it put their physical health at risk through trying fad diets and cosmetic surgery, but it’s hugely dangerous for mental health too. Being made to feel that you’re not good enough just as you are can lead to depression, anxiety, and stress.

The problem is that women have become obsessed with this so-called ideal, and losing weight or looking “just so” is considered more desirable than anything else. The surprising thing is that all of this has peaked at a time when women have had more power than at any other time in the past. Despite that, we’re pushing ourselves back decades or even centuries by trying to chase nothing more than a myth.
Women are in a stronger position socially and professionally than ever before. The myth of having to look a certain way pushes back that progress.
Naomi Wolf argues that all of this has occurred now because it’s the only way to control women in a world where women have more opportunities than ever. If society can’t hold you down professionally, it will knock you back by making you lack confidence due to your appearance.

The other side of the beauty myth is that a woman’s appearance somehow reflects her fertility. A strong, attractive man will seek out a woman who is the epitome of beauty, not because he finds her fantastic to look at and speak to, but because he assumes, subconsciously, that she will be very successful reproductively. Of course, in reality, none of this is true, and all it does is keep men in charge and women held back.

Did you know? Studies by the National Organization for Women have shown that over half of American girls are unhappy with how their bodies look by the age of 13.

The “ideal beauty” varies from culture to culture

The definition of beauty isn’t just an American or western thing; it’s something that takes place across the world. However, what one culture considered beautiful may be different to another. For example, Naomi Wolf explains that while perky, rounded breasts are considered beautiful in the western world, the women of Padaung aspire to a less perky and more natural look.
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As women break through the glass ceiling, another challenge arrives


Society forces women to question who they are supposed to be


Even sex is used as a marketing ploy against women


The beauty myth is causing eating disorders to skyrocket


Being fed a false narrative of what is normal leads to worrying places



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