Something For The Weekend x XXY Reads: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Something For The Weekend x XXY Reads: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Taking part in the Goodreads “50 Books A Year” reading challenge this year has caused my list making into even more of a frenzy of the all the books I need to read. Everyone knows there are too many books and too little time to read all of them but we thought we would make a start. Who’s we? As you all may know by now, XXY is hosting their third talk where they have teamed up with Blackwells. As both parties clearly love words a questionable amount, we thought we would write a collaborative post for “XXY Reads” and Blackwell’s “Something For The Weekend”. When meeting Robyn, we discussed an excuse to start something which has been in the back of my mind for a while- Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth. So here are two (non-discussed) perspectives for your Sunday. You’re welcome.

Wolf’s feminist legendary non-fiction is exactly what the quote by Fay Weldon says it is on the cover: “Essential reading,”. What isn’t a surprise when you’re an ex student of medieval history is how unfortunately, not much has changed. Wolf discusses in The Beauty Myth, the double standard between the two sexes. She does this by exploring how different images of beauty are used against women whether it be in art, religion, work, popular media, culture and sex. Why is it that women’s nipples have to be covered unlike men’s when they can both be sexual? Why has religious language proclaimed women to always be “luminous”. Why do women have to be the “sexy” secretary- is this just diminishing a woman in the workplace? Whilst Wolf debates about what femininity and what masculinity really is, there are also historical horrendous accounts of how women have been treated in even the most “professional” of workplaces. As The Beauty Myth was published in 1991 in comparison to reading the text nearly two decades later, in what is now fourth-wave-feminism, you can spot different feminist attitudes such as how it is absolutely fine for a woman to be accomplished and equal to her male peers and still want to be beautiful- thank God. But Wolf is not far off: as from last week due to the gender pay gap, when calculated in comparison to men, women are currently working for free until the new year. Like I said, not much has changed thus everyone should read this book. It’s anything but limited to anyone who owns a set of ovaries.

Written by Tahmina Begum

Co Editor-in-Chief


Whilst it does show its age in places, not least when Wolf is talking about Beauty Magazines and mentions ‘”Computer imaging” – the controversial new technology that tampers with photographic reality’, The Beauty Myth still has a lot to teach us. Not least its recognition of systems of domination that are endlessly looping and repeating themselves, showing a dual phenomenon of liberation followed by sly counter-oppression, something that is easy to see even in the dazzling light of 2015. As soon as women experience a freeing uplift, a moment in which they achieve mobility or visibility, the system of oppression changes, and that which should be celebrated is ridiculed, undermined, or simply ignored. As a contemporary example, selfie culture can be a source of self-confidence and positive self-esteem for teenage girls, and is often used to promote body confidence, and female friendships. It puts the image entirely in the hands of the girl taking the photo, and whilst it can be problematic, this does not mean it can not also be positive. But because of this female control, selfies are immediately dismissed as vacuous, inane, and childish.

Women must operate a careful balance. Personality-wise, do not be too loud, or too funny, or too angry. Physically, make sure you are the right shape, but be aware that the correct shape is always changing. Make sure that you wear enough makeup to be considered pretty, but not so much that you are not considered to be natural. Not so long ago a relatively close friend of mine told me before I went to University that I should consider ‘toning myself down’. For whom, he did not say. Women’s appearance is, as explained by Wolf, a commodity over which women are often found to have little control.

To call it a commodity is often not an exaggeration, as The Beauty Myth has real impact in economic terms, not just in psychological ones. In her ‘Work’ section, Wolf talks of how take-home salary, even of women earning similar amounts to their male counterparts (few in themselves), is significantly reduced by the ‘beauty maintenance’ cost these women exact upon themselves, the money which must go into looking a certain way. Shockingly relevant as the tax on sanitary products remains at 5%, and the cost of being a woman remains high, even if your ‘beauty maintenance’ only involves your monthly menstruation. It can, and has been, argued that the government can’t change this tax amount due to EU regulations, and that we pay less tax on these items than other EU countries. However, the real concern lies in why sanitary products were classed as a luxury in the first place, and what the gender was of the people in the room when that decision was made.

Wolf summarises ‘Does all this mean we can’t wear lipstick without feeling guilty?’ On the contrary. […] I am not attacking anything that makes women feel good; only what makes us feel bad in the first place.’ More importantly, it is worth trying, as Wolf does, to understand why women are being made to feel bad, what the benefit is, and to whom.

Written by Robyn Law

Blackwell’s Events Manager


XXY in Conversation: What’s It Really Like To Work Behind A Fashion Magazine will take place on Wednesday the 18th of November, 7:30 pm at Blackwells 50-51 High Holborn, London, WC1V 6EP. You can buy your tickets here.