The Beauty Myth – How Do Women Really Feel About Their Looks?

December 16, 2023 By Isabelle Sophie Martinet

In 1991, Naomi Wolf published The Beauty Myth detailing her understanding on how women continue to be oppressed throughout society for the benefit of men.

Wolf argued that the instigation and use of the myth of beauty would be men’s ultimate weapon against women and their perceived rising power.

Women continue to face blockades in the workplace due to the political and systemic use of beauty to define worth. Although men define the ideology of beauty, the demarcation of beauty is not defined thereby leaving the female confused about her own feelings of self.

This allows big corporations to levy unfairly the work that women do increasing their revenue whilst enriching both female expenditure and manageability. This has in turn reduced the female’s self-esteem, a powerful tool for control.

Naomi Wolf wrote this book in 1991 following both the first and second wave of feminisms. Are we embarking upon a third wave of feminism? Many skeptics of feminism report that the previously overwhelming injustice towards women and their cries that created and sustained Women’s Rights movements have now been diluted to a mere whimper. Is there any truth to this statement?

I want to use this article to examine what if any changes have happened since 1991 and how women’s lives may or may not have changed.

Women have always been necessary to the workplace even if not respected for their contribution. Latent history informs us that due to the First World War (WW1) in 1914 -18, women were necessary to move out of the home where they worked to fulfill the employment gap due to men being at war. When the war ended, women did not naturally want to give up this level of financial independence and return to the home. Cross-referencing historical information, the fight for Women’s Rights began much earlier therefore women were already aware of the injustices towards them thereby informing of the reluctance to ‘return to the home.’ In 1848, 68 women and 32 men outlined grievances towards women including women having the right to vote and signed a Declaration of Sentiments in New York. It was in 1872 that saw the national movement begin in the UK in the form of the National Society for Women’s Suffrage and later the more influential National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Without this cross-referencing, one would be forgiven for mistaking that up until WW1 in 1914, women were not knowledgeable about their unjust treatment towards them.

With the knowledge that women did indeed know that they were being treated unfairly and that they actually felt strong enough to take action in different forms showed both tenacity and strength; words that were not used to describe women at all. Since 1991, what has changed to strengthen Women’s Rights to being more equal to men?

Not much in my opinion from the viewpoint of entry-level top careers for women although according to a recent research carried out by Astbury Marsden, they found that this year has seen an increase of 100% of women in management positions. This equates to 12% overall from 6% overall last year. We should be grateful! What about the significant pay gaps between men and women for equal jobs? Well, according to Dr. Carla Harris from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), the gap is widening, currently for every dollar a man makes, his female counterpart earns 82 cents. I doubt very much that you will find a noticeable difference in the UK. In fact, upon research, women earned 15% less than men. Is this gap made worse in poor economic times?

So not much has changed in terms of respect for females and the contribution they make in society and for society. Not much in terms of how females are viewed, mostly negatively and for sexual pleasures. However what is more startling (perhaps an over-exaggeration) is that although there have always been women ‘night-workers’ (prostitutes), women appear to be engaging in their own war against themselves. Let me put this into perspective about this internal war going on with women. Notwithstanding the ‘glamour’ needed for night workers to attract for work, women are now using this same concept for approval from men and in the meantime waging an unsubstantiated war on their self-esteem. Not that those women did not care for their looks previously, as their grooming ritual is natural in attracting a mate. However, because of the Beauty Myth, the natural birthing process of grooming for a mate has become blurred, confusing and instills a lack of confidence in a female. The precocious instigation of the Beauty Myth undertaken by men but calculatingly not clearly defined (Naomi Wolf) has left women attempting to attain not just the indescribable but the unattainable as beauty is left open for interpretation by the beholder (men).

What has been the result?

Financial contributions to cosmetic, diet and surgery have all seen a surge in willing captors, all seeking this beauty myth and all rather quite despondent when they realise that the goalposts keeps shifting. Cosmetic companies revel in ascribing what their latest product is and how wonderfully powerful some ingredient is, now contained in their product. I mean, who on earth really heard of Pentapeptide, let alone researched what it did before buying the product?

Companies such as those in the cosmetic industry rely on the poor self-esteem of women to direct their products to. Women in return respond in an impassioned grab for the ‘miracle’ product that will stave off or at least slow down the ageing process. Women are made to feel that they no longer visually please and according to Wolf, companies can take steps in removing the female from her role in the workplace in favour of a younger model. Remember Miriam O’Reilly winning her claim against the BBC for what she alleges being dismissed on ageism and victimisation grounds? A second rate victory because she did not win on the grounds of sexism. What this tells me is what Wolf already identified in her book, that it is very difficult for a woman to claim against sex discrimination as the law fully supports what it calls a BFOQ (bone fide occupational qualification- USA) or the UK’s version of GOQ (genuine occupational qualification- Wolf). What this means is that a company may dismiss a woman if they feel that she does not measure up to their ideology of beauty. Now remember, this level of beauty is not defined and what would this really say? As beauty is in the eye of the beholder (self) is it not?

The tribunal for Miriam O’Reilly was held on the 4-19th November 2010, 19 years after Wolf’s publication therefore women are still demonstrably being targeted and treated according to how they look and not what talents they may have in the workplace. So no real progress here then!

Next time you go shopping, look out for the number of different beauty products. Be aware of the amount of time and energy that commercials use to sell you their copious amounts of products and the images they use. The use of anti-wrinkle creams on models probably not even yet 20 years old yet. Why on earth they need anti-wrinkle cream is beyond me. Next, these kinds of adverts will be shown using a 13 year old!

Now look at grounded products such as lipsticks. Now you can get ones that last all day. In fact, you need another product to get the lipstick off because normal cleanser and water does not always work. Companies have to keep re-inventing the wheel to keep their profits up so their imagination runs riot and comes up with all sorts of products all doing the same thing but differently. Women fall for this; just take a look at her make up bag, products of the same but different thing, hardly used due to the copious amounts.

What about products containing a certain ingredient that will ‘benefit’ perceived ‘bags’ under the eyes. Do you really think that by buying this product will alleviate ‘baggy eyes’? Why should it, because if it did then you would have to stop buying the product once you have been cured? So companies use only enough to make a slight difference and you have to keep re-buying to secure better results. I imagine companies laughing at women as they stand far at the side of the room throwing in the magic ingredient (that is to say how offensively low the ingredient is in terms of weight and productivity). Now, I am not saying that a particular ingredient does not work, for example caffeine. However, following your lovely cup of tea, you could quite easily reconstitute the teabag and put this on your eyes. Probably has more caffeine in the teabag than in the expensive product you buy.

Let us look at how other companies have cashed in on the creation of poor self-esteem in women. An ostentatious amount of money is spent by females on diet products in the hope that the ‘extra’ pounds they think they are carrying will disappear leaving the female with a sense of acceptance and perceived beauty. The sugars used in many foods are replaced with a substitute that is less calorific. To me, this is just a lot of useless chemicals being pumped in the body and for no real gain. Processed sugars are not good for anyone in huge amounts and a wise thing for health purposes would be to reduce your intake not substitute this with something that requires the body to work harder to break it down if it is able to use at all.

For research purposes, I typed in ‘what effect does artificial sugars have on the body?’ and I did not have to look far to clearly see the dangers of artificial sweeteners. According to author Marcelle Pick, (Obstetrician and Gynecologist) she speaks openly about being properly informed of possible side effects of sweeteners. I will not mention the company as I do not wish to give them any form of exposure but you can do your own research. This particular name brand is the trade name for Sucralose; a synthetic compound stumbled upon in 1976 by scientists in Britain seeking a new pesticide formation. (Marcelle Pick) What this company did was twist the sugar component of their product by citing the ‘natural sugar’ aspect. Yet more importantly, did you catch the word ‘pesticide?’

Now we go onto cosmetic surgery. This phenomenon has increased tenfold since the 1970’s. Now you can book a botox in your lunch hour and be back to work. The lackadaisical procedure should be seen as worrying and not that companies are seeking to make life easier for women to attain this face stiffening procedure. Remember the poor actress infamously known for her ‘trout pout?’ I will leave this here to save her blushes! The point I am making is some of these procedures are downright dangerous yet women are still clambering to risk life or limb.

We do not have to search our brains too hard to recall some other poor soul who underwent breast surgery to enlarge her already natural assets and perceptually ended up looking misplaced. The female body is perfect as it stands and whilst some females may have to undergo a surgical procedure on medical grounds, this should not be confused with the female body, being nature at its finest.

Women are undergoing all sorts of procedures in an attempt to gain the unattainable body. Bum enhancements, face lifts, eye lifts, neck lifts (anything that is deemed lift-up-able), nose adjustments, liposuction on any part of the body and do not get me started with lace fronted weaves or extensions. The woman spends a great deal of time and money on products and services to achieve the ideology of beauty and remember this perceived beauty is undefined. So what this means, is they end up chasing a mirage that disintegrates the moment they think that they are now acceptable. This results in a cyclical pattern in women dabbling in metamorphosis, re-inventing something else to feed that ever-growing pit in lost souls leading to other behavioural and emotional difficulties.

If you look at the objective of The Beauty Myth, the power is monumental and the devastation that this myth leaves behind is great news for those instigating this concept for nothing more than mind-control over women. This concept reminds me of the Lynch (Willie Lynch) method; create a divide and rule mask, in this case, in women.