The Beauty Myth: Worth Fighting Against?


By Melanie Klein

In light of Britney Spears’ recent unaltered photos, a recent guest post at Jezebel proclaimed feminism’s battle with the beauty myth as bourgeois and not worth the fight. Author, Helen Razer, claims that the efforts to expose the gruesome reality behind the beauty myth is a tiresome and unworthy battle that detracts focus from issues of  “real gender equality.”

I recall an era when feminism’s purview was not limited to banging on about the need for more fat chicks in glossy magazines. While others fight for the right to force-feed Kate Moss, I continue antique fretting over equal pay, domestic violence and federal representation. At 40, I am old and clearly out of step with a movement that demands Size 14 representation.

She continues:

Yes. This just in: heat is hot, water is wet and teenagers are obsessed with their appearance. As such, let’s spend money on developing an industry code of conduct so that we can all enjoy the spectacle of more cottage cheese on Britney’s thighs.

Is it as simple as “teenagers are obsessed with their appearance?” I don’t think so. While the obsession with beauty has long been considered a narcissistic rite of passage among teens, beauty and body image issues are not limited to this demographic. Research shows that eating disorders and the preoccupation with beauty is found younger and younger girls as well as increasingly older women. Disordered eating, eating disorders and an overall obsession with the physical form is not limited to teens as part of a passing trend.

Not only are the consequences of the beauty myth not limited to a specific age group, it is not limited to rich (“bourgeois”), white girls. In fact, the Eurocentric beauty ideal is exported the globe over via the mass media and continues to erase our physical diversity. The global reach of these manufactured and altered images result in more and more  individuals conforming to homogeneous definitions of beauty.

As Brumberg traces in The Body Project: An Intimate History of Young Girls, physical beauty has become the sole measure of the worth of girls and women. This reduction of value and self-identification to the numbers on the scale and shape of one’s figure signals a  sociohistorical shift in the ways in which girls and women are valued. It doesn’t matter if you’re intelligent, independent, competent, charismatic, artistic, or successful unless you’re thin, toned and flawless. In other words, you’ve got to be hot, too.

The pursuit of hotness, as an extension of the battle to achieve the elusive beauty myth, trumps all other facets of  a woman’s character or accomplishments. Even pregnancy and motherhood are not excluded from the pressures of the socially constructed measure of beauty. The MILF, a term made popular by the film American Pie, has become a staple fixture in pop culture.

Naomi Wolf sounded the alarm over twenty years ago with the publication of The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women. As women began making strides thanks to the tireless efforts made during the second wave of feminism during the Women’s Liberation Movement, we began to be bombarded by increasingly unrealistic images of female beauty. This proliferation of our cultural space with skantily clad or nude women has continued and increased. The relentless and one-pointed focus on beauty has resulted in generations of women imposing, what Brumberg calls “internalized control,” on themselves.

Beauty in itself is not the problem. Dominique Millette tackles this debate in a recent post. So, what is the problem and why is it important?

Melanie Klein of Feminist Fatale states five excellent reasons why the beauty myth must be deconstructed. Read the rest of her article here.

4 thoughts on “The Beauty Myth: Worth Fighting Against?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.