Thursday, October 23, 2008

Vintage Naomi Wolf

By Chloe Angyal

I went and saw Naomi Wolf speak tonight; she was in Princeton promoting her new book Give Me Liberty, which I have every intention of reading as soon as my vacation officially begins (Thursday, at 2:20pm… not that I’m keeping track).

Wolf was promoting her new book which isn't about women, but about the state of American democracy, and I was disappointed when, in answer to my question about how the two major women candidates in this election cycle have been treated in the media, and specifically how their bodies and appearances have been discussed and scrutinized, she replied that that was "the least of our problems." Then again, she does have a new book to promote.

But Wolf’s first book, 1991's The Beauty Myth, was basically the Feminine Mystique of the 1990s, and as so many other women said of that latter, seminal text, "it changed my life." For me, The Beauty Myth was the book that gave me my “click moment" moment, in which I became a feminist.
I went out and bought a new copy for her to sign tonight, and then I sat down and started reading it. Here’s a very telling paragraph from the preface of the second edition, where Wolf writes about the reception of the book in its first year:

“A related fallacy is that The Beauty Myth objects categorically to images of glamour and beauty in mass culture. Absolutely not. The harm of these images is not that they exist, but that they proliferate at the expense of moth other images and stories of female heroines, role models, villains, eccentrics, buffoons, visionaries, sex goddesses and pranksters. If the icon of the anorexic fashion model were one flat image out of a full spectrum in which young girls could find a thousand wild and tantalizing visions of possible futures, that icon would not have the power to hurt them; fashion and beauty scenarios would be yet another source of the infinite pleasures and intrigues of life in the female body.”

In other words: give us options. Give us more to choose from than skeletal thinness and enormous breasts. Give us as many models of beauty are there are women in the world - because, in the words of my favourite body image campaign, "there are 3 billion women who don't look like supermodels and only 8 who do."

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