In The Beauty Myth, [Naomi Wolf] analyses one aspect of work and private life that is additionally onerous for women: the commandment to be beautiful. A feminist journalist and poet, Wolf has already achieved prominence with the British edition of this book, which attacks the age-old mandate for women to remain young and beautiful, whatever the costs. And in Wolf's analysis, the costs are crushing.
What makes this book persuasive is not its already familiar subject, but its accumulated evidence that the beauty mandate has gotten worse. We already knew that beauty, with its emphasis on skin care and weight loss, is a multi-billion-dollar industry. Now we are told that it has become a "religion." Despite the reader's initial incredulity, the analogy of the Rites of Beauty to religious rites is compelling. From the creation of women in the Old Testament with a sense that "their bodies are second-rate, an afterthought . . . wrong" to the guilt experienced for one's imperfect self-image and the need for a "cycle of purification," Wolf documents a faith system in which thinness is next to godliness and radiance can be achieved only through "holy oils." The analogy becomes especially powerful as applied to the weight-control cult, with its evangelical fervor and group rituals designed to save its initiates. Ultimately salvation is reserved for "the woman who dies thinnest, with the fewest wrinkles."
Wolf calls to sister souls as if to co-prisoners planning a revolt. Her book derives from a feminist tradition that emphasizes gender difference and identifies attributes considered specific to women - honesty towards one's aging face and body for Wolf. [William H. Chafe], though he does not speak with the same partisan intimacy, is clearly on women's side in their quest for social justice. His revised work will undoubtedly, and deservedly, be read by a new generation of women's studies students.
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