I just finished re-reading Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth, which I haven’t actually read since college women’s studies class. It was pretty new then — I distinctly remember Wolf visiting Northwestern’s campus to fire us all up about the idea of Third Wave feminism — and it certainly spoke to me, as a budding feminist and beauty product enthusiast. But revisiting it now, 20 years later, evokes an all-too-common feeling I get when reading old feminist texts: Holy shit, nothing has changed. Or, actually, things have only gotten worse, in this case — I couldn’t help wondering what Wolf would make of bikini waxes (perhaps they’d warrant their own chapter, as they did in the book I co-authored, Sexy Feminism) or “vaginal rejuvenation.” At one point she evokes the spectre of sewed-up labia as a possibility in a terrifying future. Welcome to that future.
If you’re not familiar with this book, first, I recommend reading it immediately. If you’re a woman, it will change your life; you will realize you are not irrational, or crazy, or silly. There are compelling reasons you find yourself comparing your wrinkles to other women’s on the subway, or secretly delighting in shots of celebrity cellulite, or spending your whole paycheck at Sephora. Those reasons are systemic, cultural, and hell-bent on patriarchy.
Yeah, it’s a little depressing, but awareness is the first step. And at the end, Wolf outlines some great ways for us to take action against the Beauty Myth — which we must continue to do so that our daughters will look back at us and laugh: Why did you think you had to lose another ten pounds? I’m recording some of those ideas here in handy list form, both to remind myself, and in hopes that anyone else might join me: