Friday, 25 July 2008

Friday Feminist - Naomi Wolf

Cross posted on In a Strange Land

A woman wins by giving herself and other women permission - to eat; to be sexual; to age; to wear overalls, a paste tiara, a Balenciaga gown, a second-hand opera cloak or combat boots; to cover up or to go practically naked; to do whatever we choose in following - or ignoring - our own aesthetic. A woman wins when she feels that what each woman does with her own body - unenforced, uncoerced - is her own business. ...

Can there be a pro-woman definition of beauty? Absolutely. What has been missing is play. The beauty myth is harmful and pompous and grave because so much, too much, depends upon it. The pleasure of playfulness is that it doesn't matter. Once you play for stakes of any amount, the game becomes a war game, or compulsive gambling. In the myth, it has been a game for life, for questionable love, for desperate and dishonest sexuality, and without the choice not to play by alien rules. No choice, no free will; no levity, no real game.

But we can imagine, to save ourselves, a life in the body that is not value-laden; a masquerade, a voluntary theatricality that emerges from abundant self-love. A pro-woman redefinition of beauty reflects our redefinitions of what power is. Who says we need a bierarchy? Where I see beauty may not be where you do. Some people look more desirable to me than they do to you. So what? My perception has no authority over yours. Why should beauty be exclusive? Admiration can include so much. Why is rareness impressive? The high value of rareness is a masculine concept, having more to do with capitalism than with lust. What is the fun in wanting the most what cannot be found? Children, in contrast, are common as dirt, but they are highly valued and regarded as beautiful.

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth, 1990


sas said...

During the summer after my first year at Otago, I read the Beauty Myth. It changed everything for me. I was so ANGRY. I enrolled in Women's Studies papers the following year, and began my journey of seeing the world from an utterly different perspective: history, politics, literature, economics, art all changed for me. Wolf led me to bell hooks, Susie Bright, Andrea Dworkins, Susie Orbach, de Beauvior, women who I did not necessarily agree with, but so respected their fierce and sharp opinions.
As a thinking woman I found I could not unring that bell.
15 years later I am still so grateful I found The Beuaty Myth in UBS on a random afternoon.

Anna McM said...

God bless UBS! I'm not actually a huge fan of Naomi Wolf, but she served a similar purpose for me too - opened my eyes to a whole new range of ideas.

Deborah said...

I'm not a huge fan of Naomi Wolf either - I find some of her 'solutions' facile, and I can't help thinking that her books are mostly about taking her own experience and generalising it to everyone. Nevertheless, The Beauty Myth was formative for me too.

I find the whole beauty thang confusing, still. I like flossying up - lippy, hair, high heeled shoes - but it needs to be my choice. I also see it as part of a continuum - from choosing clothes that suit my colouring, to makeup, to high heeled shoes, to dying my hair, to waxing, to minor cosmetic surgery to remove blemishes, to less minor cosmetic surgery to reduce wrinkles, to well, what whatever you think might come next. Where to draw the line?