Unpacking The Beauty Myth: How we can redefine beauty for each other

I joined a book club several years ago because I wanted to a) get out of my reading comfort zone, and b) cultivate meaningful friendships. The group has exceeded my goals and has opened my eyes to a wide range of worldly experiences and ideas.

Last month, we selected a book from Emma Watson's book list called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf. Written in 1991, Wolf examines the evolution of female beauty over the last century and calls out the social, economical, and political constructs at work behind how society defines a "beautiful woman." 

She lays out the dangers of buying into the beauty myth: sexual harassment normalization, eating disorders, diet pills and plans, mainstreaming pornography to target young girls, and cosmetic surgery to "fix" a perceived problem. (** She also points out, in an introduction written in 2001, that men are beginning to feel the effects of the Beauty Myth, too.)

And Wolf parallels the encroaching, ever-changing beauty standards for females with the societal advances of women through feminist movements. She even notes that the term feminist often conjures a negative image of a rough, unrefined, "ugly" woman - as if her lack of beauty precludes her from being taken serious. (Interestingly, this image was first seen in a political cartoon meant to undermine women's efforts to gain equality.)

Reading the (sometimes dense) text, brought me a new awareness.

We are missing the point of Beauty.

It's not about looking attractive for the opposite sex (though we've been taught that old line in so many ways, we've come to understand it as truth). We've been told we're unlovable if we're "ugly" and "not smart" if we're too alluring. 

It's about trusting that our personalities, laughter, generosity, kindness, and leadership are what makes us beautiful.

The magazines, television, and movies tell us that no one will want us, as a spouse, companion, mother, friend, volunteer or employee, if we don't look a certain way and conform to a specific shape.

Instead, we need to trust that deep, lasting love and relationships don't hinge on our waist size, lipstick color, or hairstyle. We are worth more than what The Media sells us.

We've been set up to see other women as the competition, and we've been sold the idea that it's a winner-take-all game.

Rather, we should support and encourage each other in the workplace, in our families, and in our community knowing there's enough love for us all.

Half way through reading this book, I realized that I'd been viewing other women through the distorted lens of the Myth. I'd embraced my inner beauty and that of my close friends, but I'd been judging others by a different standard.

Suddenly, a veil was lifted. Once I looked past the wrinkles, plain clothes, and thinning hair, I could see the stranger's hopes, fears, hurts, and loves. It was a Doorway, for sure! And it changed the way I look at other people.

I was also empowered to allow for the forms of beauty that make a person feel good and accept her when she leaves behind the expectations that don't fit. (For example, if you love wearing makeup, embrace it! Just make sure you're choosing to wear it, not applying it out of obligation.)

When we come together in our common humanity and celebrate our unique attributes, that is where we will discover the real definition of Beauty.

What has the Beauty Myth told you? 

What inner truth is calling you to define your own beauty?


Some Doorways from this week:

  • Yesterday Shawn and I drove up to our mountain-top property for the first time this year. I was renewed and fulfilled by the scenic view.

  • While driving, I'm often entranced by the sky. This week I felt a warm joy and mesmerized feeling as I took in two beautiful cloud formations.

  • I had a wonderful night out with a girlfriend as we listened to author David Sedaris read humorous essays. And after his book signing, we ate delicious burgers and amazing sweet potato fries!


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