Professor Yaisa Mann
March, 5 2010
The beauty myth is that beautiful women are more successful at reproducing than ugly women, and therefore men go for the women who are more attractive. Attractiveness is highly valued in our society, if a woman is really beautiful she is in high demand. Wolf calls the “Beauty” myth a currency system that is similar to the gold standard. (Wolf 1991: 12) Every society has different ideals of beauty, some cultures value large women because it means they are healthy and eats well, while the United State’s culture values thin women because it is linked to high society. Ideals of beauty of changed over time, but beauty itself is not a form of evolution, but that of sexual selection. Wolf states, “The beauty myth is not about women at all. It is about men’s institutions and institutional power.” (Wolf 1991:13)
Figure 1- Paleolithic Venus
Pop culture has a very interesting relationship with body image. Pop culture creates the public’s opinion of body image and what is acceptable or not. Susan Boyle was considered ugly when she won Britain’s talent competition. Soon after she won she received a complete make-over to make her more acceptable. When she first stepped on stage, based on her appearance no one thought she would be able to sing well. She proved the stereotype wrong; you can be unattractive and still be talented.
Figure 2- Susan Boyle
The caption that came along with this picture, stats that Susan Boyle’s makeover was a success, but does one need a makeover to be considered a success? Our current culture places a lot of emphasis on beauty and thinness. Wolf once stated, “To ask women to become unnaturally thin is to ask them to relinquish their sexuality.” Figure 1 is thought to represent fertility, but other theories have been made, one theory is that the figures represent young attractive virgins that were desirable to that culture. (Willett 2010) I think that our society needs to revaluate what is deemed attractive and unattractive.
Women are being portrayed negatively in advertising at an alarming rate. This ad by Dolce and Gabbana features a woman being held down by a shirtless man while she thrusts her pelvic up in the air. This image suggests that women want to be held down and perhaps even gang raped. This advertisement was featured in Esquire magazine. “Cultural representation of glamorized degradation has created a situation among the young in which boy’s rape and girls get raped as a normal course of events.” (Wolf 1991: 167)
Figure 3- Dolce and Gabbana Ad
This advertisement offends me because it perpetuates violence against women. It promotes the idea that violence is acceptable towards women. The ad doesn’t promote eating disorders; instead it is focused on the strength of the men and the weakness of the woman. Then women does silence women, the woman looks completely ambivalent to what is happening to her, she does not seem to be fighting back or struggling. This advertisement normalizes behavior for men, essentially promoting this type of behavior. Wolf states that, “The asymmetry of the beauty myth tells men and women lies about each other’s bodies, to keep them sexually estranged.” (Wolf 1991: 152)
Around campus there aren't any explicit advertisements that advocate smoking or drinking, but on campus corner several bars have signs that are sponsored by beer companies. I don’t believe that the advertisements promote negative behavior, but more along the lines of college behavior. College lifestyles are seen to be promiscuous and revolve around drinking. The excess drinking can lead to bad decisions.
The Dove campaign for real beauty has tons of positive advertisements. This one featuring an older woman is one of my favorites. It promotes natural beauty and natural aging. The message being sent is that wrinkles are beautiful and part of a natural process. This advertisements goes against the stereotypes are promoted in most advertisements. Most beauty companies advertise for anti-wrinkle products. The fact that this women still looks beautiful defies the myth that wrinkles and old age is unattractive. Dove is promoting femininity and empowering women by featuring this older woman. Wolf sums up her position “The fact is, women are not actually dangerous to one another. Outside the myth, other women look at lot like natural allies. In order for women to learn to fear one another, we had to be convinced that our sisters possess some kind of mysterious, potent secret weapon to be used against us- the imaginary weapon being “beauty”. (Wolf 1991: 284) This brings me to conclude, that if women stood up against negative advertisements, we could bring change to our communities.
This is a new documentary about America's obsession with beauty.
Wolf, N. (1991). The Beauty myth. New York City, New York: William Murrow and Comp.
Willett, Martin. (2010). in praise of big women. Retrieved from http://mwillett.org/mind/bigwomen.htm