She walks into the room and commands attention with her presence, she speaks and crowds instantly give their devoted attention.
Naomi Wolf, the author of books such as “The Beauty Myth” and “The End of America” has strong views in feminism and political issues. She is intelligent and eloquent with inviting eyes that draw those around her. “The Beauty Myth,” first published in 1991, spurred a revolution in the 90’s and 21 years later new audiences are still finding it relevant and informing.
Wolf visited Texas A&M University—Kingsville to discuss her book in a presentation called “The Beauty Myth Revisited” last Tuesday at Jones Auditorium.
Wolf was first inspired to explore the beauty myth when she was attending college. “I noticed that all of my friends who should have been the most assertive and out there and moving toward their dreams generation because we had inherited the gates of feminism had an eating disorder of some kind,” said Wolf. “Most of them had either anorexia or bulimia or an exercise fixation that was taking 60% of their energy. I was studying women’s history and noticed that there were backlashes.
“Every time women took a leap forward, some ideology would arise to push them back and that in our generation it was “how perfect are you, physically?,’” said Wolf.
Twenty-one years later, Wolf believes some things have improved. “I do think more young women do feel more confident generally than they did 20 years ago. I don’t mean that they are not obsessed sometimes,” said Wolf. “There are some bad days. There are some days you feel so fat you can’t function or some days that you read Vogue and think, ‘I just have to tear up my whole life and start all over,’ but for the most part [women now] have something that we didn’t have, which is a way to talk about it.”
According to Wolf, “most bright and curious young women” now quickly discover that the images they are bombarded with of physical perfection are unreal but in other aspects thing have only deteriorated.
“There are some things that are worse: cosmetic surgery is more widespread for sure and it’s just as dangerous. I’m not saying that women shouldn’t do what they want with their bodies but there are a lot of dangers that are not disclosed to women. Pornography is more pervasive,” said Wolf. “Those images go deeper for young men and women than they used to because if something is connected to your sexuality it’s very hard to just say, ‘get out, ignore that.’ The numbers for anorexia and bulimia are pretty flat. They are not getting much better so that’s not great.”
Wolf, a parent to a teenage daughter herself, extended some advice to mother’s about dealing with the beauty ideals society upholds, “I don’t believe you can put a bubble around your child, I don’t think there’s any point to that, because they live in the real world. I think the best thing you can do for your kids is encourage their critical thinking about what they see around them. Asking questions, is what I would encourage any mother of a boy or a girl to grow up doing.”
“The other thing that I would encourage women of doing, and this is specifically for women and mother’s of daughters, is So many young women who really don’t have good body image or sense of self mother’s said negative things about themselves in their daughters’ presence like, ’Oh, I’m so fat or I shouldn’t have eaten that.’ There’s like this monologue of ‘I’m not good enough, physically,’ so even if they say to the daughters, ‘You’re beautiful,’ they don’t believe it because they identify with their mothers. So in a weird way, if mothers role model, even if they don’t believe it about themselves, speaking proudly about themselves, protects the daughter,” Wolf added.
Wolf also said that she is especially happy with more women being feature in the public eye especially the “older women who are being authoritative,” in politics.
“When I first came out with this book people would ask, ‘what’s the answer, what should a role model look like?’ and I think that’s the wrong question. The answer is millions of women, women should be seeing millions of women in the public eye and that it doesn’t matter what fashion models look like because it’s not the only image you have of how to be important,” she said.
According to Wolf, feminist are viewed differently 21 years later, “There used to be this really stupid idea that you couldn’t be serious and be feminine at the same time. I think that’s not an issue anymore. In the 80’s or 90’s people would say ‘Why are you wearing lipstick, why are you wearing high heels?’ I think there’s much more of a sense [now] that women are entitled to wear whatever they want and still be taken seriously, which is great because it’s a burden to have to worry about,” Wolf said.
Wolf who has heard many stories from people who have read “The Beauty Myth” and have been inspired said that her favorites are the ways it’s inspired creativity whether that be through art or movements like “taking back the B word.” When give people back the right to say and define this important thing of what makes them feel beautiful, what beauty means to them, they come up with these creative fantastic ideas.”