It’s been 30 years since author Naomi Wolf published The Beauty Myth, and it’s safe to say the beauty industry has never been the same. Thanks, in part, to Wolf, feminists of the ’90s had a cleared path to navigate through the fashion and lifestyle worlds to today, where calling out beauty standards is considered par for the course. And boy, it’s about time. After a cameo in the world of politics with her support of Al Gore, and seven more books, Wolf is continuing to cultivate her voice as a commentator and feminist. For this week’s UnStyled, the author sat down with Refinery29’s co-founder and editor-in-chief Christene Barberich to talk about how her career has evolved, from then to now.
Throughout Wolf’s line(s) of work, where she’s continuously challenged outdated ideals that have been manufactured by men and put up against women, she’s realized most of what she’s encountered is more political than superficial. “It was so clear to me that no matter how much privilege, access, and empowerment my generation had at that time, we were not going to be empowered if we weren’t slaved to this ideal of beauty that was so set up to make us fail, and specifically how thin the ideal was at that time…you really did have to starve yourself to fit it,” she said. Since making that connection, she’s remained committed to overturning policies that prevent equality between the sexes. And her voice is more important now than ever.
Thankfully, Wolf’s efforts haven’t been undone. She acknowledges the progress made by young women in terms diversity and holding each other up, as well as their cognizance that there are still many beauty myths left to debunk. Wolf discusses this, the politics of social media — including what it means to be a woman of the web in the Trump era — and so much more on her podcast for UnStyled. Don’t forget to subscribe for more, and listen closely as Wolf puts into words just how important it is to continue smashing the patriarchy.
In addition to beauty, you’ve also written a lot about pornography.
Naomi Wolf: “Young women have created and absorbed a message that they’re entitled to their own sexuality and pleasure, and these things are so closely linked. I don’t like the word ‘objectification’ when it’s used in a very reductive way because feminism sometimes forgets that we are bodies and that beauty is a thing; in the end of the book, I tried to communicate this. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to adorn yourself, or wanting to seduce, or feeling gorgeous — whatever that means.”
What do you think of social media, in terms of opportunities and pitfalls?
NW: “It could be a force that really enslaves women. When I first realized that women were kind of posing naked for followers, on Instagram, I really thought, ‘Wow, this is kind of troubling because any young woman will have this temptation or expectation that she should show her body, and get that validation of more and more followers. I don’t love it, but the internet is radically liberating to young women.”
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