Episode 45

The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf

Published on: 17th August, 2021

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. I remember one time several years ago, my husband and I were getting ready to go out somewhere fancy. I took a shower, shaved my legs and underarms, dried off, moisturized with one lotion for my body and one lotion for my face, blow-dried my recently-color-treated hair to make it straight (it naturally dries in small curls), then used a curling wand to make it have big curls. Then I put on a bra to lift my boobs higher than they naturally are, Spanx to suck my torso to look smaller than it actually is, a dress, and high heels to make me look taller than I am. Then on my face I did a little concealer to make my skin look a more consistent color than it really is, eyeshadow and eyeliner to alter the appearance of my eyelids, mascara to make my eyelashes look longer and thicker and black (when they’re really just brown) eyebrow gel to darken my eyebrows, (but first I tweezed them to be a different shape than they really are.) Then some bronzer to make me look like I was blushing and some lip gloss to make my lips look shinier than they are naturally. And of course a little jewelry for some added sparkle. 

Next to me, my husband took a shower, dried off, put on his suit and flat shoes, and, okay, he did put lotion on his face and hands and put in one dab of one hair product in his hair. And he was ready to go. And I thought - wow. I just altered almost every aspect of my body in order to measure up to society’s beauty standards for women - and I spent a lot of time and thought and money on each and every one of the products that enabled me to meet those standards. And my husband altered nothing, and spent no extra money, and absolutely no extra thought. And I thought: I have been sold something here. 

Todays’ book is called The Beauty Myth, written by Naomi Wolf in 1991, and I am super excited to discuss it with my reading partner, Vanessa Loder. Hi, Vanessa!

Vanessa: Hi, Amy! I am really thrilled to be here supporting you and this podcast. I have been trying to unwind all the ways I’ve internalized the patriarchy for the last decade and the layers of that onion just keep peeling back and go deeper than I ever realized. 

Amy:  I met Vanessa in 2005, when my husband and Vanessa were assigned as table partners during their MBA at Stanford. Vanessa was like a 20,000 watt lightbulb - whip smart, hilarious, intimidatingly accomplished in her education and her career already even before business school, and drop-dead gorgeous. And yet she was also just so approachable and kind, she was impossible not to love, and we’ve actually become closer friends during the past few years at reunions and weddings and retreats and stuff, and I just adore you and am soooo grateful that you’re here today to talk about this book!

Vanessa: (I’m saving all my mushy truths about you so I can surprise you and make you blush!) ;)

Amy: So could you start us off by telling us a bit about yourself? Who you are, where you’re from, what makes you you.

Vanessa: Bio.. Will do! 

Amy: I also like to ask my reading partners what interested them in Breaking Down Patriarchy. 

Vanessa: Why you agreed to do this :) 

As a feminist spiritual teacher, this is at the heart of who I am and the work I do in the world. But really, it comes from my own pain points. They say you teach what you most want to learn and that has definitely been the case for me. There are so many ways that I have accidentally internalized messaging I really don’t believe in by going along with mainstream messaging, culture, family and community beliefs and attitudes, and it hasn’t made me happy or fulfilled. It feels like some of the biggest and most important work of my life to intentionally unwind all the ways I’ve inadvertently internalized the patriarchy, and then carry that out into the world to create external change too. So yeah, this podcast couldn’t be more up my alley.

Just last week, my husband had an old swim buddy over for beers. I found myself trying to keep the kids out of their way so they could have a nice catch up, and serving them a cheese platter while simultaneously stewing in resentment...

I realized it just wouldn’t cross my husband’s mind to do either of these things if I had a girlfriend over whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. And my husband is a kind, thoughtful, loving and considerate man. Since getting married and having kids, I’ve noticed all these roles I automatically took on without pausing to consider if I WANTED to take them on. And frankly, at times I feel annoyed that I have to educate my husband to help him feel motivated to create change in how we show up in partnership as well. We both defaulted into these roles as husband/wife and father/mother, for me, that’s when a lot of the inequality began in our partnership and how we each showed up. Once we had kids, the roles became even more exacerbated...you know that cartoon that shows a woman running around a track and her male peers at work each have a clear lane but in her lane is the dishwasher, and hanging laundry, and all these other domestic tasks. And none of that even takes today’s topic into consideration, The Beauty Myth, which is another hidden construct that contributes to the current overwhelm, exhaustion and burnout that women are experiencing at astounding rates.

There are so many ways that I have found myself unconsciously buying into so many myths about success, what it means to be successful at work and “crush it” in a man’s world while simultaneously internalizing stereotypes based on a 1950’s housewife, and full time mom who also needs to be skinny and look good...it’s insanity. Through my online group coaching programs, meditations and in person retreats, I coach brilliant women who are also feeling so much PRESSURE to meet these gold standards in all areas of their lives. The Gold Standard Wife, Mom, Career Woman and the Gold Standard Beauty (white, skinny, young)....it’s exhausting and I’m REALLy interested in finding new and creative solutions, belief structures and paradigms of success and leadership that support integrated wellbeing and encourage women to have the impact and fulfillment we deeply long for with our one wild and precious life.

Amy: Let’s start talking about the book The Beauty Myth, and in order to understand the book, let’s talk just for a minute about its author.


Naomi Wolf was born in San Francisco, California, to a Jewish family. Her mother is an anthropologist and her father was a Romanian-born scholar at UC Berkeley and a Yiddish translator. 

Wolf attended Yale University, receiving her Bachelor of Arts in English literature in 1984. From 1985 to 1987, she was a Rhodes Scholar at New College, Oxford. Her initial period at Oxford University was difficult for her as she experienced what she called "raw sexism, overt snobbery and casual antisemitism". Apparently a professor at Oxford assessed her writing as personal and subjective, and advised her against submitting her doctoral thesis. Wolf later talked about that by saying: "My subject didn’t exist. I wanted to write feminist theory, and I kept being told by the dons there was no such thing." The project she was working on formed the basis of the book, The Beauty Myth.

The Beauty Myth was published in 1991, and became an international bestseller. It was named "one of the seventy most influential books of the twentieth century" by The New York Times, Gloria Steinem wrote, "The Beauty Myth is a smart, angry, insightful book, and a clarion call to freedom. Every woman should read it." Betty Friedan wrote in Allure magazine that "The Beauty Myth and the controversy it is eliciting could be a hopeful sign of a new surge of feminist consciousness."

After Wolf published The Beauty Myth, she had a career in politics, brainstorming ways to reach female voters for presidential candidates Bill Clinton and later, Al Gore, and later, Wolf returned to Oxford to finish her PhD in English literature in 2015.

If you look her up now, you’ll see that some of her recent work has been criticized and she has gone a bit kooky in recent years. So as we’ve said on other episodes, sometimes we tell inspiring stories about the authors of these texts, but the authors are not the important part. Podcasts like What’s Her Name and Encyclopedia Womannica do a great job of telling women’s stories. Our podcast is about the history of patriarchy, and the texts that have challenged it, and this work has stood the test of time and remains a staple on many Women’s Studies lists because it raises so many critically important issues. 

And really quickly I’ll just define a couple of terms for listeners that we’ll refer to in the episode The first one is the concept of “shifts.” When I hear the word “shift” I think of a change, but when Wolf talks about a first shift and a second shift, she’s talking about shifts that you work at a job. So right before the Beauty Myth, an author named Arlie Russell Hochschild had just published a book called The Second Shift, and it pointed out that women were working a shift at their actual jobs, but then coming home and doing a whole “second shift” of work with childcare and cooking and cleaning and running the family. So later Wolf will build upon that idea saying there’s even a “third shift” that gets added.

And then the other term is the PBQ, which stands for the Professional Beauty Qualification, which is the standard that gets applied to women. And the best way I’ve heard this described is in a hilarious op-ed in The New York Times by Jennifer Weiner, where she describes life as an amusement park, and for women, there’s a “You Must Be This Hot in Order to Participate” sign to ride the roller coasters, while there is no such requirement for men.

So those are the two definitions: “Shift” = shift at work, and PBQ = professional beauty qualification. 

So I can’t wait to dive in and discuss this with you, Vanessa! As always we’ll take turns talking about the points we found the most important.

Amy: The first theme I want to talk about is the claim that Current standards of beauty are a means of controlling women and maintaining the patriarchy.

Wolf says, “Beauty is the last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact."

She starts by recounting the historical process through the 20th Century that led us to this point. She references what Lucy talked about on our episode on the UN Declaration of Human Rights: women had been constrained and confined to the home during the Victorian era, then many women joined the workforce in order to support their countries during the world wars. They learned new skills, they found new self-confidence, they gained some financial independence for the first time… but then when the men came back home, the women were fired from their jobs. Wolf cites that 3 million American women and 1 million British women were fired from their jobs at the end of WWII. (64) 

At that point she describes a media campaign that glorified “women at home” in magazines and TV ads, which takes us into the era of “The Feminine Mystique,” which listeners will of course remember from our episode on that book from 1963. Wolf references The Feminine Mystique by describing how marketers capitalized on American housewives in the 1950’s and 60’s:

“The marketers’ reports described how to manipulate housewives into becoming insecure consumers of household products: ‘A transfer of guilt must be achieved,’ they said. ‘Capitalize… on ‘guilt over hidden dirt.’ Stress the ‘therapeutic value’ of baking, they suggested: ‘With X mix in the home, you will be a different woman.’ They urged giving the housewife ‘a sense of achievement’ to compensate her for a task that was ‘endless’ and ‘time-consuming.’ ...Identify your products with ‘spiritual rewards.’ For objects with ‘added psychological value,’ the report concluded, ‘the price itself hardly matters.” (65)

 Wolf points out that Friedan’s book showed women how their insecurities were being manipulated to make money for advertisers. So in the late 60’s and 70’s many women had moved beyond the model of the serene and demure homemaker, and they entered the workforce again, but there was another marketing trend created to capitalize on women’s insecurities. She says:

“Feminists, inspired by Friedan, broke the stranglehold on the women’s popular press of advertisers for household products, who were promoting the feminine mystique; [Then] at once, the diet and skin care industries became the new cultural censors of women’s intellectual space, and because of their pressure, the gaunt, youthful model supplanted the happy housewife as the arbiter of successful womanhood.” (11)

We’ll talk more about that marketing later, but just to summarize the timeline, once women couldn’t be sold the latest model of home appliance any more, it got a lot more personal: women were made to feel that in order to be successful women they needed the latest model of body. Not just the latest clothes, which had always been the case for women - but a different physical body.

She sums up the thesis of her whole book by saying:

“We are in the midst of a violent backlash against feminism that uses images of female beauty as a political weapon against women’s advancement: the beauty myth.”

So I have a couple of thoughts about this.

First, the timeline makes sense, based on other readings we’ve done on the project. And I agree that current standards of beauty keep women down, keep women from achieving their potential, etc, because focusing on our appearance takes up tons of time and money and thought that could be better spent in meaningful pursuits that have lasting value, and it’s been shown that focusing on how we are perceived by others negatively impacts our cognition. So this hyper-focus on beauty makes us sadder and less smart, and that’s proven. I agree that women are being purposely manipulated for profit, just like advertisers manipulate every  demographic for profit. That’s what advertisers do.  And I agree that one result of this is that women don’t rise into their power and challenge the patriarchal system. She says:

In assigning value to women in a vertical hierarchy according to a culturally imposed physical standard, it is an expression of power relations in which women must unnaturally compete for resources that men have appropriated for themselves. (12)

I definitely think that’s true - if we remember how Trump praised women for their beauty, and denigrated other women based on their looks - even posting an unflattering picture of Ted Cruz’s wife next to his own wife to compare their “hotness”, we get a very crass reminder of how powerful men reinforce those hierarchies all the time. 

And like we’ve talked about on other episodes, many of us still carry with us the residual belief from past eras that men have ownership over women’s bodies. I remember a boy I had a huge crush on in 8th grade - one day I came to school wearing a little bit of eyeliner for the first time and he said to me “you look like a hooker.” And he - and other guys - would constantly make comments about my body, what I should wear, what I shouldn’t wear. What made me “hot.” And of course I liked their attention and I wanted to please the boy I had a crush on. On the other hand, at church I would hear from boys “modest is hottest”,  and the adult men I admired told me that if I showed my shoulders or my shorts were too short I was being a “flesh merchant.” I’ve said before that this made me feel like I was getting torn in half between being “the madonna and the whore,” trying to please two opposite groups of men who were setting  those expectations and beauty standards. 

On the other hand, back to Wolf’s claim that men use the beauty myth as “a political weapon against women’s advancement,” I feel a little skeptical of one part of her claim, and that is that it’s an intentional effort by men to subjugate women and keep them from becoming empowered. Any  time she would talk about “the patriarchy keeping women down through beauty standards” I would think WHO, exactly, is doing that, on purpose? Are there men in an office building somewhere with a plaque on their door that says “the patriarchy” and they’re laughing evilly “muah-hah-hah-hah-hah, now the women will never escape?! We will make them fixate on their looks so we can keep them subjugated!!”? I don’t think so. All throughout the book I kept waiting for Wolf to show me the wizard behind the curtain, and she never did, and I don’t think such a person or group of people exists. In fact that’s why I don’t use the term “the patriarchy.” There’s nothing wrong with saying “the patriarchy” - I’m not opposed to it - I just don’t say it that way because that makes it sounds like it’s a specific group of men with a plaque on their door that says “The Patriarchy.” It’s not like that. Rather, “patriarchy” (sans “the”) is just a system that all men and women live within. Like “White supremacy,” there are definitely governments, like the Apartheid government in South Africa, or groups like the KKK, that unabashedly embrace White Supremacy. But white supremacy continues to form an invisible matrix all over the world, including or perhaps especially in the United States. But there’s no organized government called “the White Supremacy.” It’s way more widespread and pervasive than that - it exists in people’s minds, many of whom deny that they have absorbed those beliefs! And in a way that makes it harder to fight. Similarly, with patriarchy, some conservative religions fully embrace the structure of Patriarchy, and you can see embodiments in the leadership of those churches, but “patriarchy” is an invisible matrix of power that we all live in and participate in - it exists in our heads and in subtle ways in our relationships, and in a way, that makes it harder to dismantle.

But I don’t think there’s a group of men purposefully planning to keep women down by making them fixate on their looks. Make money off them on purpose, yes. 

I do think the Beauty Myth is real, I do think we all swim in the waters of patriarchy, and I do believe women are buying into a craptastic lie and people make tons of money off of us when we do. But I think if we try to point our fingers at “the patriarchy” it’s actually a big waste of time - instead we need to look at the patriarchal structures we carry around inside our own heads.


The Workplace Nurtures and Sustains the Beauty Myth (Chapter: Work)

“As women demanded access to power, the power structure used the beauty myth materially to undermine women’s advancement….employers did not simply develop the beauty backlash because they wanted office decoration. It evolved out of fear...Women work hard, twice as hard as men. 

While women represent 50% of the world population, they perform nearly ⅔ of all working hours, receive only 1/10th of the world income and own less than 1% of world property. Housework totals 40 BN hours of France’s labor power. Women’s volunteer work in the US amounts to $18BN a year...the economics of industrialized countries would collapse if women didn’t do the work they do for free….as women began to do full-time paid work, they still did all or nearly all of the unpaid work as well. 

Women entered the workforce in mass in the 1980’s...in the US between 1960 and 1990, the number of women lawyers and judges rose from 7,500 to 180,000; women doctors from 15,672 to 108,200; women engineers from 7.404 to 174,000...even with two shifts (doing the majority of the housework), women would still challenge the status quo...someone had to come up with a third shift fast...But a real meritocracy means for men “more competition at work and more housework at home.”

How can the power structure prevent this challenge to the status quo?

  1. Reinforce the Second Shift. “The failures of the American and even European state-funded child care act as an effective drag on the momentum of this immigrant group. ….What it needed was a replacement shackle, a new material burden that would drain surplus energy and lower confidence, an ideology that would produce the women workers it needs, but only in the mold in which it wants them

  2. The Beauty Myth and the PBQ (professional beauty qualification)  “Women’s employment was stimulated by the widespread erosion of the industrial base and the shift to information and service technologies...women are welcome to the labor pool: as expendable, nonunionized, low-paid, pink-collar-ghetto drudges. Economist Marvin Harris described women as a “literate and docile” labor pool, and “therefore desirable candidates for the information and people-processing jobs thrown up by modern service industries. The qualities that best serve employers in such a labor pool’s workers are: low self-esteem, a tolerance for dull repetitive tasks, lack of ambition, high conformity, more respect for men (who manage them) than women (who work beside them), and little sense of control over their lives. At a higher level, women middle managers are acceptable as long as they are male-identified and don’t force too hard up against the glass ceiling; and token women at the top...are useful. The beauty myth is the last, best training technique to create such a work force. It does all these things to women during work hours, and then adds a Third Shift to their leisure time.”

“Superwoman, unaware of its full implications, had to add serious “beauty” labor to her professional agenda...Women took on all at once the roles of professional housewife, professional careerist, and professional beauty.”

Wolf goes on to assert that the PBQ “professional beauty qualification” is being extremely widely institutionalized as a condition for women’s hiring and promotion… (p 31) “The PBQ began in the 1960’s as large numbers of educated middle-class young women began to work in cities, living alone, between graduation and marriage. A commercial sexulized mystique of the airline stewardess, the model, and the executive secretary was promoted simultaneously. 

...Waitresses were told to wear tiger uniforms, paint their nails and wear makeup to draw in male customers...trickle down effect of PBQ, it spread to receptionists and art gallery workers, women in advertising, merchandising, design and real estate; the recording and film industries; to women in journalism and publishing...then service industries like waitresses, bartenders, hostesses, catering staff...then the PBQ was applied to any job that brings women in contact with the public…

The young working woman was blocked into a stereotype that used beauty to undermine both the seriousness of the work that she was doing and the implications of her new independence.” 

This really resonated for me….I grew up in the late 70’s and early 80’s, a time when feminism told me I could do anything, be anything and compete amongst the best of ‘em if I so desired (the best of ‘em being the boys). So I did. I loved winning math quizzes in elementary school and being picked first in dodgeball on the playground. I felt proud of my skinned knees and straight A’s. I graduated top of my class from an Ivy League school while playing Division 1 soccer and went on to work on Wall Street. I worked one hundred hour weeks amidst blatant sexual harassment and sexism. I still remember being told as an eager new investment banking analyst that one of the Managing Directors (MD) had mentioned my name. I felt thrilled that my hard work was being recognized, until my peer explained that my name was referenced in the context of this MD perusing the women’s photos in the analyst facebook and making a list of who he wanted to have sex with. 

I muzzled my shock, repulsion and sadness but something in me began to crack that day. The idea of being seen and valued for my hard work was tainted and I felt disillusioned. In subtle and not so subtle ways, I was being told where my value lay and what happens when women are too visible. And..as Wolf illustrates, my perceived beauty was being used to undermine the seriousness of my contributions at work. It felt like a punch to the gut. I still remember it with sadness, anger and as the moment when I became disillusioned.

“In 1966, the National Organization for Women was founded in America, and that same year its members demonstrated against the firing of stewardesses at the age of 32 and upon marriage.”

Women began to fight back...but didn’t always win. 

“What must this (new) serious professional woman look like?...Television journalism vividly proposed its answer...That double image - the older man, lined and distinguished, seated beside a nubile, heavily made-up female junior - became the paradigm for the relationship between men and women in the workplace….intended at first to sweeten the unpleasant fact of a woman assuming public authority….the message is that a powerful man is an individual...and that his maturity is part of his power. If a single standard were applied equally to men as to women in TV journalism, most of the men would be unemployed. But the women beside them need youth and beauty to enter the same soundstage….with youth and beauty, then, the working woman is visible, but insecure, made to feel her qualities are not unique. But without them, she is invisible, she falls, literally, out of the picture” For women “seniority does not mean prestige, but erasure”

“Is it any surprise that, two decades into the legal evolution of the professional beauty qualification, working women are tense to the point of insanity about their appearance?”

“The double standard for appearance is a constant reminder that men are worth more and need not try as hard.”

...Wolf argues that the beauty myth has eroded women’s self-esteem, making us ideal employees “Many economists agree that women do not expect promotion and higher wages bc they have been conditioned by their work experience not to expect improvements in work status...women are often unsure of their intrinsic worth in the marketplace.”

“Fashion modeling and prostituion are the only professions in which women consistently earn more than men...how can a woman believe in merit in a reality like this? A job market that rewards her indirectly as if she were selling her body is simply perpetuating the traditional main employment options for women - compulsory marriage or prostitution - more politely and for half the pay”  OUCH!

I also had experiences where men bonded at work in ways that excluded me as a woman and were based on beauty myth ideology. I still remember when I started working at this very prestigious private equity firm in NYC, I began 3 months before my peer group and got assigned to a big and important deal...I was really excited to make my mark (by the way...that’s language used to describe a dog peeing...such masculine terminology I didn’t notice until right now)...anyway, things were going incredibly well, I was proving myself and felt confident I had made strides when my peers joined (mostly all men). The third day they all started, in our big mtg room….tell story of strip clubs…

For me, I always felt a binary trade-off at work. I could be pretty and viewed sexually and NOT taken seriously, or I could become more masculine, act tough, put on a male persona and be taken seriously. I chose the latter. I cursed like a sailor, dressed in masculine looking pants and sharp blazers, wore a lot of brown and beige (even though I have not realized I LOVE bright colors and patterns...I wouldn’t have dared bc I didn’t want to stand out as overly feminine)...and even wolfed down a seven- inch subway sandwich in under seven minutes on a dare while the senior partners cheered me on. 

At the holiday party one year, my firm rented out a private cellar in some swanky restaurant. We sat at round tables enjoying our four-course meal, until one of the partners announced they were turning the dinner into a competition. Late in the game (after several glasses of wine), it was down to me and just one other person for the win. With adrenaline coursing through my veins as everyone egged us on, I found myself standing up, in a shouting match with a male colleague. When he said something dismissive, years of pent up rage boiled. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” I yelled, while the ambient restaurant conversation around me came to a screeching halt. Across the table from me, I noticed a soft-spoken, elderly gentleman, sadness and bafflement in his eyes. My heart sank and I thought; “Who have I become?” I imagined what he must think of me and my generation, and the compromises we have chosen to “make it” in a male- dominated world. In order to prove myself, I’d lost myself little by little. I’d behaved in a way that felt horrible on the inside, and deeply out of alignment with my true nature. 

For me, my BIGGEST struggles weren’t with chasing the PBQ so much as trying to AVOID the PBQ and losing myself and my feminine power in the balance….but I still felt the pressure of the PBQ and spent 15 min blow drying my hair and putting on makeup that my male colleagues never felt the need to do. Both living under the pressure of the PBQ while simultaneously trying to distance yourself from the PBQ is doubly exhausting and neither place feels like home.

“The PBQ keeps women materially and psychologically poor. PBQ leeches money and leisure and confidence form this rising class...it tires women out. Working women are exhausted: bone-tired in a way their male colleagues may not be able to imagine...It is this exhaustion that may call a halt to women’s future collective advancement, and that is the point of it”

Not sure I agree it is that strategic and intentional (to your point earlier Amy)...but I DO agree women are even more exhausted today than when this book was written.

Professional, high-achieving women have, because of it, just enough energy, concentration and time to do their work very well, but too little for the kind of social activism or freewheeling thought that would allow them to question and change the structure itself.”

I co-founded the Parents in Tech Alliance with the head of the parents or mom’s group from most of the top tech companies (Google, Salesforce, LinkedIn, AirBnB, etc.) and that is certainly the case, but it’s not from the PBQ that these parents are too exhausted to effectively organize, it’s from the lack of resources and support for working parents. The lack of parental leave, onsite or subsidized childcare, flex schedules, manager training, etc.

The beauty myth “keeps women isolated. Collective female solidarity in the workplace would force the power structure to tackle the expensive concessions that many economists now believe are necessary if women are to have truly equal opportunity: day care, flextime, job security after childbirth, and parental leave”  YES….from my experience THIS is a WAY BIGGER PROBLEM that keeps women exhausted more so than the beauty myth.

THIS: “All labor systems that depend on coercing a work force into accepting bad conditions and unfair compensation have recognized the effectiveness of keeping that work force exhausted to keep it from making trouble.”

Overall, I appreciate Wolf’s point that the Beauty Myth added a Third Shift for working women. There is a double standard and women feel pressure to look good as well as perform well. Before giving my TEDx talk, I remember worrying about which dress to wear and questioning my appearance..and thinking, I bet hardly any of the men who have given TEDx talks have spent more than 10 minutes thinking about what they’ll wear...this is precious time I could be using to prepare my presentation and instead, I’m shopping for the “perfect” dress.

But...I also think the sexual harassment, unconscious bias and microaggressions negatively impact women’s abilities to advance at work, no matter how hard they push themselves. strip club/ golf club networking, conversations that happen in the locker room...there are so many exhausting dynamics when you try to break through the current power system. Being viewed through the lens of beauty rather than our contributions is painfully true AND, The Beauty Myth feels to me like one thorn on a whole crown that working women have learned to endure. It’s painful, and sadly, truthfully, it’s only part of the problem for working women.


The Beauty Myth is Fueled by Marketing (Women are exploited without knowing it)

“Women’s magazines for over a century have been one of the most powerful agents for changing women’s roles, and throughout that time they have consistently glamorized whatever the economy, their advertisers, and during wartime, the government, needed at that moment from women” (64)

Traditional women’s magazines established a strong toehold in the 1950’s when they encouraged women to strive for perfection in 3 main roles (good wife, good mother and efficient homemaker)... since then it’s morphed...

“The definition of perfection, however, changes with the needs of employers, politicians, and advertisers. (64)

“In the 1950’s, advertising revenues soared, shifting the balance between editorial and advertising departments. Women’s magazines became of interest to the companies that, with the war about to end, were going to have to make consumer sales take the place of war contracts. The main advertisers in the women’s magazines responsible for the Feminine Mystique were seeking to sell household products.” (64)

But then, when the “restless, isolated, bored and insecure housewife fled the Feminine Mystique for the workplace, advertisers faced the loss of their primary consumer...Somehow, somewhere, someone must have figured out that they will buy more things if they are kept in the self-hating, ever-failing, hungry, and sexually insecure state of being aspiring “beauties.” (66)

Ugh, this all rang true to me...and it’s helpful context to understand how the Fem Mystique morphed into the Beauty Myth..bc when I see those 1950’s housewife ads about sparkling floors and vacuuming being such a joy, I sort of roll my eyes and can dismiss them more readily than ads of beautiful, young women (which can still suck me into insecurities or maybe I should buy a cuter outfit type thoughts)...but it’s also encouraging to imagine that the same way I look at those old ads of women with their hair in curlers and aprons on and think “that’s NOT me,” hopefully a future generation of women will look at the ads of our generation, the faces of older women with skin too tight from Botox or ad copy suggesting how to “win a guy” and roll their eyes thinking “that’s NOT me.”

AND, even though I SAY that I roll my eyes at those old advertisements of women in aprons mopping floors...I have noticed that unconsciously, I’ve internalized a lot of that messaging about what it means to be a good wife/partner/homemaker. My story earlier about making the cheese plate for my husband and his buddy...where did I learn to do that? No one sat me down and said it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure guests have something to nibble on...but I have taken on that role and my husband has not. WHY? I may roll my eyes, but I still make the cheese plate. Cultural messaging is POWERFUL.

First they were selling appliances...then beauty products...but they’re always selling something. And it behooves us to remember that. 

Why do women’s magazines have such an influence over us? Wolf argues it’s in part because

  • These magazines are all most women have as a window into what it’s like to be a woman...bc our overall culture takes a male point of view on what’s newsworthy, with the Super Bowl on the front page and sooo many ESPN channels while a change in child care legislation is buried in a paragraph on the inside page (p 70)....of 50 years of Life magazine covers, only 19 were of women who were not actresses or models
  • There is no mainstream journalism that treats women’s issues with the seriousness they deserve, so these magazines are all we’ve got in some ways.

These magazines promise to tell women what men really want but as Wolf points out, “The magazines are not oracles speaking for men. One study found “our data suggest women are misinformed and exaggerate the magnitude of thinness men desire…” they are misinformed….What editors are obliged to appear to say that men want from women is actually what their advertisers want from women.”

This reminds me of those silly pages they’ll have in US weekly or some magazines with a celebrity that says; “Look what J-Lo has in her purse…” with images of lipstick and other products this celebrity supposedly carries in her purse...when I worked at a private equity firm investing in consumer products, we owned a skincare brand and a makeup brand, and I learned that those “what so-and-so has in her purse” are PAID PLACEMENTS. Paid for by that particular branded product that is being featured. As women, we are being manipulated all the time through this type of advertisement. It’s misleading and damaging to our sense of self...not only because we probably don’t need those products and they won’t be that effective, but even more insidious, we’re being told that we should value what J-Lo values...someone else is the harbinger of our tastes and what we should like and buy. It’s not “discover who you truly are, get still and quiet and listen to your inner truth.” It’s “be more like J-Lo, here’s how you can be more like J-Lo, buy THIS.”  Effectively, women are constantly being told that we’re not enough as we are through all this advertising. 

Wolf points out “But the relationship between the reader and her magazine doesn’t happen in a context that encourages her to analyze how the message is affected by the advertisers’ needs. It is emotional confiding, defensive, and unequal.”

Earlier this week, I was chatting with two moms in the parking lot at preschool drop off...and we got to talking about advertising and its impact on women, and she said her dad was in advertising and one really great thing he did for her and her siblings growing up is he wouldn’t let them have ANY magazines in the house or watch any commercials or even buy clothes that had “Gap” or any brand name on them bc he would say “what are you selling” and whenever a commercial did sneak its way into their lives, he would always say; “Where’s the lie?” and have his children point out the lie the advertiser was telling them in order to sell a product. I thought that was a really great question to ask ourselves and to ask our children when we see advertising...where’s the lie?

The lie of women’s magazines is that they have our back, that they care about us and can be trusted. 

As Wolf shares; “The voice of the magazine gives women an invisible female authority figure to admire and obey, parallel to the mentor protege relationship that many men are encouraged to forge in their educations and on the job, but which women are rarely offered anywhere else but in their glossy magazines….the voice encourages that trust. It has evolved a tone of allegiance to the reader, of being on your side with superior know-how and resources

  • New resources are being developed like CERESA, my friend and classmates org to offer mentorship to young women 

Gloria Steinem argued that advertisers don’t believe in female opinion makers and its the advertisers who’ve got to change. Women need to change too Wolf says...only when we take our own mass media seriously and resist its expectations that we will submit to still more instructions on “how to wash our hair” will advertisers concede that women’s magazines must be entitled to as wide a measure of free speech as those for men.

**Advertising has shifted with social media, now you can have an influencer who uses a product in a sponsored post. Usually it’s flagged as sponsored, which is helpful, but it’s still human nature to assume the person promoting the product has only our best interests at heart if we have developed a level of trust with them...and now the floodgates have opened, young girls fresh off the Bachelor franchise TV show can become influencers and promote beauty products...and they themselves may not be aware of how the beauty myth is using them to fulfill its own ends. Now when you see an influencer in IG, it’s important to also ask “Where’s the LIE?”

“The advertisers who make women’s mass culture possible depend on making women feel bad enough about their faces and bodies to spend more money on worthless or pain-inducing products than they would if they felt innately beautiful.”

I’ve had a few times in my life when I lived in the wilderness, without any advertising, without a mirror, without a shower for 30 or more days...and it felt SO liberating. These magazines hold up a painful mirror...images that are unattainable.

When we start to separate out the advertisers intentions and objectives from our own, we can see that they are not aligned at all. It’s like peeling back the curtain on the wizard of Oz. We have this “trusted” source that is really a fake, a phony, peddling snake oil with a fancy bottle and eye catching copy that makes us believe we NEED it.

For myself, I’ve never liked those magazines and have felt annoyed by the demeaning tone...but it still impacts me. Many of my girlfriends are buying those products, getting botox and doing other procedures to look younger these days...and I compare myself to them. So even if you don’t read the magazines or want to conform to those standards, the standards are all around you. I’ve had several girls weekends or girls dinners that devolved into women talking about all the procedures they wanted to get done...and I say this with love and respect bc it’s important we don’t judge each other and if we do feel judgment, we own that as the projection it is...but my point is that even if you avoid the magazines, it’s so pervasive in my peer group I’ve found it hard to avoid the PRESSURE to look young...which is what my demographic is constantly facing with the beauty myth…(that and always being skinny but my friends seem less concerned with that than aging.)

It helps to question: Who is benefitting from this behavior that feels so bad to me? What is the lie I’m being told? 

YES! That is so important to keep asking ourselves those questions!! What is the lie I’m being told? And is there someone telling me this so that they can make money off of me?

So that leads into the next section, which is...

Amy: The Beauty Myth in Media (Magazines in the 1990’s; Social Media Now)

If we think way back to the episode on Mary Wollstonecraft, we remember her observation in 1792 - almost exactly 200 years before The Beauty Myth was written:

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilded cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. Men have various employments and pursuits which engage their attention, and give character to the opening mind; but women, confined to one, and having their thoughts constantly directed to the most insignificant part of themselves, seldom extend their views.” 

So boys and men “have various employments and pursuits which engage their attention,” meaning boys and men have goals and activities and careers, and they spend their mental energy and attention thinking about what they can do

Girls and women, on the other hand, were told by the patriarchal culture of the time, voiced explicitly by Rousseau, that they only had one thing that should engage their attention, and that was their beauty. The whole purpose of their existence was to be pleasing to men. So they learned to spend their mental energy and attention thinking about how they were perceived. Not what they could do, but how they looked to others. 

“The mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilded cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

This is one instance that we referenced earlier where you and I are coming from opposite places but landing in the same place, Vanessa. You just described how working women in the 80’s 90’s (and then yourself in the 2000’s) had all that pressure of being a working woman and being a perfect wife and mother and keeping up impossible beauty standards. For me, I was raised in an environment where Mary Wollstonecraft was still super relevant - women only did home life, and I have observed that sometimes the rest of that space gets filled with the pursuit of beauty. (sometimes the beauty of the body, the clothes, the home, etc.)

Either way, no matter where we’re coming from, this pressure to be beautiful (which men just do not have on them!!) is a total time suck, makes us sad, and keeps us from living our one “wild and precious life” to its full potential!

Wolf uses the analogy of the medieval torture device called the “Iron Maiden.” She says:

“The original Iron Maiden was a medieval German instrument of torture, a body-shaped casket painted with the limbs and features of a lovely, smiling young woman. The unlucky victim was slowly enclosed inside her; the lid fell shut to immobilize the victim, who died either of starvation or, less cruelly, of the metal spikes embedded in her interior. The modern hallucination in which women are trapped or trap themselves is similarly rigid, cruel, and euphemistically painted.” (17) 

So she is making the analogy of the body smiling and beautiful on the outside, but in a prison - or worse, dying - on the inside, while she keeps up the facade that society is telling her she has to keep up, because beauty is a woman’s power. Which again, harms our lives whether we work as full-time parents or outside the home.

Next, Wolf talks about women’s magazines, which in the 90’s was a main way that the Beauty Myth was propagated. She says that when she was researching for the book, she interviewed a young woman who said,

“I buy them as a form of self-abuse. They give me a weird mixture of anticipation and dread, a sort of stirred-up euphoria. Yes! Wow! I can be better starting from right this minute! Look at her! Look at her! But right afterward, I feel like throwing out all my clothes and everything in my refrigerator and telling my boyfriend never to call me again and blowtorching my whole life. I’m ashamed to admit that I read them every month.” (62)

Wolf talks about airbrushing magazine photos, and a “new technology” where you can doctor a photograph to look real when it’s not. But in the 90’s a regular person couldn’t alter their own pictures. Now of course, everyone alters their photos, and a large percentage of girls and women won’t post a picture unless it’s enhanced in some way.

So everything about the beauty myth is amplified by social media. Girls and women are being sold images of “beauty” that aren’t real, which make normal women feel terrible about themselves. OR, in the cases of girls and women who ARE society’s idea of ideal, they still spend an inordinate amount of time fixating on their physical appearance and using it to get approval and their self-worth is dependent on how many “likes” and “shares” they get, and they feel their value go up when it’s a lot - and down when it’s not a lot. Which is the opposite of empowerment, because their self-esteem is 100% dependent on other people’s approval. Wolf says:

“While the ‘beautiful’ woman is briefly at the apex of the system, this is, of course, far from the divine state of grace that the myth propagates. The pleasure to be had from turning oneself into a living art object… is some kind of power, when power is in short supply. But it is not much compared to the pleasure of getting back forever inside the body; the pleasure of ...shedding self-consciousness and narcissism and guilt like a chainmail gown; the pleasure of the freedom to forget all about it.” (285)

I think that phrase is powerful: Looking beautiful to others is “a kind of power, when power is in short supply”, but I think we should push back against a system in which that is our only option for power, and we need to really think about how we’re upholding and participating in that system. If I’m scrolling through Instagram and starting to feel anxious about my appearance or judging or feeling jealous of other people, it might be good to hop off and do something that makes me feel more peaceful and more happy and doesn’t contribute to this ancient, tenacious belief that women are valued mostly just for our looks.

What do you do to combat this, Vanessa?

Name it - Compare Despair - when I’m in it is always the first step. Name the cycle, then do something, anything, to get out of it. Go for a walk, put down the phone…..

Deeper inner healing work is to do a visualization with my inner child and give her the love, approval and mothering I am desperately craving when I’m feeling “not good enough”. Have a guided meditation for that if you want to try (can share link after) Share story about it (?)

Put down the phone and meditate instead, or go on a walk, call a girlfriend, do yoga….anything to come back home to yourself.

Only follow people on IG, social media who are vulnerable and messy and show their real, authentic selves. 

Surround myself with ppl who share their real, messy selves (start meetings at work with a check-in “if you really knew me, you’d know that….I couldn’t feel happy on mother’s day, etc.)


Also, I want to mention that there are lots of organizations pushing back against the beauty myth right now. Dove - the soap company - has been running a fantastic campaign since 2014 called “The Real Beauty Campaign. And one that I want to highlight, which my sister Courtney mentioned on her episode on “The Morality of Birth Control”  is “Beauty Redefined,” at more than a body.org. 

“Beauty Redefined” is run by two sisters, Lindsay and Lexie Kite, both PhDs, and the basic thesis of their project is this:  There are many campaigns out there right now that are telling all women - in all their different, diverse ways of appearing, that they are all “beautiful.” These two PhD sisters say that that’s a step in the right direction, but they say that there is more to a woman than just being beautiful. They emphasize that when we’re still fixated on how we’re being perceived - whether it’s negative or positive - we’re still trapped.Wollstonecraft would say the “mind is still shaped to its prison,” it’s still “roaming around its gilded cage.” Naomi Wolf would say we’re still buying into the beauty myth. 

Their mantra is “My body is an instrument, not an ornament,” focusing on what our bodies can do, rather than how their bodies are being perceived. And they focus on helping girls and women develop “body image resilience.” I’ve been reading everything on their website and their blog, and Courtney just gave me their book, More Than A Body: Your Body Is An Instrument, Not an Ornament, which came out this year. Dr. Lindsay Kite did a TEDX talk called “Body Positivity or Body Obsession? Learning to See More & Be More,” which I highly, highly recommend. 

**This is SO interesting Amy bc I had a similar epiphany in my own life as a college athlete. I noticed that myself and many of the women who played sports at Columbia didn’t have eating disorders and didn’t diet and somehow (miraculously!!) seemed to avoid the statistics….and I came up with my own theory at the time that it was because we were using our bodies as instruments on the field, on the court, and in the pool, so we viewed our bodies as more than instrumental. It’s one of the reasons I decided before having children that if I had a daughter, I would insist that she play a sport...any sport she wants, can be individual or team, really anything, but just SOMETHING so she could feel the usefulness of her body in motion in pursuit of something that brought her joy. Doesn’t have to be an organized “sport”, could be rock climbing or mt biking...but something where she’s moving/using her body for a purpose that she enjoys.

Amy: The beauty myth has dire consequences for women – physically, mentally and economically

The whole book is a warning of the damage that “the beauty myth” does to women. We’ll share just a few examples:

  • The Beauty Myth tells us that women’s value is only in their beauty, and women are only beautiful when they’re young. This means women only have a value for a very short part of their life, and thus their self-esteem suffers greatly as they get older.  (And the same is not true for men!!).

Women’s magazines “ignore older women or pretend they don’t exist: magazines try to avoid photographs of older women, and when they feature celebrities who are over sixty, ‘retouching artists’ conspire to ‘help’ beautiful women look more beautiful; i.e., less their age.” (82)

Wolf continues,

“By now readers have no idea what a real woman’s 60-year-old face looks like in print because it’s made to look 45. Worse, 60-year-old readers look in the mirror and think they look too old, because they’re comparing themselves to some retouched face smiling back at them from a magazine. … To airbrush age off a woman's face is to erase women’s identity, power, and history.” (83)

  • The Beauty Myth tells us that beauty equals whiteness. For me, one of the most heart-wrenching parts of the episode with my friend Suzette last week was when she talked about having her hair hot-combed to make it straight. Her mom would use a hot metal comb, which would sometimes burn her ears and her scalp, in order to make it straight like white people’s hair. And there are so many other caucasian-centric aspects of the beauty myth  - For listeners who want to learn more about this I highly recommend Toni Morisson’s book The Bluest Eye  as a start, and there’s an episode on NPR’s Code Switch called “Is Beauty in the Eyes of the Colonizer?” that addresses this is well. And just google “docolonize beauty” too.

  • The Beauty Myth tells us that in order to be sexual, we must be beautiful. This makes almost all women feel disqualified from the joy of sex (and again, men are not held to the same standard)

“Is ‘beauty’ really sex? Does a woman’s sexuality correspond to what she looks like? Does she have the right to sexual pleasure and self-esteem because she’s a person, or must she earn that right through ‘beauty’? What is female sexuality - what does it look like? Does it bear any relation to the way in which commercial images represent it? Is it something women need to buy like a product?” (273)

This divorcing of women from their sexual natures is tragic. This is one of the most pressing problems for the girls and women I know, and we will talk more about this in depth in our episode on the book Girls and Sex.


  • The Beauty Myth has enabled violence against women and women’s pain to morph in the form of cosmetic surgery and eating disorders

 “Throughout the 1980’s, as women gained power, unprecedented numbers of them sought out and submitted to the knife. Why surgery? Why now?...For as far back as women could remember, something had hurt about being female. (but when Supreme Court legalized sale of contraceptives and the Pill was widely prescribed and 1980s safe abortion was legalized...the pleasure sex gave women might finally outweigh the pain….in the new absence of female pain, the myth put beauty in its place...freedom from sexual pain left a gap in female identity)

  • The Beauty Myth suggests our culture's obsession with thinness is related to female obedience, conforming to the masculine atmosphere, weakening women’s minds as well as their bodies, negating female sexuality (“fat” is sexual), and denying women food which is representative of status and honor

“A cultural fixation on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty but an obsession about female obedience.” (187)

“The ideology of semistarvation undoes feminism; what happens to women’s bodies happens to our minds. If women’s bodies are and have always been wrong whereas men’s are right, then women are wrong and men are right. Where feminism taught women to put a higher value on ourselves, hunger teaches us how to erode our self-esteem.” (196-197)

“Girls and young women are also starving bc the women’s movement changed educational institutions and the workplace enough to make them admit women, but not yet enough to change the maleness of power itself...The pressure on them is to conform themselves to the masculine atmosphere.” (210)

  • The Beauty Myth creates a black/white framework for women between sexual or serious

“The beauty myth posited to women a false choice: which will I be, sexual or serious? We must reject that false and forced dilemma. Men’s sexuality is taken to be enhanced by their seriousness; to be at the same time a serious person and a sexual being is to be fully human…..Let’s...refuse to believe that in choosing one aspect of the self we must thereby forfeit the other.”

Amy: And that brings us to the end of our discussion, so let’s each share one quote from the book as a takeaway. What’s your quote, Vanessa?

Vanessa: “It’s true what they say about women: Women are insatiable. We are greedy. Our appetites do need to be controlled if things are to stay in place. If the world were ours too, if we believed we could get away with it, we would ask for more love, more sex, more money, more commitment to children, more food, more care. These sexual, emotional and physical demands would begin to extend to social demands: payment for care of the elderly, parental leave, childcare, etc. The force of female desire would be so great that society would truly have to reckon with what women want, in bed and in the world.”

Amy: Mine is a quote from the very beginning of the book, when she says “more women have more money and power and scope and legal recognition than we have ever had before; but in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers. (10)

This breaks my heart, and in my own life, it’s definitely true. BUT as I get older I am getting better at being kind to myself in my own internal monologue, and better about living my life without thinking about how others are perceiving me. It’s a battle, but I feel like there are encouraging signs that culture is changing, and that gives me hope!

Amy: Vanessa Loder, thank you so very, very much for joining me today. You are an incredible woman and I’m so grateful we got to spend this time together!

Vanessa: Thank you so much!!

Amy: On our next episode of Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, by philosopher Judith Butler. I have seen Butler’s name everywhere as I’ve been reading texts from the 90’s and beyond, and this book, Gender Trouble, references Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex as it asks new questions about sex and gender. This book is essential reading for women’s studies, and is also considered one of the foundational texts for queer theory, so it’s a must-read for anyone wanting an in-depth understanding of the progression of thought in gender studies. But for those listeners who want the TL;DR, as always, you can get the bullet points and hear our takeaways during the discussion of Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy. 


Quotes we didn't have time for:

(276 and onward) “While we cannot directly affect the images (in magazines, etc.) we can drain them of their power. We can turn away from them, look directly at one another, and find alternative images of beauty in a female subculture; seek out the plays, music, films that illuminate women in 3D, find the biographies of women, the women’s history [doing that with this podcast!], the heroines that in each generation are submerged from view,...we can lift ourselves and other women out of the myth - but only if we are willing to seek out and support and really look at the alternatives”…...many other suggestions follow...too many to share

I have to say, I have always hated those magazines… I never bought them, but I find my eyes drawn to them like looking at a car wreck when I’m standing in line at the grocery store. When my kids were little I would try to give them something distracting to look at while we were standing in those lines so they wouldn’t absorb the millions of micro-messages of seeing those terrible magazine covers over and over again throughout their lives. 

Wolf then goes on to talk about how the media has always reduced women to their looks: she says:

The 1848 Seneca Falls Women’s convention… provoked editorials about “unsexed women,” which insinuated that they had become activists because “they were too repulsive to find a husband… These women are entirely devoid of personal attractions.” When a supporter, Senator Lane of Kansas, presented a petition for the franchise on behalf of ‘one hundred and twenty-four beautiful, intelligent and accomplished ladies,’ another editorial protested that ‘that trick… will not do. We wager… that the ladies referred to are not ‘beautiful. ...They have hook-billed noses, crow’s feet under their sunken eyes…’ A doctor reacting to feminist agitation characterized such ‘degenerate women’ by their low voices, hirsute bodies [hirsute means hairy], and small breasts.” (67)

Makes me think of Kaitlin Jenner and how after Bruce Jenner had his operation, suddenly the press wanted to know “what are you wearing?” and she was criticized for her appearance...that was quite the wake up call for the former male olympic athlete and the immediacy with which the media moved her into the woman -> therefore fair game to focus on and criticize appearance category really surprised me. It was so swift! I had barely registered that he was now a she and I had to change my pronouns...but the media had no problem making the switch in lightning speed.

So that was during the first wave of feminism, but then 130 years later during the second wave of feminism, things were no better. Wolf writes:

Commentary dismissed feminism as “a bunch of ugly women screaming at each other on television. The New York Times quoted a traditional women’s leader saying “So many of them are just so unattractive.” (68)

And conversely, but no better, Gloria Steinem got tons of attention -both positive and negative - because she was beautiful. Wolf writes that Esquire magazine called Gloria Steinem “the intellectual’s pinup.” She says,

In drawing attention to the physical characteristics of women leaders, they can be dismissed as either too pretty or too ugly.” (69)

But ALWAYS women are scrutinized for their looks in a way that men are not. (Remember how Hillary Clinton wore the same pantsuit all the time? It was so people would listen to what she said instead of what she looked like. Men take that freedom for granted.)

So Wolf goes on to make many other points about the “mass culture” regarding women in the 90’s, which at the time was mostly in the form of magazines and television. But I feel like we have to talk about social media. In my view, social media has taken what was a dangerous fire for women and just poured gasoline all over it. For example, 

In an article in Forbes magazine in June, 2019, entitled “Neuroscience Explains Why Instagram Is So Bad For Teen Girls,” author Nicole F. Roberts presents data that by now we should all be familiar with:

– Compared to Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, it appears that Instagram leads to more comparisons between ourselves and others. This, in turn, contributes to more anxiety and depression due to feelings of inadequacy. Research suggests this is due to increased exposure to “idealized” images of other women, couples, and lives in general. Increased exposure is linked to decreased happiness with one’s own life.

– Visual sites like Instagram attract girls more than boys, who seem to prefer video games and gaming to social media. [And she says that what girls encounter on Instagram is more]...filters, makeup, lighting, angles and posing, which mean that the images consistently fed to young girls are not based in reality. But unlike a video game where the user knows the images are fake, Instagram posts blur reality and fiction.


And my second thought is connected to that one: I remembered an article in The New York Times after Jennifer Lopez and Shakira performed at halftime at the Super Bowl in February of 2020. I love the whole article - it’s hilarious - it’s called “I Feel Personally Judged by J. Lo’s Body,” by Jennifer Weiner. She writes:

“Jennifer Lopez looks amazing. At 50, she is a force of nature, a woman who looks so amazing it’s like evolution took a tiny step forward, just for her. “I can’t believe she’s 50 and looks so good!” women said. Which quickly became, “I can’t believe I’m 50 and I look so bad!” (“Aside from making me feel physically deformed, that half-time show was 100!” wrote the Sports Illustrated editor Sarah Kwak.)

Some members of my social-media community were in awe. Others — myself included — were feeling personally judged. I’m just a few months younger than J. Lo, and, with every birthday, I have asked: Is this the year it ends? Surely there’s a finish line; a point we’ll reach when the You Must Be This Hot in Order to Participate sign at the amusement park ride disappears, and we all get a seat on the roller coaster (right alongside the lumpy, balding, graying, potbellied men who’ve been riding the entire time).”


This aside is so important, and it shows again, the structure that we’re all operating within where the men make rules for women. Weiner describes it as “You Must Be This Hot in Order to Participate,” and I think it’s important for us to resist those rules and just get on the roller coaster and ride it without thinking about what we look like, no matter or sex or gender or race or class or age. We all deserve to participate!! 

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About the Podcast

Breaking Down Patriarchy
An Essential Texts Book Club
Breaking Down Patriarchy is a podcast for everyone! Learn about the creation of patriarchy and those who have challenged it as you listen to bookclub-style discussions of essential historical texts. Gain life-changing epiphanies and practical takeaways through these smart, relatable conversations.

About your host

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Amy Allebest

I grew up in Colorado as the oldest of 5 children, reading, writing, drawing, singing, and practicing the piano and violin. I attended Brigham Young University, where I met Erik Allebest during my first week of freshman year, studied abroad in Israel, lived in Chile for a year and a half as a missionary, and married Erik all before graduating with a degree in English. Erik and I moved around - to Colorado, Southern California, Utah, Spain, and Northern California - while Erik started and ran chess businesses for a living (primarily chess.com) and I stayed home to raise our four children. Those four kids have become brilliant, hilarious people and are our very best friends. I am a long-time trail runner, a recent CrossFitter, a lifelong reader and writer, and an almost-graduate of Stanford University's Master's of Liberal Arts program.