Tuesday, March 23, 2010

If Only I Were a Supermodel. Or: Thank God for Airbrushes, Diet Pills, & Voyeurism

A decade before the Gore campaign hired her as an image consultant for the vice president’s presidential bid in 2000, the feminist Naomi Wolf published a thought-provoking book entitled The Beauty Myth. She argued that antifeminist conservatives constructed the ideal of feminine beauty as a means to keep women in a submissive status. The diet, cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, and pornography industries provided the market forces to aid conservative ideologues in mounting a “counteroffensive against women.” “A woman’s appearance is more often called to her attention for a political reason,” she wrote, “than as a constituent of genuine attraction and desire.” Since The Feminine Mystique, women had been liberating themselves from the home and were able to see through the postwar propaganda designed to domesticate them and turn them into mindless consumers. But now the final frontier: women’s bodies, or rather, women’s perceptions of their physical appearance, became the new target of antifeminist social engineers. If we can get women to focus more on their weight, wrinkles and wardrobe, the thinking went, we can manipulate women’s apprehension about their newfound independence in the workplace and at the same time boost the economy. Consequently, plastic surgery, breast implants, eating disorders, overtly sexual advertisements, pornography, and the incessant parade of new diet plans contribute significantly to our cultural landscape.