The beauty myth


Abeautymyth review about Naomi Wolf’s The beauty miyth. How images of women are used against women. A touch of Italian experience.


Please, don’t cover my wrinkes!

It takes a life to have them…

Actress Anna Magnani



A few days ago I went to the chemist’s. I couldn’t find the medicine I was looking for (this too is story we should speak about… ), so I had to visit several shops before coming home with my pills. Anyway, there was something remote I couldn’t fully grasp and I didn’t immediately realize why I was feeling uneasy. Then chemist’s after chemist’s I began bringing things into focus. I had entered different shops but there was always a blue plastic poster standing on the counter, an advertisement for an anti-wrinkle cream (you can see the picture down here, just imagine it much bigger and glossy). Nothing strange, there is the common never-to-be-seen-in-reality Photoshop Woman with a wonderful smile and minuscule sweet wrinkles around her eyes (just to tell you: “Hey, she’s not fake… she’s a human being like you!” Ha ha ha.)

The text in Italian sounds like this:

Say NO to the wrinkles!

Say NO to a sad expression!

Say YES to expressive looks!


Italian ad for Vichy Lifactiv Refiller

I then decided to examine the disturbing – and yet apparently innocuous – element. I turned my head while standing in the queue and then READ the text, a thing all of us customers should do more often. I immediately felt the offence, even if I realised it was really subtle. How could I have an expressive face without wrinkles? Why should I discredit a sad expression? Why should I identify wrinkles with sadness? And even if I did, why should I consider sadness less expressive than happiness? But above all why was Vichy suggesting me how to evaluate other human beings? Wasn’t it a subtle psicological and social pressure? (If society says “sad = bad”, then I must buy the cream to be socially accepted).

So I went home and surfed the net. I wanted to know if it was an Italian advertisement or if Vichy had also directed the message to other European women. I ended up frustrated. I couldn’t find anything similar in English, even if I found a light version of the insult (“SI a un rostro expresivo!“) in the Spanish version. Perhaps my British friends (like Lena’s Ink Cage) can tell me if “British Wrinkles = British Sadness” or if in Great Britain Vichy simply speaks of “vertical wrinkles” and the equation above is a privilege reserved to Italian women.

Coming home by bicycle (the wind caressing my slightly wrinkled and very expressive face), I thought of a wonderful book I read last year. It is The beauty myth by Naomi Wolf. She is now a famous writer because in 2013 she wrote this essay titled Vagina (yes, a sober title… ). I loved it and will write a review sooner or later.

However, what I wanted to say here is that thanks to Vagina I came to know a more interesting book Naomi wrote when was only thirty, The beauty myth. If your blood pressure permits it, you should read it. It analyses in detail how women’s images are used against women. Above all it explains the way this mechanism of controlling women has been functioning all over the world since the Fifties. It strongly convinced me that we have become too condescending with the psicological manipulation of industry. We are loosing poetry, love, and dialogue between the genres. Besides, I realized it was not that sort of feminism which ends in “–ism” and in being more rigid than male chauvinism itself.

But instead of describing the book, I wish to give you a different piece of information, something you won’t find anywhere. After reading Vagina I went to the bookshop and asked for The beauty myth. “Sorry”, answered the young lobotomized bookseller, “but it is out of stock”. “Out of stock??” I couldn’t believe it. “Yes, there’s no way to order it. I don’t think they’ll print it again”. I then went home and surfed the net. Do they really wanted me to believe that The Beauty Myth (one of the most famous feminist essays like The Feminine Mystique  by Betty Friedan!) – simply had no market? Don’t you keep them in the bookshop as well? So The beauty myth was available in English but the Italian translation had been published by Mondadori (like Vagina!), which means Berlusconi and Sons if you are not accustomed to Italan lobbies. So… was it possible that Mondadori (read Berlusconi) had bought the book just to get rid of it?! It was out of stock even if Vagina was in the bookshops, that is to say they could have sell dozens of both books in an afternoon… Indeed it was strange and perhaps you’re wondering if Mondadori has decided to re-print The beauty myth. Of course not.

Now you surely understand what it means. Firstly, Italy is a place where women shouldn’t read The beauty myth. Monetary and socially speaking, it’s far more convenient to sell women cosmetics and to keep them in a job-and-everyday-life system that humiliates them. It’s far more convenient to put them under a strong psycological pressure than to give them an instrument for intellectual rebellion. Secondly, The beauty myth is not an essay written by mustached desperate feminists, and that’s no good. It is a book that clearly correlates the different periods of the last century with the evolution of capitalism and the position of woman inside society. We will be able to read it when the world will have changed again, when the beauty myth will (like the feminine mystique before) have given space to another new concept. Thirdly, I have just told you that The beauty myth bothers capitalistic dictators… thus dont’ ask me more. It is worth reading.

Post-scriptum. I don’t wish you to have a distorted idea of Italy. Too often I come across absurd and presumptuos points of view about my country. For instance, a squalid international case had recently aroused a wave of racism against Italy which I honestly find shameful and unjustified. I understand this is due to scientific – and well-paid – misinformation.

Anyway, what I have written here is true and I wish you to accept it alone, without any other redundance. No doubt, Italian women really HAVE a big problem. Moreover, when we want to face it… we can’t buy The beauty myth in Italian and thus have to photocopy it from a library! And with regard to the book, my personal opinion is that it is hard to find because it bothers a person who has been shaping Italian recent history for twenty years, just following his financial and then judiciary interests. This is not so exquisitely Italian as you could suppose. It is just one peak of a globalization-and-finance iceberg that concerns us all. This mechanism has a branch which would prefer that women don’t read The beauty myth, in Italy and everywhere.

4 thoughts on “The beauty myth

  1. Uh, I still have to read Vagina. It’s one of those I can’t find in the library (always out for loan).

    In England is not a matter of sadness, though a matter of aging. Here everyone is so afraid of getting old that they’re advertising any kind of cosmetic as the source of the fountain of youth.

    Message: look younger or die trying.
    I guess Lana Del Rey hit the bull’s eye when she sang “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”.

    • But… Lana Del Rey starts from a good basis!!

      Anyway, if you have a stroll in the gigantic chemist’s I saw last month, please have a look at this advertisement. I’m sure that companies pychologically attack people in ways that are tailored on their needs, their weakness, thier country. You perfectly know Italy and can make a comparison. We are like the others but obviously in our Italian way. I am 99% sure English advertisments speak of “vertical wrinkles” and not of “sadness” and other emotional, Italian stuff. You know, no one in the world has a word so important: VELINA…

  2. I live in the United States and love reading your perspective and appreciate your sharing the difficulties you had getting a hold of this book. It compelled me to add this to my ‘To Read Shelf.’ I keep wondering and wishing we could go back to a time when grey hair and wrinkles were a sign of wisdom and that we did something right in life to get to be able to become old. -That being said I love my little luxuries and don’t want to give them up …still…you made it clear our focus and societal desires are out of sync with what we need. Thank you for the post.

    • Thank you very much Stephanie for your lovely comment. I am really happy that you’ve added “The Beauty Myth” to your to-read list.
      I have to say that while Vagina is wonderfully written, The beauty myth is a little less fluid. Wolf was 29 when she wrote it and it clearly is a degree thesis (or a PhD, I can’t remember exactly), while Vagina is the captivating work of a mature writer and journalist. You can’t put it down until you have finished it!
      However, I read The myth in a few days and was shocked by its clearness and lucidity. It has been difficult to concentrate here the different discourses I had in mind. It really is a book that gives you something, so I’m happy you are going to read it.

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