I’ve been reading The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf - I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s made me think a lot about the influence of media on women’s culture.
Her book was published in 1992. She has an intro written in 2002. Between that time, she says there is so much more awareness of the toxicity of beauty standards.
She goes on to say “In spite of this newly developed media literacy, however, I’ve also noticed that it is now an increasingly sexualized ideal that younger and younger girls are beginning to feel they must live up to.”
This was slightly surprising to me because I grew up in the era where girls and women were sexualizing themselves a lot. I didn’t know it was a new thing. The shows I watched when I was young were America’s Next Top Model, Keeping up with the Kardashians, Girl’s Next Door. Kim K and Paris Hilton were also becoming super popular.
What I found interesting is, she mentions that first it was advertisements on things (appliances, clothing) that women needed. And then once that started not being as big of a market, “All that was left was the body.”
“In a stunning move, an entire replacement culture was developed by naming a “problem” where it had scarcely existed before, centering it on women’s natural state, and elevating it to the existential female dilemma.”
So this is where all the dieting, beauty products, and everything was being pushed on women and girls to match an ideal body shape. And now I guess it has shifted from having an ideal body to becoming a sex symbol.
“The influence of pornography on women’s sexual sense of self - was just beginning to take hold at the time this book was first written - has now become so complete that it is almost impossible for younger women to distinguish the role pornography plays in creating their idea of how to be, look, and move in sex from their own innate sense of sexual identity.”
Why is porn, something mainly men consume, affecting women’s culture so much?
The author states how the general culture takes a male POV on what is considered news-worthy, thus the example she gives is the Super Bowl would be on the front page and childcare legislation would be buried within the paper.
She says magazines were incredibly important for women in defining their sense of culture, because there was no other space for women to come together, to feel solidarity, for a mass culture.
“Film, TV, and magazines are under pressure to compete with pornography, which is now the biggest media category.”
THIS WAS WRITTEN IN 1992. I know I read something written more recently that said there are over 3 billion porn videos uploaded per month on just one of the top porn site. Now we have the internet, we have smart phones, we have social media, porn is so normalized that people celebrate going into SW. I can't even imagine how much more pull porn has over all other forms of media.
I also watched This Changes Everything (recommend!!), a documentary, which shows the lack of female representation and female POV in media, as well the hurdles women with careers in that industry face, and how that directly impacts culture.
I'm thinking a major shift in women's media, where porn doesn't hold its influence, would help women not be gaslit into internalized misogyny. Women also need much more to be successful in functioning in society (legal rights, economic opportunities, etc.), but I feel it's been so hard to make those changes when many women don't even see the issues and just end up serving the patriarchy.