A recent article in the NY Post introduced me to a new trend taking over Hollywood and Manhattan called “Mommyrexia”. In essence this trend involves famous or rich women who starve themselves and perform dangerous levels of exercise while they are pregnant in order to stay slim (see Victoria Beckham). Obviously this is an alarming phenomena, not just for these poor women caught up in a web of social pressures that don’t allow them to step out of the restrictive corset of modern perfection for even a minute. but this is also alarming considering the tens of thousands of women and girls who consider these celebrities icons worth emulating.
For those of you unfamiliar with Naomi Wolf’s famous book called ‘The Beauty Myth’ here is a short synopsis from The Guardian: (but do make an effort to pick it up at your nearest bookstore!)
“Wolf argues that beauty is the “last, best belief system that keeps male dominance intact”. Somehow we’ve been flogged the idea that to be beautiful (which we must, or else no one will love us) we have to look a certain way: thin, youthful, smooth-skinned, small-nosed, silky-haired, etc. Hey presto: your average woman feels ugly her entire life, and old, too, for most of it. What better way of keeping her in her place?
Wolf uses the phrase “cultural conspiracy”; it’s hard to imagine exactly who the conspirators might be. Then big money makes an entrance, and it all gets nice and clear: women who feel old and ugly will buy things they do not need. An “anti-ageing” cream, say, or a blouse very little different from the blouses they already have.”
and there it is, neatly summed up. Our obsession with looking a certain way, which is sold to us on billboards and in women’s magazines, is not just restricting our sense of self worth, its motivating us to be consumers. Wolf goes on to argue that this obsession also takes up a lot of our ‘free’ time, so when we’re not working and taking care of our children and our homes, we are spending energy beautifying ourselves (which is a futile task really considering our ideal beauty is unrealistically airbrushed; see here for a short film on this issue). Wolf calls this our ‘third and fourth shift’, and claims it keeps women busy with looking pretty which means they have no time to politically organize themselves and claim their rights.
But this restrictive notion of ‘beauty’ is doing more than take up our time and money. It’s keeping us from fully owning our bodies. Make no mistake, this is not a new phenomena. As any veteran feminist will tell you, fighting to keep ‘our bodies, ourselves’ is a struggle that has been going on since the late 60’s. and yet here we are, decades later, fighting the same battle with the only ammunition we have – our common sense! Let’s hope it prevails.