The Beauty Myth

‘The Second Shift’ has persisted through the several decades that women have been working outside the home in large numbers.

It’s the name authors Arlie Russell Hochschild and Anne Machung gave to the phenomenon of working women coming home and doing another whole shift of house-based work. Also known as the double burden, the problem is the remarkably persistent findings around the world that women spend significantly more time working than men do, if you add the paid and unpaid work together.

To follow up yesterday’s post on the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, I thought I’d just mention the idea of ‘The Third Shift’ briefly.

Building on the work of Hochschild and Machung, Naomi Wolf described the Third Shift, the time, on top of paid work and home care, that society expects women to spend on making themselves ‘beautiful.’

In The Beauty Myth, Wolf finds that women are under more pressure about their appearance than in earlier times:

The more legal and material hindrances women have broken through, the more strictly and heavily and cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us… [D]uring the past decade, women breached the power structure; meanwhile, eating disorders rose exponentially and cosmetic surgery became the fastest-growing specialty… [P]ornography became the main media category, ahead of legitimate films and records combined, and thirty-three thousand American women told researchers that they would rather lose ten to fifteen pounds than achieve any other goal…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.

If you haven’t read The Beauty Myth, or perhaps even if you have, check out Jennifer Armstrong’s change the world cheat sheet, summarising Wolf’s ideas for action. Read the book if you want to – I definitely recommend it – but if that’s not likely to happen anytime soon, the article will be a great start :).

Here are some of the ideas from the summary to kick off:

4. We need to stop, as Wolf says, “debating the symptoms more passionately than the disease.” (Most of us in the feminist blogosphere are guilty of some version of this at some time.) “The real issue has nothing to do with whether women wear makeup or don’t, gain weight or lose it, have surgery or shun it, dress up or down, make our clothing and faces and bodies into works of art or ignore adornment altogether. The real problem is our lack of choice.” Here’s what that means to me: We need to stop being complicit in making beauty compulsory for all women. We need to stop judging all other women’s looks, forever, period. I can think of no reasonable exception to this rule.

5. We need to figure out how to give ourselves, and all women, a strong sense of identity that has nothing to do with our physical appearance. We must embrace the idea that all of us can be sexual and serious. One does not preclude the other.

6. We must ignore anyone who tells us we’re not beautiful as a reflex reaction to not liking what we’re saying. That means you, Internet trolls. We need to speak up against anyone who uses what women look like, wear, or weigh to discredit what they’re saying.

7. We need to tell others about the destructive powers of the Beauty Myth.

8. “Let us refuse forever to blame ourselves and other women for what it, in its great strength, has tried to do.”

9. We must tell our stories. The Internet is great for this.

10. We must try to resist the idea that we must “age youthfully,” that we must embrace the seductive idea that 40 is the new 20, or whatever. I personally don’t want 40 to be the new 20 — that sounds exhausting to me. I want very badly to be cool with my wrinkles and gray hairs. I think older women are beautiful; I really do. I hope I can remember that as I get older and inevitably freak out.

[Read more at the Huffington Post]

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0 comments on “The Beauty Myth”

    • not a wild hera Reply


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  1. Spaghetti Reply

    Have just read the Skirt article and am not sure what to make of it. I work in a job that sometimes involves crawling under desks (cabling!) so wearing a skirt just isn’t practical in my job. I’ve never found that this (wearing only trousers) has stopped people treating me with respect or being able to relate to me. (I do still make an effort to dress nicely by wearing more feminine tops). Maybe I’m just lucky, though possibly if I was a lawyer or executive, things would be different. I also am happy in what I do so don’t have great ambitions to ‘succeed’ so hence, maybe have less need to power dress.

    I also don’t generally wear make-up. I was lucky enough to have a mother who also didn’t wear make-up. Though she certainly didn’t discourage us from wearing it, it gave me a role-model of someone who could be confident in herself without feeling the need to ‘make herself more beautiful’. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a woman wanting to look her best, and make-up can certainly give you confidence. But there is a freedom in going au-natural and knowing you still look ok. I am now over the 40 mark and must confess though that I recently purchased my first anti-wrinkle cream – however I’ve only used it once as it didnt feel right on my skin. Maybe there’s a lesson for me. It will be interesting to see how my thoughts on this change as I do get older, though hopefully I can follow my mothers example and stay ‘natural’.

  2. Jody Kilpatrick Reply

    Let the record show that I do not work a third shift! The first two are plenty enough for me 🙂

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