Beauty and Misogyny
Harmful Cultural Practices in the West
Series Editor: Jane Ussher
Routledge – 2005 – 216 pages
Series: Women and Psychology
Should western beauty practices, ranging from lipstick to labiaplasty, be included within the United Nations understandings of harmful traditional/cultural practices? By examining the role of common beauty practices in damaging the health of women, creating sexual difference, and enforcing female deference, this book argues that they should.
In the 1970s feminists criticized pervasive beauty regimes such as dieting and depilation, but some ‘new’ feminists argue that beauty practices are no longer oppressive now that women can ‘choose’ them. However, in the last two decades the brutality of western beauty practices seems to have become much more severe, requiring the breaking of skin, spilling of blood and rearrangement or amputation of body parts. Beauty and Misogyny seeks to make sense of why beauty practices are not only just as persistent, but in many ways more extreme. It examines the pervasive use of makeup, the misogyny of fashion and high-heeled shoes, and looks at the role of pornography in the creation of increasingly popular beauty practices such as breast implants, genital waxing and surgical alteration of the labia. It looks at the cosmetic surgery and body piercing/cutting industries as being forms of self-mutilation by proxy, in which the surgeons and piercers serve as proxies to harm women’s bodies, and concludes by considering how a culture of resistance to these practices can be created.
This essential work will appeal to students and teachers of feminist psychology, gender studies, cultural studies, and feminist sociology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and to anyone with an interest in feminism, women and beauty, and women’s health.
"In Jeffreys' latest book, she questions why the beauty industry is expanding, and why liberal feminists should see a virtue in women having the power to choose practices that a few years back were condemned as oppressive. The critique of beauty practices… has today all but disappeared, making way for procedures that 'break skin and spill blood'. … Jeffreys tends to see things coming before they happen. She was the one who warned, in the early 1980s, that pornography and sadomasochistic sexual practices would invade the lesbian community. They did. She predicted a global trend to call for the legalisation of prostitution. There was. … There is little, if any, feminist critique of men's cross-dressing, but in Beauty And Misogyny Jeffreys provides a unique analysis. … Jeffreys offers no comfort zone for her readers. Unlike some feminist theorists, she refuses to couch her arguments in inaccessible, academic language, or to accept that feminism has achieved its aims. For Jeffreys, the word "complicated" does not exist. The reason for women's oppression is horribly simple: men want their power and, for that reason, they will keep women in a state of subordination to maintain it." - Julie Bindel, in The Guardian, 02 July 2005
"It is refreshing to have the feminist critique of beauty practices expanded to encompass the new cosmetic surgeries, piercing, and tatooing, as well as arguing against the liberal feminist and postmodern interpretations that are accepting of them. … Taken as a whole, the book is shocking, as it includes many extreme practices of self-mutilation and cosmetic surgery that were new to me. It is also intellectually stimulating because it takes a strong position that condemns all beauty practices. … It is also persuasive, as it shows how women are the losers. … Although each woman may think she is freely choosing what she does to her own body, the pressure from male individuals and cultural institutions is powerful and hard to resist. This is a decidedly feminist interpretation that shows once more how the personal is political. … This book serves as a reminder to some of us that contemporary beauty practices are by women, but not for women. They benefit the sex industry, the plastic surgeons, and the fashion and cosmetic industries. Jeffreys's analysis will add new perspective for third-wave feminists and postfeminist women. It deserves to be widely read. Beauty & Misogyny belongs in women's studies and public health classes and on the shelves of academics, clinicians, and parents of daughters. It would benefit any woman who was considering plastic surgery or buying a new tube of lipstick." - Michele Hoffnung, in PsycCRITIQUES, June 2006
Introduction. Chapter 1. The ‘grip of culture on the body’: beauty practices as women’s agency or women’s subordination. Chapter 2. Harmful beauty practices and western culture. Chapter 3. Transfemininity: ‘Dressed’ men reveal the naked reality of male power. Chapter 4. Pornochic: prostitution constructs beauty. Chapter 5. Fashion and Misogyny. Chapter 6. Making up is hard to do. Chapter 7. Men’s foot and shoe fetishism and the disabling of women. Chapter 8. Cutting Up Women: beauty practices as self-mutilation by proxy. Conclusion: A culture of resistance
Sheila Jeffreys is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Melbourne where she teaches sexual politics, international feminist politics and lesbian and gay politics. She is the author of 5 books on the history and politics of sexuality, and has been active in feminist and lesbian feminist politics since 1973.