GUESS Jeans ads now pose what look like nine-year-olds in provocative settings. And the latest fashions for seven- and eight year-olds re-create the outfits of pop stars who dress like sex workers. Is this progress? I doubt it. Any number of high school and college projects I have seen—ranging from a CD about “looking perfect” to a senior thesis about the African American beauty myth as it relates to hair—have analyzed media images of women and have taken apart ideals.
Even pop culture has responded to women’s concerns: take the TLC music video for the song “Unpretty,” for example, which shows a woman tempted to have breast surgery simply to please the demands of a boyfriend but who then decides against it. Yet while The Beauty Myth has definitely empowered many girls and women easily to critique mass culture’s ideals, there are many ways in which that one step forward has been tempered by various steps back.
When this book was first written, in 1991, silicone breast implants were routinely inserted into women’s bodies, and pornography was influencing popular culture in such a way that women were newly anxious about the size and shape of their breasts. If it seems odd that an anxiety, such as one about breast shape, for example, can arise and flourish among millions of women at once, think about how powerful sexual imagery is.