Naomi Wolf is an influential feminist and is considered a founder of third-wave feminism. Wolf was born in San Francisco and attended Yale University, earning a bachelor of arts degree in English literature (1984); she then spent a term as a Rhodes scholar at Oxford (1985 to 1987). She garnered international acclaim in 1991 with the publication of The Beauty Myth, now considered a classic work of American feminism.
In The Beauty Myth, Wolf argued that the goals of the women’s movement were co-opted by the beauty and fashion industry. Wolf contended that when women made advances in science, economics, and politics, they threatened the Western social order that positioned women as lesser beings. The result was the creation of the beauty myth that maintained women’s oppression by imprisoning them in an unrealistic and unattainable body of flawless beauty. According to Wolf, the beauty myth was a socially constructed system that physically and psychologically punished women for their inability to maintain this beauty standard. Through the beauty myth, the patriarchal system replicated its own hegemony by creating beauty-based norms in several aspects of women’s lives: work, sex, violence, hunger, and religion. Wolf ’s work also provided numerous statistics demonstrating the danger of the beauty myth, as well as a historical overview of the beauty myth and its origins. The Beauty Myth was a call to dismantle the beauty myth by refusing to follow its impossible standards. “What I support in this book, “ Wolf wrote in the 10th anniversary edition, “is a woman’s right to choose what she wants to look like and what she wants to be, rather than observing what market forces and a multibillion dollar advertising industry dictate” (2).
Wolf followed The Beauty Myth with Fire with Fire, a book considered the first publication of third-wave feminism. Fire with Fire presented Wolf ’s argument that feminism in the 1960s and 1970s hinged on a victim mentality, and it advised women of the 1990s to embrace their will to power by taking control over media representations of women. Wolf continued to build her reputation as a leading feminist scholar and activist with Promiscuities (1998), which argued that stories of female adolescent sexuality were suppressed by patriarchy. In Promiscuities, Wolf encouraged women to regain authority over their own sexuality. Wolf also became heavily involved in American mainstream politics in the late 1990s. She served as an advisor to President Bill Clinton during his 1996 reelection campaign and worked on Al Gore’s bid for the presidency in 2000. Wolf continued to write as well: Misconceptions (2001) advocated a return to midwifery, and her most recent books, The End of America (2007) and Give Me Liberty (2008) are handbooks for political change. Wolf continues to be an influential and controversial voice of American feminism, with regularly published essays and a blog on www.huffingtonpost.com. Her greatest contribution to date, however, is The Beauty Myth, which remains one of the most influential treatises on the beauty industry ever written.