Monday, November 12, 2012

Beauty and Other Myths

Today is the birthday of Naomi Wolf, who turns 50.  I don't really see how that can be possible, since she's just a few years older than I am, and I'm only 27.

Oh, wait, I was only 27, when Wolf's first book, The Beauty Myth, came out.  She came to the University of South Carolina to do a reading, and some of us went to see her.  After the reading, she was so gracious as she chatted with us.  I was deep in dissertation revisions, and she rolled her eyes and said something about needing to get back to her dissertation.  Was she enrolled in grad school?  I assumed that she was, but if so, it's not mentioned now.  Still, at the time, it gave me an odd comfort.

When The Beauty Myth came out, I was in the throes of all kinds of self-loathing.  I'd never worked on such a big project as my dissertation.  Now, the revisions and the having to please various committee members would not freak me out as much as they did then.  Then I worried I was caught in a cycle I'd never be allowed to leave.

It was also 1992, during one of the more brutal recessions, when I was on the job market and fretting that I wouldn't find anything.

When I'm stressed, I eat, and so I had packed on some weight during my dissertation writing process.  I was depressed about that.

Naomi Wolf's book couldn't have come at a better time, although it didn't magically fix my mental woes.  Still it was a comfort to read, "You do not win by struggling to the top of a caste system, you win by refusing to be trapped within one at all.  The woman wins who calls herself beautiful and challenges the world to change to truly see her" (p. 290).

I dug out my copy of The Beauty Myth, and there's her autograph.  And there's a flyer about the events the University sponsored for Women's History Month.  How I miss that university culture!  When I think about all the interesting thinkers and entertainers who came through Columbia, South Carolina when I was in grad school.  And I got to see them for free or for a few dollars.

I will not be reading Naomi Wolf's latest book, although I will continue to wish her well.  My reading time is much more constrained, so reading a treatise, feminist or otherwise, about vaginas is not on my agenda right now--although if I found the book in the public library, I might check it out and give it a scan.

And knowing the writing skill that Naomi Wolf has always exhibited, I imagine I'd end up spending the afternoon in deep reading.  And that experience would make me happy.

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