Naomi Wolf's 1990 book The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women is a political and sociological attack on conventional, male-centered conceptions of physical beauty. Wolf's use of the phrase "the beauty myth" is intended to argue that male conceptions of female beauty are excessively superficial and are extremely damaging to the physical and mental well-being of women. As she notes in passage of her book:
“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
Women, according to Wolf, and according to many feminists, are subject to the prejudicial preconceptions of the other gender, resulting in high rates of anxiety and depression among girls and women, as well as life-threatening diseases like bulimia and anorexia that are grounded in in misconceptions regarding beauty. Among the targets of Wolf's invective is the marketing industry, which profits greatly from the perpetuation of crude stereotypes of physical beauty, going so far as to indict the manufacturers and marketers of women's make-up products for their equation of artificial concepts of beauty with religious fulfillment, noting at one point that marketers insist that "[t]he beauty product is her [the female customer's] mediator: healer, angel or spiritual guide."
The Beauty Myth is Wolf's argument for a more rational, equitable and less prejudicial concept of beauty.