Jeffreys leads the popularisation of beauty practices back to the spread of pornography since the “sexual revolution” and its influence on the fashion industry and popular culture. Jeffrey has long argued that the sexual revolution has done little to benefit women, but that its main beneficiary has been the international sex industry. The sex industry has played a key role in propagating the societal expectation that women should undergo beauty practices: “The women in pornography have their bodies transformed to suit the fetishistic interests of the male consumers. They have breast implants, as well as other forms of cosmetic surgery, Brazilian waxing and labiaplasty.”
One of the beauty practices that Jeffreys discusses in detail is the wearing of high heel shoes. High heels are completely impractical as footwear, since they cause pain, and can lead to injury and permanent deformity. That they nonetheless continue to be worn requires an explanation. The answer that Jeffreys gives us is that they cater to men’s foot and shoe fetishes. In Woman Hating Andrea Dworkin, one of the few feminist writers providing extensive analysis on beauty practices before Jeffreys, compares high heels to the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding. For a time period of a thousand years, a significant number of women and girls in China had their feet crippled in a painful practice known as “binding” to fit the dominant beauty ideal. Men’s worship of the crippled feet was cult-like, with myths being perpetuated about foot-binding impacting the woman’s vagina, which supposedly increased the sexual pleasure of men during intercourse. The practice became less prevalent during the early 20th century due to the work of feminist campaigners and was outlawed and eradicated immediately after the Chinese Revolution.
Beauty and Misogyny remains the most complete discussion of how western beauty practices harm women. By adopting the framework of harmful cultural practices, Jeffreys avoids the faults of many liberal approaches to feminism that advocate for neoliberal notions of consumer choice over the liberation of women from subordination. Other interesting reads on the topic are Evelyn Reed’s The Woman Question and the Marxist Method in Cosmetics, Fashions and the Exploitation of Women and Andrea Dworkin’s classic Woman Hating.