x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Required reading: Gender equality

Lady Gaga launched her "Body Revolution" campaign to encourage teenage girls to have a healthy body image. She¿s got a point: why can¿t we shake the idea that, for women, super-thin equals beautiful?

Lady Gaga struck a famous blow for gender equality last week by posting pictures of herself in her underwear on her website. The images launched her "Body Revolution": a campaign to encourage teenage girls to have a healthy body image, which Gaga has taken up after newspapers wrote about her recent weight gain.

Gaga encouraged fans to "be brave … and celebrate your perceived 'flaws'". She's got a point: why can't we shake the idea that, for women, super-thin equals beautiful? Time to hit the books.

*Start with the book that launched a feminist to stardom: Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (Vintage, Dh59)is a full-frontal assault on the idea that beauty is a woman's defining value, which, Wolf argues, has dominated women's lives for centuries. Female beauty as we conceive of it, says Wolf, is a chimera, concocted by fashion and cosmetics industries who want to sell to women, men who want to control women, and other women who have fallen for it.

*We're told that beauty was not always thus. The beauties of the 19th-century, for example, were fuller of figure - back then being stick thin had not lost its association with impending death. Leaf through Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950 by Sarah Jane Downing (Shire Publications, Dh41) to judge for yourself. Victorians, says Downing, also held thin lips to be the ideal - no Botox for them.

*Meanwhile, the journalist Ian Halperin's Bad & Beautiful (Citadel, Dh71) gives an insight into the lengths, including drugs and cabbage-only diets, that today's models follow in order to be thin enough.

*And Everything About Me is Fake and I'm Perfect! (Regan, Dh53), the autobiography of former supermodel Janice Dickinson - you'd know her if you saw her - reveals the frightening results of that kind of behaviour.

*Time then, surely, to rethink beauty. Perhaps On Beauty: A History of a Western Idea (MacLehose Press, Dh118) by Italian master Umberto Eco can help.