So the beauty myth sets it up this way: A high rating as an art object is the most valuable tribute a woman can exact from her lover. If he appreciates her face and body because it is hers, that is next to worthless. It is very neat: The myth contrives to make women offend men by scrutinizing honest appreciation when they give it; it can make men offend women merely by giving them honest appreciation. It can manage to contaminate the sentence “You’re beautiful,” which is next to “I love you” in expressing a bond of regard between a woman and a man. A man cannot tell a woman that he loves to look at her without risking making her unhappy. If he never tells her, she is destined to be unhappy. And the “luckiest” woman of all, told she is loved because she’s “beautiful,” is often tormented because she lacks the security of being desired because she looks like who she lovably is.
This futile bickering goes far deeper than simply to show that women are insecure. It is not insecurity speaking the woman’s lines but – if she does have self-respect – hostility: Why should her lover, just because he is male, be in a position to judge her against other women? Why must she need to know her position and hate needing to, and hate knowing? Why should his reply have such exaggerated power? And it does. He does not know that what he says will affect the way she feels when they next make love. She is angry for a number of good reasons that may have nothing to do with this particular man’s intentions. The exchange reminds her that, in spite of a whole fabric of carefully woven equalities, they are not equal in this way that is so crucial that its snagged thread unravels the rest.
– Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth