If I subtracted a year for every new book I’ve researched that has the word “beauty” in the title, I’d be a dewy-eyed ingénue all over again. But in the end, none of the beauty books I’ve looked at recently has stood out from all the rest – they all seem to fall back on the same remedies: creams and false eyelashes, blushers and bronzers, exfoliants and concealers - and perhaps a nip and tuck here and there.
These books are part of a burgeoning industry – some market analyses suggest that the beauty market worldwide will amount to $265 billion this year.
But for those who feel they’re floundering in a sea of cosmetic flotsam, occasionally a book comes along to challenge the status quo that has been created by the marketing departments of powerhouse companies like Revlon and Estée Lauder. Back in 1991, Naomi Wolf’s book, “The Beauty Myth,” was a beacon for that generation. And now, well into this century, Renee Engeln has written “Beauty Sick.”
A psychology professor at Northwestern University, Engeln points out that our culture subjects females from an early age to a barrage of messaging with regard to the feminine ideal. She presents case studies demonstrating that obsession with appearance actually hampers many women from leading their own authentic lives.
But this is beginning to change. Engeln discusses the gradual shift away from body shaming and toward acceptance of different body types, and she suggests that a realistic way to stop objectification of bodies is to celebrate function, rather than form – “reconnecting with your body’s breathtaking range of abilities.”
Just imagine what might happen if this perspective were allowed to disrupt the beauty industry! Imagine a world where instead of expecting conformity to a static ideal, we embraced and found new ways to accommodate the multiplicities of beauty in action.
Barbara Lloyd McMichael is our ground reporter in South King County, Wash., and author of the syndicated book review column “The Bookmonger.” Her PR for People® Book Review is written exclusively for The Connector.