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Book Reviews: The Beauty Bias

May 30, 2010

The understanding of beauty is a bit of  an obsession of mine so when I heard about this book by Deborah L. Rhode, looking at the legal case behind beauty equality I lapped it up!  The Beauty Bias follows on from the theme set by the ever popular “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolfe, “Survival of the Prettiest” by Nancy Etcoff and recently in Australia “Getting Real” by Melinda Tankard Reist in that it exposes the gaping hole of inequality that is the Beauty Bias. So, what was it like?

The Beauty Bias Deborah L Rhode

Don’t skip the Preface!

I love  to get to know the writer and so enjoyed Deborah’s recount of her experiences with beauty and found some parallel in my own working life. As the Ernest W.McFarland Professor of Law at Stanford University with a string of highly regarded books behind her you would  think that Deborah would be allowed to wear whatever she liked – after all law is all about the mind.  However, that was not the case and an expensive comedy of hair appointments, eye-brow shaping and personal shopping preceded any high impact personal appearance. 

Beauty is persuasive and it comes at a high price.

Next stop is a historical look at beauty equality which, if like me you have recently read all-of-the-above, is a little repetitive.  We are given heaps of examples of the massive costs of beauty both from a time and financial perspective set against a feminist backdrop. While it is interesting and useful to view this body of evidence collectively the book leaves the drawing of legal conclusions a little late.

Beauty is Personal: The Personal is Political.

Deborah starts to un-pick this social bias around the feminist theme of the personal being political.  I found this to be a useful perspective to take but found the conclusions drawn left me a little hungry for more depth. I will explain.

Beauty is never ever ever going to be something that can be made equitable through law.  On a physical level some of us will fit the current culturally defined optimum naturally and some of us will attain it through hard work and sacrifice. The rest of us will either have to wait until our ‘look’ is in fashion (not practical) or look for some other means of defining self-worth due to our inconvenient genetics, our life-choices, our life un-choices (poverty, disease etc) or our ‘I have better things to do with my time’ philosophy.  If beauty was a playing field on a physical level it would not be level.

On a spiritual (in the widest sense) level  beauty is forever kind if we are willing the pay the price of time. Our individual beauty unravels and shows it’s self through any number of outlets of which perfect skin is only one.  The only problem with this beauty is that it requires work of a different type. Only towards the end of the Beauty Bias does self-esteem come into it along with a discussion about the kinds of laws that could help protect this.  But self-esteem is also something that is difficult to legalize the protection of wholly as our ‘sense of self’ is highly personal – too personal to become political and that is where I feel that this book stops.   No man is an island and so yes, legal guidance can help to foster a society that has less beauty bias but a society’s citizens will only accept (rather than tolerate)  these laws if they feel personally empowered to embrace their true beauty or true self.

So, should you read it?

Overall the book has great merit as a thought-starter as to how future ‘beauty’ law could help shape society. It reinforces the value of actively challenging the self-confidence toxins that pollute our society and were so eloquently discussed in “Getting Real”. The book also helps to fill out the personal/ political relationship thus providing a springboard into further thought and discussion. However I would have liked to dig a little deeper than this book allows. For example, making it law that fast food joints display the number of calories consumed per serve has been shown to help a few people move their choices towards healthier options BUT that only works if people correlate calories with self-esteem and having a purpose in life. Most people stop way short of that and just think ‘a minute on the lips a lifetime on the hips’ and decide not too this time so that they can wear those skinny jeans.

Appearance is unjust in as much as however much we try to change it physically we have our biological and chronological limitations.  I believe that the best way out of this beauty prison is to get a cake, carve it into at least four equal pieces and only ever see physical beauty as one slice.  How we work on the other three is up for debate but talking and thinking all help!

Have fun and let me know what you think.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2010 8:18 pm

    Fantastic write up. I absolutely agree that one’s appearance can have an effect in the workplace. However, the display of a woman’s (or man’s for that matter) physical assets are completely affected by their self-esteem. We’ve all known people who are objectively not physically beautiful yet their strong self-worth (not to be confused with arrogance) and charisma make them “attractive” people. Additionally, there are many “good looking” people who are sullen and round shouldered and thus get a different response in the world. I love your 4 pieces of cake exercise. I’ll do it as long as I can manage not to eat all 4 pieces! Thanks for the write up. M’lou Arnett

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      May 30, 2010 8:26 pm

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. Appearance and self-esteem are really complex issues so talking and writing about it is essential. I hope that one day we all feel beautiful in our skin. Have a great night!

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