‘Face Value: The Hidden Ways Beauty Shapes Women’s Lives’ is a non-fiction book by Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, an employee of the beauty mag business, and is published by Simon & Schuster. It is a feminist exploration into how women’s lives are often shaped by the beauty industry, and how this ties into society’s expectations of beauty.
It is majorly based upon personal interviews, and, as the book goes on, critiques of scientific experiments. I found this multi-faceted approach quite refreshing – at the beginning of the book, I was worried that it would solely rely upon individual experiences. While these are interesting, the reasons for people’s individual experiences often go unexamined, which, for me, leads to a rather shallow exploration of the topic. While Whitefield-Madrano sometimes falls into this trap, on the whole she brings a variety of views to the table, which I greatly enjoyed.
She really comes into her own when she delves into her past in the beauty industry. The chapter about Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign was, for me, the most innovative in the entire book.
While I had heard various criticisms of the campaign (such as the fact that all the women pictured seem to be physically abled, and do not, actually, vary that much in body size), I had not ever considered the campaign from a marketing or business point-of-view. I cannot possibly summarise the variety of extremely interesting points that Whitefield-Madrano makes – let’s just say, I’ve got some new problems with the beauty industry that I need to work out for myself. That’s the sign of a good feminist book to me – when I have to completely re-evaluate my thoughts and feelings.
I do have a few criticisms: early in the book, Whitefield-Madrano claims that she has taken every opportunity to make it as diverse as possible. While there are some interesting thoughts about queer women, I found it pretty lacking in other areas of diversity. It would have been fascinating to hear the experiences and thoughts of non able-bodied women, or have a small exploration into different iterations of beauty, such as tattoos, piercings, or scarification. This didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book, but made me wonder what areas of ‘beauty’ are still considered too outside of the norm to be included in books like this.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Face Value’, and would highly recommend it for younger feminists, no matter whether they are interested or not in the ‘beauty’ industry. It has enough to say on all fronts to allow it to be a staple feminist read.
‘Face Value’ will be published 21 June 2016.