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I have to admit that I am a beauty history wonk. I am fascinated by the search for beauty– who invented it, how it works and how it had evolved to current practices. When I found a copy of Inventing Beauty, I could not wait to get home to curl up with a cup of tea and dive in. University libraries have academic texts and original publications, but here was a chance to add a info – packed guide to my very own bookshelf.
Teresa Riordan was the tech and patant reporter for the New York Times and thanks to several grants she was able to spend several years meticulously researching the origins of fashion and beauty developments at academic libraries in numerous institutions including Harvad, MIT, and the medical library at NIH. But with all this fire power, Inventing Beauty does not live up to its promise.
A Missed Opportunity
I was so excited to have a well researched book on beauty that I skipped the inroduction and jumped into the chapter on the development of eye make-up, a special interest of mine. While the data and diagrams were rich and extensive, there was a strange sense of disengagement. Rather than a passion for the subject, the author seemed to be mocking women for their willingness to try out new beauty products. I decided to back track and read the inroduction to get a better sense of the goals of the book.
As it turned out the author described herself as a feminist whose original premise for the book was that men had created the beauty industry and products that exploited women. Even when her years of research showed that many if not most beauty devleopments were made by women for women, she found it very hard to embrace the advances in beauty and fashion. Inventing Beauty is a strong reference guide for 19th century beauty patents, but I wish the author had more respect for the topic.