Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful by Teresa Riordan

“There are no ugly women, just lazy ones.” – Helena Rubenstein

In the battle of the sexes, women have employed any number of potions and contraptions to catch the eye and win the hand. From corsets and crinolines to lipstick and hair dye, shrewd and canny women (and sometimes men) have used every means at their disposal in the quest for feminine flawlessness.

New York Times columnist Teresa Riodran delves in to the history of many of these incredible inventions. She explores that strange yet interesting intersection of fashion, business, and science. Where social trends often fueled technological innovations. And where beauty inventions have sought to put the imaginative and resourceful woman on an even playing field with the conventionally beautiful.

As a woman rapidly approaching 40 (kicking and screaming), I have found the subject of beauty and self care more and more interesting over the years. As something of a history buff, the history behind the subject is equally fascinating. To find a book that combines the two made for me a delightful read.

What could easily have been something dry and boring is instead made quite interesting with Riordan’s well researched and often amusing writing. It is obvious she finds the subject of beauty and the history behind it fascinating and she brings that to her writing. Each chapter is devoted to one aspect of appearance that women have focused on; hair, skin, nails, etc. Chapters are even devoted to the bust and the behind!

I found Inventing Beauty to be an informative read. While she concentrated on mainly the American/English aspect of beauty inventions and focused on a mere 100 years, it is a well thought out and well executed tome. I would love to read more on the subject going back further and potentially focusing on other cultures, but that will likely be another book at another time.

This is not the book for every reader as not every person finds the history of beauty interesting. Those who do (like myself) would do well to pick this book up and give it a read. It casts new light on what we women have done in the name of style and shows how primping and preening never really go out of fashion.

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