The best books about beauty

Many authors have picked their favorite books about beauty and why they recommend each book.

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Here She Is

By Hilary Levey Friedman,

Book cover of Here She Is: The Complicated Reign of the Beauty Pageant in America

I’ve been watching the Miss America pageant since elementary school, when I wore a tin foil crown, a towel pinned as a cap, and stuffed my swimsuit with tennis balls for boobs. So learning the history – how suffragettes used beauty pageants as a way to get attention – was fascinating. Friedman is a sociology professor whose mom was Miss America 1970, so there is no greater expert. We get both sides here: the sparkly benefits plus a dive into the body-shaming and bulimia of the 80s when they printed measurements in the program. A Boob’s Life, covers the history of breast implants in the contest, so I quote her as a source. But I would have read it just for fun.

Here She Is

By Hilary Levey Friedman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Here She Is as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A fresh exploration of American feminist history told through the lens of the beauty pageant world.

Many predicted that pageants would disappear by the 21st century. Yet they are thriving. America’s most enduring contest, Miss America, celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2020. Why do they persist? In Here She Is, Hilary Levey Friedman reveals the surprising ways pageants have been an empowering feminist tradition. She traces the role of pageants in many of the feminist movement’s signature achievements, including bringing women into the public sphere, helping them become leaders in business and politics, providing increased educational opportunities, and giving them…

Who am I?

From Lehr’s prize-winning fiction to her viral New York Times Modern Love essay, exploring the challenges facing contemporary women has been Lehr’s life-long passion. A Boob’s Life, her first project since breast cancer treatment, continues this mission, taking all who will join her on a wildly informative, deeply personal, and utterly relatable journey.  And that’s exactly the kind of books she likes to read – the ones that make her laugh, nod in recognition, and understand a little more about life. She recommends these five books to everyone who asks.


I wrote...

A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

By Leslie Lehr,

Book cover of A Boob's Life: How America's Obsession Shaped Me--And You

What is my book about?

A Boob’s Life explores the surprising truth about women’s most popular body part with vulnerable, witty frankness and true nuggets of American culture that will resonate with everyone who has breasts – or loves them.

Author Leslie Lehr has gone from size AA to DDDDD and everything between, from puberty to motherhood, enhancement to cancer, and beyond. And she’s not alone—these are classic life stages for women. At turns funny and heartbreaking, A Boob’s Life explores both the joys and hazards inherent to living in a woman’s body. Lehr deftly blends her personal narrative with national history, starting in the 1960s with the women’s liberation movement and moving to the current feminist dialogue and what it means to be a woman. Her insightful and clever writing analyzes how America’s obsession with the female form has affected her own life’s journey and the psyche of all women today.

The Belles

By Dhonielle Clayton,

Book cover of The Belles

Don’t let the gorgeous cover fool you into thinking this story is all about beauty, though the prose and setting certainly have their share of it. I was captivated by the gray royal court where the Belles control beauty. There are no shortages of dark secrets that put them all at risk in a dangerous political game. Fun details, like miniature teacup pets, are woven seamlessly with the darker aspects of this lush world.

The Belles

By Dhonielle Clayton,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Belles as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beauty. Power. Magic. What would you give to have it all?

The dazzling New York Times instant bestseller from the author of TINY PRETTY THINGS (coming to NETFLIX soon)

Camellia and her sisters control beauty.

They are Belles and they can make you 'perfect'.

Glossy hair, smooth skin, flawless body.

You'll feel better once it's done. The results are worth the pain.

And when they fade, the Belles will fix you all over again . . .

But it will cost you.

Are you willing to pay the price?

'Heart-pounding' Samantha Shannon, New York Times bestselling author

'Diverse' Tomi Adeyemi,…

Who am I?

I started reading young adult fantasy by the likes of Tamora Pierce and Garth Nix in my teens and was instantly hooked. I stuck with it into my adult years because YA fantasy has always been full of rich worlds, complex characters, and fast-paced plots. My younger sister also loved these stories, so when she passed away at a tragically young age, it spurred me on to write my own YA fantasy in memory of her. This list includes some of my favorites—ones I know she would have loved as well.


I wrote...

Elixir Bound

By Katie L. Carroll,

Book cover of Elixir Bound

What is my book about?

Set off on an epic adventure in this award-winning YA fantasy! Katora possesses the subtle magic that marks her as the next guardian of a powerful healing Elixir. The Elixir is such a highly guarded secret that Katora doesn’t know it exists until she’s tasked with leading a quest into a dangerous forest to retrieve its magical ingredient. Will Katora bind herself to the Elixir and become its next guardian or will she abandon her family’s legacy in the name of independence?

Uglies

By Scott Westerfeld,

Book cover of Uglies

I devoured this series that turns ‘Uglies’ into ‘Pretties’ when they turn sixteen through an irrevocable operation. It is such a good metaphor for how our society is focused on looks and perfection. Where the pretty people of the world seem to have all the money and fun, and none of the responsibilities. In the books, a teenager changes the world as they know it and I believe it’s what’s happening now on Tik Tok. Where Facebook is about putting your best life forward, Instagram is about showing your prettiest aesthetics, and Twitter is about showing how smart you are, Tik Tok is all about keeping it real. Authenticity is the currency of the future!

Uglies

By Scott Westerfeld,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Uglies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Soon to be a major motion picture streaming on Netflix!

The first installment of Scott Westerfeld’s New York Times bestselling and award-winning Uglies series—a global phenomenon that started the dystopian trend.

Tally is about to turn sixteen, and she can’t wait. In just a few weeks she’ll have the operation that will turn her from a repellent ugly into a stunningly attractive pretty. And as a pretty, she’ll be catapulted into a high-tech paradise where her only job is to have fun.

But Tally’s new friend Shay isn’t sure she wants to become a pretty. When Shay runs away, Tally…

Who am I?

I’m an avid reader turned author. I’m a Canadian YA Speculative Fiction author who takes books along as I hike, cycle, and go to the beach. I love audiobooks! In the years leading up to writing my first novel, I must have read over three hundred books. My favorites were Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction. When I ran out of happy, positive, and wholesome books, I started writing them. I feel like I'm often called back to my favorites, and hope more authors will jump on the happy train! Now that the world has literally turned into a Dystopian Society, perhaps more authors will start writing about hope and change.


I wrote...

The Ancestors' Key

By Marie-Hélène Lebeault,

Book cover of The Ancestors' Key

What is my book about?

For fans of Stardust and The Golden Compass, The Evers Series brings readers on a fantastical new journey of magic and mystery. 

Fifteen-year-old Lola’s life is about to turn upside down. One minute she’s living with her mom in Baltimore and hanging out with her best friend Jane, next thing she’s receiving a mysterious skeleton key to an old Southern mansion and boatloads of money. But it all comes with unanticipated baggage, and Lola isn’t sure how she will cope with her newfound long-lost dad, an eccentric aunt, and a drop-dead gorgeous boy who keeps popping up everywhere she turns. Not to mention the magical book that seems to have materialized out of nowhere, and an ancient family secret with endless layers to uncover. 

Hunted

By Meagan Spooner,

Book cover of Hunted

Spooner incorporates a classic Russian fairy tale into her rendition of Beauty and the Beast, creating a rich narrative set in an enchanted forest, both mysterious and dangerous. Though the framework of the original tales is there, this novel does a great job redressing the mannequin (figuratively speaking) so that we get a fresh and enjoyable exploration into the duality of human nature—among other things. I loved the tenacious heroine, who’s a skilled archer and feels more at home in the woods, and it’s her desire for revenge that sparks the chain of events that follow. The author’s version of the beast goes beyond the archetypal motif of “bad guy with good heart,” and the pacing of the book allows for a more authentic delivery (and transformation) of emotion between the characters.  

Hunted

By Meagan Spooner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hunted as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

New York Times bestselling author Meagan Spooner spins a thoroughly thrilling Beauty and the Beast story for the modern age, expertly woven with spellbinding romance, intrigue, and suspense that readers won't soon be able to forget.

Beauty knows the Beast's forest in her bones-and in her blood. After all, her father is the only hunter who's ever come close to discovering its secrets.

So when her father loses his fortune and moves Yeva and her sisters out of their comfortable home among the aristocracy and back to the outskirts of town, Yeva is secretly relieved. Out in the wilderness, there's…


Who am I?

I developed an interest in classical literature while at university, folklore in particular. It’s fascinating how fairy tales originated in oral form before being written and rewritten all over the world for generations, and as such, many of them don’t have a single founding author. But each adaption generally maintains the basic plot points of the original tale, and it’s interesting to see how time, culture, and perspective affect a retelling. There’s always room for interpretation, especially when the traditional narratives often involve exhausted themes and stereotypes, and so with my latest novel, I didn’t hold back when it came to the creative possibilities of more than one fairy tale. 


I wrote...

The Girl with Many Names

By S. Knight,

Book cover of The Girl with Many Names

What is my book about?

The Girl with Many Names is a dark retelling that combines myth and fairy tale into a single chronological narrative, exposing the many faces of the once nameless villain. Born with magic in a realm intolerant of sorcery, this antihero endures ridicule and misfortune at every turn, thus muddying the line dividing justice and vengeance. As the truth of her past begins to reveal itself, she struggles to disprove the villainous reputation thrust upon her, an endeavor that threatens the restraint on her growing powers. But an obscure prophecy seems to dictate her fate, triggering a chain of events that will culminate in the ultimate confrontation with a fated adversary. 

The Business of Beauty

By Jessica P. Clark,

Book cover of The Business of Beauty: Gender and the Body in Modern London

Am starting with a tiny cheat as this book isn’t just about women – although it is about the beauty industry which is usually associated with women. What this book is -however – is an exploration about the history of beauty, consumption and gender in Victorian and Edwardian London. It is packed with stories of women beauty salon owners like Sarah “Madame” Rachel Leverson, Helen Rubinstein and Anna Ruppert. I’ve been working on a book that features Anna Rupert and Clark’s book has been an invaluable resource and a great in depth study on the subject.

The Business of Beauty

By Jessica P. Clark,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Business of Beauty as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Business of Beauty is a unique exploration of the history of beauty, consumption, and business in Victorian and Edwardian London. Illuminating national and cultural contingencies specific to London as a global metropolis, it makes an important intervention by challenging the view of those who-like their historical contemporaries-perceive the 19th and early 20th centuries as devoid of beauty praxis, let alone a commercial beauty culture.

Contrary to this perception, The Business of Beauty reveals that Victorian and Edwardian women and men developed a number of tacit strategies to transform their looks including the purchase of new goods and services from…

Who am I?

I’m a writer interested in the odd areas where science and consumerism touch – particularly where this intersects with women workers. My debut book Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium tells the history of radioactivity through the eyes of the people who made, bought, and sold products laced with radium in the 20th century. The follow-up title will explore the deadly element Uranium.


I wrote...

Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

By Lucy Jane Santos,

Book cover of Half Lives: The Unlikely History of Radium

What is my book about?

Of all the radioactive elements discovered at the end of the nineteenth century, it was radium that became the focus of both public fascination and entrepreneurial zeal. Half Lives tells the fascinating, curious, sometimes macabre story of the element through its ascendance as a desirable item - a present for a queen, a prize in a treasure hunt, a glow-in- the-dark dance costume - to its role as a supposed cure-all in everyday twentieth-century life, when medical practitioners and business people (reputable and otherwise) devised ingenious ways of commodifying the new wonder element, and enthusiastic customers welcomed their radioactive wares into their homes.

The Body Image Book for Girls

By Charlotte Markey,

Book cover of The Body Image Book for Girls: Love Yourself and Grow Up Fearless

There’s been a lot of research on how girls fall prey to diet culture, lose their self-confidence, disappear into disordered eating/eating disorders/low self-esteem at puberty. A lot of that is triggered by living in a culture that’s so messed up around food, eating, and body image. So I’m always looking for tools to give girls to help them navigate that treacherous time, and this is one of the books I like to recommend.

The Body Image Book for Girls

By Charlotte Markey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Body Image Book for Girls as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

It is worrying to think that most girls feel dissatisfied with their bodies, and that this can lead to serious problems including depression and eating disorders. Can some of those body image worries be eased? Body image expert and psychology professor Dr Charlotte Markey helps girls aged 9-15 to understand, accept, and appreciate their bodies. She provides all the facts on puberty, mental health, self-care, why diets are bad news, dealing with social media, and everything in-between. Girls will find answers to questions they always wanted to ask, the truth behind many body image myths, and real-life stories from girls…

Who am I?

I’ve been reporting on and writing about food, eating, health, and body image for the last 25 years. So much of what we’re taught about those issues, it turns out, is wrong, inaccurate, and often damaging. I’ve made a point of uncovering the truth in those areas and to write about it in ways that help other people through this difficult terrain. My writing philosophy can be summed up in six words: I write so I’m not alone. And, I would add, so you’re not alone, either.


I wrote...

Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

By Harriet Brown,

Book cover of Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight—and What We Can Do About It

What is my book about?

Over the past twenty-five years, our quest for thinness has morphed into a relentless obsession with weight and body image. In our culture, "fat" has become a four-letter word. Or, as Lance Armstrong said to the wife of a former teammate, "I called you crazy. I called you a bitch. But I never called you fat." How did we get to this place where the worst insult you can hurl at someone is "fat"? Where women and girls (and increasingly men and boys) will diet, purge, overeat, undereat, and berate themselves and others, all in the name of being thin?

Body of Truth systematically unpacks what’s been offered about ‘truth’ about weight and health.

The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister,

Book cover of The Rainbow Fish

I remember this story from when I was little. I would stroke the shiny scales with my fingers and admire the octopus in his cave. Little me couldn’t believe the fish would give away his scales! Didn’t he want to keep them all? The message about the happiness that comes with generosity was certainly one I needed to hear...repeatedly.

The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Rainbow Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning book about a beautiful fish who finds friendship and happiness when he learns to share is now available in a board book edition for the youngest child.

Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.


I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.

Fearing the Black Body

By Sabrina Strings,

Book cover of Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

This book completely changed the way I thought about diet culture and anti-fat bias. It helped me to better understand the racial origins of fatphobia and how our modern diet culture began hundreds of years ago. It is a must-read to understand how racism and colonialism impact all of our thoughts and beliefs about bodies to this day.

Fearing the Black Body

By Sabrina Strings,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Fearing the Black Body as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner, 2020 Body and Embodiment Best Publication Award, given by the American Sociological Association
Honorable Mention, 2020 Sociology of Sex and Gender Distinguished Book Award, given by the American Sociological Association
How the female body has been racialized for over two hundred years
There is an obesity epidemic in this country and poor black women are particularly stigmatized as "diseased" and a burden on the public health care system. This is only the most recent incarnation of the fear of fat black women, which Sabrina Strings shows took root more than two hundred years ago.
Strings weaves together an eye-opening…


Who am I?

I went on my first diet in high school, a reaction to panic brought on by weight gain (which was a completely normal part of puberty). That first diet led to a decade of yo-yo dieting and food and body obession. It also led me to pursue a career in nutrition and fitness. Six years ago, I came across the book Intuitive Eating, which completely changed my life. Now, as a registered dietitian, nutrition therapist, and certified intuitive eating counselor, I'm passionate about helping people reclaim the space to eat and live, unapologetically. I'm the founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness, a weight-inclusive nutrition practice that offers virtual counseling, group programs, and online trainings. 


I wrote...

Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life

By Alissa Rumsey,

Book cover of Unapologetic Eating: Make Peace with Food and Transform Your Life

What is my book about?

Everything you think you “know” about food, appearance, body size, and more, is something you were taught at some point. Unapologetic Eating walks you through unpacking and questioning everything society has taught you so that you can let go of dieting, make peace with food, and find your way back to your body, your intuition, and yourself. Using food as the entry point, the book helps you explore more about yourself, your beliefs, your values, and what you truly want out of life. You will learn how to reconnect with your body and yourself using your relationship to food as the entry point—going from trying to “fix” or change yourself to unapologetic eating and finally to unapologetic living.

Hair Story

By Ayana D. Byrd, Lori L. Tharps,

Book cover of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America

This is, to me, the “OG” of Black hair books in the last half-century. I discovered this book by accident a few years ago early one evening and ended up reading late into the night: page by page, Byrd and Tharps provide a first-rate history about natural Black hair. Learning about the hair customs of my ancestors before the onslaught of the Transatlantic Slave Trade made me proud of my curls and strengthened my resolve to continue their brilliant, necessary work on the roots of Black hair.

Hair Story

By Ayana D. Byrd, Lori L. Tharps,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hair Story as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Two world wars, the Civil Rights movement, and a Jheri curl later, the issues surrounding Black hair in America continue to linger as we enter the twenty-first century. Tying the personal to the political and the popular, Hair Story takes a chronological look at the culture behind the ever-changing state of Black hair - from fifteenth-century Africa to the present-day United States. Hair Story is the book that Black Americans can use as a benchmark for tracing a unique aspect of their history. It is celebrated as a reference guide for understanding Black hair.

Who am I?

I’m an Afro-Caribbean-American filmmaker, photographer, author, and activist from Washington, DC. After graduating from Brown University with a Bachelor of Arts in French and Francophone Studies, I began pursuing a completely different career path: social activism through art and storytelling. I capture personal stories and intimate moments centering on Black liberation, immigrant justice, and women’s rights. My work is grounded in radical love, joy, and the knowledge that a more just world is possible. My award-winning documentary DACAmented has been internationally recognized, and my book My Beautiful Black Hair has been featured in The Washington Post, Buzzfeed News, and NPR’s Strange Fruit, among others.


I wrote...

My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood

By St. Clair Detrick-Jules,

Book cover of My Beautiful Black Hair: 101 Natural Hair Stories from the Sisterhood

What is my book about?

One hundred and one Black women share their stories of learning to love their natural hair. The stories captured in the book reveal both the depth of the physical and emotional damage done to many women by relaxing their hair and trying to make it look “acceptable,” and the incredible resilience, self-love, and acceptance they gained by embracing their hair and freeing themselves from Eurocentric beauty standards.

Accompanied by beautiful and intimate photographs of each woman and dedicated to St. Clair’s little sister who was bullied for her afro, My Beautiful Black Hair is an encouraging voice for all Black women working towards self-acceptance.

The Beauty Bias

By Deborah L. Rhode,

Book cover of The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law

This book is an eye-opening, mind-boggling, data-driven analysis of just how skewed society is against those who don’t conform to the standard of pretty. The author, a Stanford law professor, takes a deep dive into how legally ingrained physical discrimination has become, drawing on pertinent examples to illustrate what could, in other hands, be dry reading.

The examples will fire you up – a Reno bartender fired for not wearing makeup, a New Jersey cocktail waitress fired for gaining a dress size, a straight-A student expelled due to a high BMI…none of whom had any legal recourse, as it stands today. The lack of legal protection for appearance bias has clear social and psychological costs, and this book is a great call to arms for change.

The Beauty Bias

By Deborah L. Rhode,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Beauty Bias as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"It hurts to be beautiful" has been a cliche for centuries. What has been far less appreciated is how much it hurts not to be beautiful. The Beauty Bias explores our cultural preoccupation with attractiveness, the costs it imposes, and the responses it demands.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but the damages associated with its absence go much deeper. Unattractive individuals are less likely to be hired and promoted, and are assumed less likely to have desirable traits, such as goodness, kindness, and honesty. Three quarters of women consider appearance important to their self image and over a third…

Who am I?

I’ve been fascinated by the way people respond to physical beauty since childhood—my teachers heaped praise on the pretty kids, reserving hard words for the less genetically blessed. This experience drove me to explore the pervasive ways in which unconscious beauty bias perpetuates injustice, and how it intersects with racism and privilege. Prison plastic surgery might sound like a punchline but for many, it was a lifeline. UK-born, I now live in San Francisco and have a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, New York. My work has been published by The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Wired, and Fast Company, among others.


I wrote...

Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons

By Zara Stone,

Book cover of Killer Looks: The Forgotten History of Plastic Surgery in Prisons

What is my book about?

In 1965, Douglas Lipton, an idealistic 28-year-old psychologist offered free plastic surgery to people incarcerated in Rikers Island. He believed the socioeconomic boost of a nose job or facelift might curb recidivism. Three years later the data was in: a 36% drop in reoffending from prisoners who’d said yes to the scalpel. 

Lipton’s study was part of a broader picture: some 500,000 prisoners across the US, the UK, and Canada, received free surgeries between 1920 and 1995, the tab picked up by the government. Killer Looks provides a deep dive into the history of prison reform through the lens of beauty and explores how physical appearance can simultaneously empower and remove agency. The intersection of appearance bias, racism, and privilege continues to impact people today.

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