This is a repost of a book review I wrote September 21, 2015. It appears here as/is.
In February 2014, I purchased Phoebe Baker Hyde’s book, The Beauty Experiment: How I Skipped Lipstick, Ditched Fashion, Faced the World without Concealer, and Learned to Love the Real Me. I don’t remember why I bought it. I probably read an article about it and decided it would be an interesting read. I just got around to reading it and finished it the other day. I see from Hyde’s Web site that she is multi-degreed, having earned dual BAs in English and anthropology at UPENN and an MFA in creative writing from the University of California at Irvine.
In 2007, Phoebe Baker Hyde was a wife and a mother living in Hong Kong with her husband, John Liang, and their daughter, Hattie. Hyde’s husband is an accountant of Asian descent and traveled a lot to Asian countries for his job. Consequently, Hyde was left alone frequently with their daughter and felt bombarded with the idea that she should look a certain way. She should be thin, wear makeup, and designer clothes, a notion that seemed even more prevalent in hyper fashion conscious Hong Kong. She notes that when she went to a hospital to give birth, she brought along mascara for the after birth photos.
As Hyde is trained in cultural anthropology, she started thinking about how women are programmed to abide by the rules of society. She decided to embark on what she calls “The Beauty Experiment”, which basically meant that she was going to stop wearing makeup, shaving her legs, wearing jewelry, and painting her nails. She stopped having her hair cut and styled at expensive salons. Instead, she cut her hair short, like a man’s. She threw away the night cream and hair mousse, and stopped buying new clothes. Finally, she covered up the mirrors in her home. For about a year, she lived this way, chronicling her experiences until she had enough to write her book.
Looking on Amazon.com, I see that The Beauty Experiment gets mixed reviews. A lot of people gave it high marks because they were able to relate to feeling the need to be pretty all the time. Some people found Hyde’s writing funny. A couple of people were dealing with personal issues as they read the book that made it more interesting for them.
Those who didn’t like the book seemed to think that it was boring to read, Hyde was spoiled (as in, she didn’t “work” for a living), hadn’t actually learned anything, or jumped around too much. Personally, I agree with those who didn’t like the way this book jumped around. At different times, Hyde would slip into the future, after her stint in Hong Kong, and write about her life post experiment, after she’d had Orson, her second child. While I didn’t have a problem following Hyde, I did find the jumping around a bit distracting and occasionally annoying.
On the other hand, there were a few times when I caught myself marveling at Hyde’s ability to turn a phrase. She really does have a talent for writing vivid passages that, at least for me, were a pleasure to read. I happen to be a sucker for creatively written prose and I found Hyde’s writing style very appealing throughout most of the book. She frequently refers to her “inner voice”, which many of us have. She hears her voice saying things that diminish her confidence or criticize her. I think a lot of women can relate to that, especially when we stand in front of a mirror and feel ugly or fat.
For those who like facts and statistics, Hyde includes commentary on research regarding the beauty habits of women. Frankly, I could have skipped those passages because I don’t really care about charts and graphs. But I realize that some people enjoy those types of visual aids and I appreciate that Hyde took the initiative to back up her experiences with data. She also includes a reading list. I was glad to see that I’ve read a couple of the books she suggests, including Naomi Wolf’s classic, The Beauty Myth.
It took me awhile to get through this book. I mostly enjoyed it, especially since I usually don’t wear makeup unless I’m going out in public. Even then, a lot of times I’m tempted not to “put on my face”, though the inner voice usually gets the upper hand and I take a few minutes to apply makeup. The older I get, the more I feel like it doesn’t matter. I can thank Bill for that, because he loves me regardless.
Anyway, I think I can recommend Phoebe Baker Hyde’s book, The Beauty Experiment. I’m not sure if the experiment really changed her life, other than giving her something to write about, but maybe others lives will be changed by Hyde’s observations on beauty and the pressure many women feel to look a certain way. As a matter of fact, tomorrow I am having a tooth extracted. I dread the way I will look during the months before the implant goes in, even as I realize that I will be healthier without that tooth. (ETA 2021: Implant was quite a success!)
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