The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty

photo of The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty in a review of the book

So I’ve been thinking a lot about beauty lately.Who is beauty for, for instance? Do women care about being beautiful for ourselves, our friends, men, society? I read The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty by Amanda Filipacchi after seeing it recommended various places but was ultimately disappointed. As I said, there’s a lot to say about beauty and the role it plays in women’s lives and there’s even more to say about the performance of beauty, the way in which we (especially women) present ourselves to the world. Unfortunately this novel presents these ideas and then discusses them in a way that lacks nuance or any meaning in a larger sense. Barb is a beautiful, thin and ostensibly kind and compassionate person who decides to wear an “ugly” disguise after a friend kills himself because of his unrequited  love for Barb. Lily is an “ugly” pianist who after hearing the man she loves say that he would fall in love with anyone who could make the world beautiful through music starts to make music that makes everyday products beautiful thus becoming a marketing genius. It’s hard to take the novel seriously though when Barb’s “ugly” disguise consists of  brown contact lenses, glasses, grey hair and a fat suit. Certainly even by quite mainstream standards of beauty brown eyes and grey hair, for example, are not considered ugly. It’s even harder to take her seriously as a kind compassionate woman when she attends a class for overweight women and then declares she simply doesn’t enjoy sugar and fat. Barb is that obtuse skinny woman who doesn’t realise that many fat people work out and eat healthy and who rubs her thinness in other’s faces all the time. The problem is that the writing is without self awareness or commentary. Even though Barb is treated differently based on whether she is her natural thin self or her fat suit self, there is no insight into the way we treat women as objects that can be appreciated or not based on their appearance. Furthermore, Lily’s story could easily be made into a comment on capitalism and feminism, ie: the way we are encouraged to buy excessively in an attempt to be beautiful, but is presented at face value instead. Whether these stories are a backdrop to or an accompaniment to a murder plot is uncertain. The really frustrating thing about this book is that there is a good story in here. The combination of social commentary , magical realism and murder mystery could be brilliant if handled more skillfully or even with a bit more editing. The murder mystery appears and then seems forgotten. There are abrupt shifts in tone that leave you feeling disoriented. The worst affront of all though is that the author seems glib, as if women are so desperate for conversation on the things that affect their lives that they will take anything, even something watered down. Maybe the problem is not the book though, maybe it’s that we’re all kind of confused ourselves.

 

 

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