A powerful meditation on beauty and body image from the author of Eggshell Skull.
You were either fit and trim or you weren’t working hard enough. Your body was how you conveyed wealth and status to your peers, it was a personality trait, a symbol of goodness and values: an ethical ideal.
In recent decades women have made momentous progress fighting the patriarchy, yet they are held to ever-stricter, more punishing physical standards. Self-worth still plummets and eating disorders are more deadly for how easily they are dismissed.
In Beauty, Bri Lee explores our obsession with thinness and asks how an intrinsically unattainable standard of physical ‘perfection’ has become so crucial to so many. What happens if you try to reach that impossible goal? Bri did try, and Beauty is what she learned from that battle: a gripping and intelligent rejection of an ideal that diminishes us all.
Written by Australian author Bri Lee, Beauty is a memoir about her relationship with her body and her perception of how she looks — the book assesses women’s perspective on the concept of ‘beauty’ and how much time we spend thinking about how we look.
This is a compact read, clocking in at just under 150 pages. Whilst the book may be short, the words inside pack a punch. Beauty prompts the reader to think about their own experiences with their body — the reader experience is not just about understanding Bri’s journey, but understanding how women are made to feel inadequate no matter how they look. At times, it feels like we’re set up to fail. We’re set up to constantly worry about how we look, and how we’re supposed to look.
“The house I rented through 2017 was the first place I had ever lived or even stayed in for an extended period of time where I had never thrown up after dinner…Was I exhibiting more, or less, self-control by resisting these urges?”
As always, Bri’s writing is impeccable. Bri only uses the necessary amount of words to convey her point, and it proves her skill as an author. She doesn’t over explain or over indulge. There is no repetition. Her vocabulary is intellectual and informed, and her research supports the messages in the book. Stylistically, the mix of memoir and statistical and factual information is smooth and easy — the transition between Bri’s story and evidential information she presents to the reader is seamless.
I know this isn’t anything to do with Bri’s writing, but the cover of the book and the overall package is marvellous — the artwork on the front and the physical size of the book compliments the inside very nicely.
“I put the book down and made a new pact with myself, this time on paper, to try harder. I listed methods, weigh-ins, tips and tricks I found online that sounded cruel enough to be effective. It was a game of the mind; a challenge for the brain that would see the body benefit.”
Admittedly, I found it surprising that Bri didn’t take the time to acknowledge her privileged position when it comes to the notion of ‘beauty’. She’s tall, lean, white, straight, and able-bodied. And mostly, her idea of ‘beauty’ revolves around thinness (there are many other elements of ‘beauty’ that different women would experience) and so this book definitely feels like it maintains quite a narrow focus.
It’s to be expected because it’s about Bri’s experiences, but I wonder if there was capacity to make this a bigger project, and have other women come on board who have struggled with different aspects of ‘beauty’, perhaps in the realm of skin, height, disability or hair.
“The next day I ate nothing but two light Cruskits and three mini pieces of sushi. When I thought about how I was surviving — still running and working and travelling — on such a small amount of food, I thought back to previous times in my life when I would eat three meals each day plus snacks, and I wondered if that was gluttonous of me, and if some shame came from that excess consumption.”
This is incredibly well-written and touching, and Bri doesn’t shy away from confronting the difficult experiences she’s had with her body. Young women, and women who have a difficult relationship with their weight, will be the perfect readership for this.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Allen & Unwin Publishers