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Review 26: The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde

14 Apr

I read this book as part of a book club I joined recently, and I believe the author is coming to our next meeting, and I’m interested to meet her in real life. The premise of this book is simple: Hyde, an expatriate living in Hong Kong with a young toddler, gives up on all makeup, beauty and fashion for a year. She cuts her hair off, tosses her lipgloss and mascara, and starts dressing in what she describes as a “mom” uniform.

Let’s start with the good in this book.  This book was actually about how Hyde was living in a foreign country, adjusting to her role as a new mother, adjusting to her life without a traditional job, and adjusting to her life with a husband who was deeply devoted to his job, and traveling extensively.  She was going through a really, really tough time in her life – and she definitely felt lost. It seemed like she felt that she had lost her identity, and she was lonely, and this experiment was a way for her to rediscover who she was (without all the trappings of beauty and makeup).

But, I didn’t enjoy this book, for a few reasons.  First, at least based on the way Phoebe described herself in the book, she wasn’t really that into beauty to begin with. She barely wore makeup, wasn’t into fashion, and basically just had long hair. So I had trouble understanding why she felt that her beauty routine was the source of her problems. This seemed like it might be a more meaningful, powerful experiment for someone who was obsessed with beauty/fashion since a young age.

And second, she didn’t really have a cohesive journey. At the end of her experiment, she was in the same place. She didn’t really seem to feel better about herself – she was still lonely, and plagued with doubt. Her thought process during the whole experiment was all over the place. She didn’t seem to know what beauty routines meant to her (or anyone else), and her problems (and her solutions to her problems) seemed unrelated to the premise of giving up her routines.

It was like she had this premise, wrote a different book, and then merged them together.

I’m at an opposite stage of my life. I’m 25, and I started teaching myself to apply makeup a month ago (thanks, YouTube and http://www.reddit.com/r/makeupaddiction).  I started to try to make myself more presentable with minimal makeup, taking care of my hair, tailoring my clothes so they fit properly, etc because I think it’s important to look presentable.  It’s like having neatly trimmed hair/beards and well fitting clothes for men – it’s a sign that you are competent, organized and powerful. Continue reading

Review 25: Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

14 Apr

A million blog posts and articles have been written about this book, that discuss the underlying issues of gender and women in the workplace, that address those issues that I ever could.  As young female at the beginning of her career, this is one of the better career advice books I’ve read. To begin, this book is not: (1) written to represent All Women (2) a memoir (3) an inside look at Facebook.

So, with that out of the way, what I liked about this book is that Sandberg did two things.  First, she acknowledged the subtle gender biases against women in the workplace, and discussed how they need to change. But then, she did something more important. She acknowledged that these are not things that change over night, or within 5 years – they’ll change over the course of 50 years. It’s difficult to implement an overnight change that alters the way both men and women are socialized to expect women to behave. So, secondly, she gives concrete examples of subtle bias women might face in the workplace, and how you can use that information to your advantage to get ahead.

Advocating for change in the workplace once you have the power is important. Sandberg herself has done it. But to get power at all, you have to work within the system you choose to work in, slowly subverting people’s expectations and using those expectations to your advantage. And if you’re interested in learning strategic tips for how to navigate a male dominated working environment (which I am), this book is extremely useful.

Book Review #43: Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

9 Jul

I don’t read very many self help books, because I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person. However, like many women my age, I’ve been fighting my own personal battles with food for many years now. There’s no magic bullet for compulsive eating, but Geneen Roth is one of the only experts who’s books really focus on binge eating, rather than anorexia or bulemia. This book is not a magic cure for your eating problems, or self esteem problems or anxiety, or loneliness, or whatever troubles you.

But it is the first book or essay I’ve read where I thought “she gets it.” She doesn’t make working through your issues sound easy like many other sources – because it’s not. She recognizes it’s exhausting and tricky and you have to be willing to spend a lot of time feeling uncomfortable things which you might not like.

And her descriptions of what it feels like to feel so powerless over your eating habits is scarily accurate. It’s a beautifully written book, and it really gets at the core of what it feels like to stress out about eating in public, or what it feels like to binge alone, or that rush when you finally break your latest ludicrous diet.  Continue reading

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