A young feminist finds herself questioning why "hotness" has become necessary for female empowerment--and looks for alternatives.
Looking good feels good. And in an age in which seemingly everything women do is subject to "calling out," it's tempting to believe that any choice a woman makes, by virtue of being made by a female, is "feminist."
But in a society where looking good is posited as being strong, while negotiating for better pay is statistically proven to damage our careers, is it fair to say that wicked eyeliner, weekly blowouts, and a polished Instagram feed are the keys to our liberation? If so--if "hot" really is a good enough synonym for "empowered"-- why do so many of us feel, deep in our bones, that the sexy-as-strong model is a distraction? Is "pretty" still the closest to power women can get? And if not, can we finally leave behind our obsession with beauty? Why is looking fierce an acceptable substitute for living in a world where women are safe?
Inspired in seminary by American Muslimahs who wear the hijab for feminist reasons, Lauren Shields took off what she calls the Beauty Suit--the "done" hair, the tasteful and carefully applied makeup, the tight clothes and foot-binding shoes--for nine months. She'd really only wanted to do an experiment. Instead, her life--especially her views on what constitutes "liberation"--changed forever.
Rooted in feminist theory and religious history, and guided by a snappy personal narrative, The Beauty Suit unpacks modern American womanhood: a landscape where the female body is still so often the battleground for male ideals, and where we struggle with our rights as human beings to define and exercise our freedom. Exploring what religious traditions and secular culture say about how a woman should dress, look, and, by extension, be, Shields investigates the modesty practices of Islam, Judaism, and Christianity with humor and an eye to separating the facts from the propaganda, and drags runaway consumerism under her microscope in the process.
With a voice echoing the amusing and confessional tone of authors like Lena Dunham and Caitlin Moran, Shields spins the messiness of her journey into a narrative that will resonate deeply in the hearts of modern women as we notice the widening gap between how liberated we're told we are and our actual lived experiences. The Beauty Suit takes us on Shields' own quest to discover what she should be, navigating the contradictions both of our age and of religious traditions, and exploring the difference between power bestowed and power possessed.