Synopses & Reviews
There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.
In this fascinating, meticulously researched romp through the annals of the beauty industry, New York Times patents columnist Teresa Riordan throws back the curtain on a century of shrewd, canny women who have knowingly deployed artifice in a ceaseless battle to captivate the inherently roving eye of the male.
When it comes to the opposite sex, males from many species are easily deceived. Male fireflies will flirt with flashlights. So is it any surprise that the male of the human species has been fooled by lips painted cherry red and breasts built up into silicone summits? Riordan explores that strange intersection of science, fashion, and business where beauty is engineered and finds that, for generations, social trends and technological innovations have fueled a nonstop assembly line of potions and contraptions that women have enthusiastically put to use in the quest for feminine flawlessness.
We learn why the first lipsticks were orange. Why respectable women used the first vibrators not just for naughtiness but also to eradicate their wrinkles. Why the bustle started small but ultimately grew so impressive that a proper lady could balance an entire tea service on her rump. And why, but for mascara, Greta Garbo might have been just another chunky Swede with bad teeth.
Beauty inventions, Teresa Riordan has found, can put the resourceful and the imaginative on an even playing field with the congenitally beautiful. Countless women have pushed, pulled, tweezed, squeezed, and spackled themselves into synthetic loveliness. Inventing Beauty is a delightful history of that noble effort, from head to tail.
"New York Times technology columnist Riordan's collection of the fascinating stories behind such innovations as the bra and swivel lipstick is neither a feminist polemic against the beauty industry nor a frivolous celebration of it. While Riordan analyzes the cultural meanings of various Western feminine beauty ideals, such as hairless underarms and long, shiny nails, she devotes her most energetic descriptions to the often amusing and sometimes horrifying tales of beauty industry entrepreneurs, chemists and industrialists who experimented wildly, and at times disastrously, with such materials as vulcanized rubber, nitrocellulose and even radiation. Beginning with the eyes and ending with the 'derriere' (in an informative account of the bustle), Riordan delights in the engineering feats and happy accidents that spurred the evolution of some of the humblest objects in our bathroom cabinets. Among other tales, she recounts how hydrogenated cottonseed oil revolutionized the eyebrow pencil, how the nail polish industry borrowed from the automobile industry and how Hazel Bishop invented a kiss-proof formula for lipstick but found her product eclipsed by Revlon's shrewd advertising campaign. Riordan's meticulous research delves into an age before federal health regulations, uncovering such nasties as the phenol face peel, which required the face to be painted with three coats of carbolic acid. The combination of Riordan's brilliant style, which perfectly captures the pathos and comedy of the subject, and her relish for the minutiae of technological history makes this an irresistible and sometimes macabre treat for anyone curious about the history of everyday life. Agent, Kris Dahl for ICM. (On sale Oct. 5) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"The unguents! The madness! The vanity! Teresa Riordan blows the lid off the world of Beauty, revealing it to be twice as crazy as you thought it was." Simon Doonan, author of Wacky Chicks and columnist for the New York Observer
"Turns out lipstick, bustiers and mascara ARE a girl’s best friend and have been since Day One! Goddess Bless Teresa Riordan’s captivating and illuminating take on the riches of getting The Look down, not just our obsession with it today, but throughout herstory. You’ll want to proudly wave that lipstick around like a baton when you finish this fascinating walk down mammary lane." Marcelle Karp, co-author of The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order
"Who knew that when technology, economics, sex, and popular culture meet, we find beauty? Teresa Riordan's wickedly entertaining and extraordinarily enlightening exploration of the mechanisms behind everything from bosom-enhancers to eyebrow-waxers shows just how unnatural the most natural look truly is. It gives a whole new definition to the term 'lipstick feminist.'" Regina Barreca, author of They Used to Call Me Snow White...But I Drifted and The Penguin Book of Women’s Humor
"What a great book. A lively, original and well-researched exploration of an aspect of life—the shaping of the visible self—that is much more deeply significant than we usually recognize." Rachel Maines, author of The Technology of Orgasm
"Long before Extreme Makeover, women corseted, contorted, slathered and plucked their way to beauty with all manner of contraptions and concoctions. Teresa Riordan’s highly entertaining tale of the innovations and elixirs that worked—and the ones that were total shams—is a riotous read." A’lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker
We’ve all heard the legend of a certain Mr. Titslinger, whose clever little harness lifted the female physique to new heights. But what’s the real
story behind the invention of the bra? When did silicone injections start to make sense? And while we’re on the topic—where have all the falsies gone? Whose bright idea was it to fashion steel hoop skirts wider than the standard doorway, and what’s the deal with that mini medieval torture device known as the eyelash curler?
In this fascinating, meticulously researched romp through the annals of the beauty industry, The New York Times's columnist Teresa Riordan explores that strange intersection of science, fashion, and business where beauty is engineered. From the bustle boom to the war on wrinkles, from kissproof lipstick to surgical face-lifts, Inventing Beauty reveals how, for centuries, social trends and technological innovations have fueled a nonstop assembly line of gadgets, potions, and contraptions that women have enthusiastically deployed in the quest for feminine flawlessness.
Plumbing the depths of the U.S. Patent Office, the Max Factor archives, and the Smithsonian Institution, as well as such unorthodox sources as the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices, Riordan emerges with a compelling, at times hilarious, tale of entrepreneurism run amok. Complete with dozens of photographs, wacky patent diagrams, and too-kitsch-to-be-true vintage advertisements, Inventing Beauty is an enlightening, tongue-in-cheek tour de force.
About the Author
TERESA RIORDAN has written for The Washington Post Magazine, ABCNews.com, Worth, The Washington Monthly, The New York Times Magazine, Reuters, and People. Her column has appeared in The New York Times business section since 1993. She lives in Maryland.