Author: Bri Lee
Published: November 5th 2019
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Literature & Feminist Theory
Rating: 4 stars
A powerful meditation on beauty and body image from the author of Eggshell Skull.
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.
‘I was drawn to the idea that the only thing I could control was myself, and the rest of the world was an unpredictable source of agony and exhilaration I must simply accept and do my best within’.
These are some of the arresting opening words offered by Bri Lee, the author of Beauty. Following on from Eggshell Skull, Beauty is an accompaniment to Eggshell Skull, but it can be read independent of its predecessor. Beauty is a book that I feel is much needed, almost vital. It opens up a discussion around the construction of beauty and body image. Relevant, timely and topical, Beauty is an essential read.
Beauty is a 150 page essay style formatted book that looks at our ideas of what lies at the heart of beauty. It is being fit and trim? It is feeling good inside? In Beauty, Bri Lee discusses body image in relation to status and wealth. She poses an important question, what is the ideal construction of beauty and body image? In this process, Bri Lee draws on her own experiences, and she ties in academic discourse around this tenuous subject matter. Within Beauty, Lee examines societal attitudes towards physical beauty standards. Lee also raises our attention to the rise in eating disorders, self-harm and mental illness in relation to punishing body image ideals. A critical examination into today’s quest for thinness, and the fact that this goal is far out of reach for so many women is considered within the pages of Beauty. The most profound realisation of Beauty is the need to reject these unattainable ideals before they diminish us.
I don’t often read or come across essay style books, but I appreciated Beauty, a 2019 Allen and Unwin publication from the acclaimed author of Eggshell Skull, Bri Lee. In the Acknowledgements section of Beauty, Bri Lee reveals that this essay was written as part of her MPhil in Creative Writing. Lee has received generous support on the way to publishing this book, which she graciously acknowledges. I feel that Beauty is a crucial and indispensable text, that should be read widely. I do hope that Beauty is circulated to both young and mature women, as well as men. It is a brief book size wise, but the brevity of the words and subject matter are profound.
I am in complete awe of Bri Lee after reading her previous book and memoir, Eggshell Skull. Beauty is a book that I feel is connected to Eggshell Skull, as some of the experiences Lee highlights in Beauty were also a part of the Eggshell Skull journey. However, Lee takes these experiences one step further and discusses the next stage of her life. The public scrutiny on her following the release of Eggshell Skull had a detrimental effect on Lee. This intense focus resulted in feelings of inadequacy in regards to body image, and it was the catalyst for Lee’s eating disorder, along with her gruelling diet routines. I could sympathise and relate to Lee a great deal. The honest, frank and often raw tone to this book holds significant emotional impact.
Beauty is a powerful book that says so much in a compact format. Each word seems to hold great weight and Lee is on point the whole way through this book. Beauty casts a critical eye on our concept or beauty, as well as society’s construction of body image ideals. Drawing in academic discourse, the influence of social media and personal experiences, Lee’s book is timely and much needed. For me personally, Beauty presented an awakening experience, it enabled me to think critically about the way I view myself, my own opinions in relation to beauty and my expectations in relation to body image. This is a difficult topic, but Lee is brave and vehement in her approach, it is breath of fresh air!
I was particularly moved by this quote from Lee in the latter stages of Beauty’s journey.
‘I am beautiful at any weight, and me beauty isn’t what defines me anyway.’
Our relationship to beauty and body image has, is, and will continue to be precarious. Beauty by Bri Lee fills in the gaps so to speak, this book well and truly launches an open discourse on these vital topics, that bears significant weight on how we function in everyday life. Beauty is stimulating and highly recommended reading for all.
Beauty by Bri Lee was published on 5th November 2019 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Beauty, Bri Lee, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Beauty is book #140 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge