3 Beauty-Related Books for a Little End-of-Summer Intrigue

Two novels and a biography, because late August is not the time for books with footnotes.
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Two novels and a biography, because late August is not the time for books with footnotes.

By the end of summer, I’ve given up on beauty. My arms are tanned three different colors, I’m sick of all my clothes, and I’m tired of messing around with sunscreens. Frankly, it’s time to give up and appreciate the idea of beauty, not the practice.

Here are three beauty books to inspire you during the late-summer doldrums. Read them and let the ideas slosh around your mind as you wait for fall’s bounty of cooler weather and statement makeup. I’ve kept it fairly light, with two novels and a celebrity biography )because August is not the time for books with footnotes).

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

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“She didn’t want to be a beauty queen, but as luck would have it, she was about to become one.”

So starts Funny Girl, Nick Hornby’s new novel set in 1960s Britain. Barbara is about to win the title of Miss Blackpool. Her beauty promises her a comfortable life in her hometown, but Barbara has bigger ambitions. She wants to be a comic star, like Lucille Ball. She turns down the Miss Blackpool crown and escapes to London to pursues her dream of television stardom.

On the surface, Funny Girl is similar to Mad Men: a ‘60s workplace drama set in a cool, creative industry. But Hornby’s storytelling style is warmer (and easier to follow). His ensemble cast of characters have plenty of flaws, but you never feel that he’s judging them. 

Hornby captures the creative process wonderfully. When his characters create a hit show, the sense of gleeful synergy is contagious.

Kevyn Aucoin: A Beautiful Life by Kerry Diamond

Plenty of '90s inspiration…

Plenty of '90s inspiration…

This biography was published only one year after Kevyn Aucoin's death in 2002. These days, Aucoin might be best known for his bestselling makeup manuals (like Making Faces), or for the cosmetics line that bears his name. In the '90s, however, Aucoin was a high-profile makeup artist who beautified A-listers for major magazine covers, music videos, and events.

This book brings us from his Aucoin’s humble Louisiana childhood to his star-studded rise to fame. You won’t find any intimate secrets in Kevyn Aucoin, but it’s nice to read about a highly successful person who was lauded for his kindness as much as his skill. 

Even more fascinating is his relentless passion for makeup artistry. Before digital cameras and YouTube, the teenage Aucoin created an impressive portfolio using his sister, a polaroid camera, and whatever makeup he could get his hands on.

Aucoin’s aesthetic is hugely relevant in 2015. He loved a natural “no makeup” look (which he achieved with a dense layer of products, according to Kevyn Aucoin). His books also explained the mysterious art of contouring, 20 years before the technique went mainstream.

Dietland by Sarai Walker

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When we meet Plum, she’s almost 30, 304 pounds, and “suspended in time, like an animal floating in a jar of formaldehyde.” She faithfully attends “waist watchers” meetings, works an unfulfillling media job, and waits for her real life to start. 

This foggy existence is disrupted when a strange girl starts following Plum. The stranger gives Plum a book with a connection to her past—Adventures in Dietland—and everything Plum knows to be true starts to unravel.

This isn’t a gentle novel of self-discovery: while Plum falls down the rabbit hole, a terrorist group called “Jennifer” starts taking violent revenge on misogynists. Dietland takes on fatphobia, beauty standards, and rape culture. I don’t even know what genre this novel would fit into. Surreal body image mystery? Feminist terrorist revenge fantasy? Radical beauty standard bildungsroman?

This book has an unflinching point of view, and I’m sure it will be divisive. But it’s absolutely worth a try. Dietland savages the beauty industry, but on some level, it also revels in it: what other novel presents you with an alphabetized list of 257 lipstick names?

  • Have you read any beauty-related books this summer? 
  • What's your all-time favorite beauty book?