Why must beauty be seen as a binary that is either oppressive or empowering for women? The Beauty Paradox: Femininity in the Age of Selfies argues that women’s experiences of beauty as both validating and belittling is grounded in the contradictory injunctions that they receive regarding their participation in beauty culture. Piazzesi identifies the four main paradoxes of Western beauty culture: the worth paradox, the authenticity paradox, the power paradox, and the commitment paradox and examines how they trail women’s everyday experiences, choices, and reflections regarding beauty. She examines the role of beauty in women’s everyday lives and in a variety of contexts: informal social encounters, work and career settings, parenting, intergenerational relationships, self-care, and online networking practices. The author broadens the current discourse on beauty with an emphasis on the digital world, primarily the use of selfies.
Chiara Piazzesi is Full Professor of Sociology at the Université du Québec à Montréal. Born in Florence, Italy, she received her education at the prestigious Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa and at the Università del Salento, where she earned her PhD. Among her publications are the books: Grammatiche dell’amore [Love Grammars] (2019) and Vers une sociologie de l’intime. Éros et socialisation [Towards a Sociology of the Intimate] (2017). Her research interests span love relationships, feminist issues, gender relations, digital practices, and the place of beauty in women’s lives. She has taught and done research in France, Germany, and Brazil.
Introduction: Walking the Tightrope
Chapter One: The Paradoxes of Beauty
The Worth Paradox
The Authenticity Paradox
The Power Paradox
The Commitment Paradox
What Is a Pragmatic Paradox?
Conclusion: Negotiating the Paradoxes of Beauty
Chapter Two: Beauty, Wellness, and Authenticity
Where Is Beauty Situated?
Traditional Discourses on Beauty, Health, and Morals
The Paradoxes of Wellness and Self-Care
Natural Beauty and the Authenticity Paradox
Where Does “Feeling Beautiful” Really Come From?
Conclusion: Normative Authenticity
Chapter Three: Commitment and Investment
Investing Money and Time
The Salience of Hair and Makeup
Committing to Thinking, Planning, and Judging
The Day as a Measure of Beauty
Conclusion: How Much Is Enough?
Chapter Four: Time, Aging, and Motherhood
Being No Longer Young
The Intergenerational Gaze
Conclusion: The Temporality of Beauty
Chapter Five: Work and Social Life
Beauty and Sociability
Working with Beauty
Favours and Privileges
Conclusion: Uncertain Gains
Chapter Six: Selfies and the Digital World
The Place of Beauty in Selfies
The Paradox of the “Narcissistic” Selfie
The Authenticity Paradox and the Selfie-Taking Online Persona
Conclusion: Negotiating Visibility
Conclusion: Beauty and the Paradoxes of Women’s Subjectivity
Appendix A: Introducing the Participants
Appendix B: Methodological Design and Procedure
In this smart and engagingly written book, Chiara Piazzesi argues that beauty is no superficial matter. Most women, even the staunchest feminists among us, gain satisfaction and confidence from beauty practices. The book invites us to look respectfully at how women of all ages and backgrounds walk a tightrope between the need for self-expression, the desire for recognition, and the pressures from social conventions. A clear and convincing call to understand the paradoxes that make women embrace the beauty culture, while, at the same time, being critical of it.
A lucid exploration of women’s experience of beauty in their everyday lives: well researched, nuanced, and attuned to the paradoxes of Western beauty culture. The Beauty Paradox pinpoints the social and political dimensions of attractiveness and the influence this has on women’s daily lives.
8/20/23, Le Monde: Piazzesi penned an article about the feminist version of beauty in the film Barbie. The book is mentioned in the by-line.