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The Beauty Suit: How My Year of Religious Modesty Made Me a Better Feminist (Paperback)
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A young feminist finds herself questioning why “hotness” has become necessary for female empowerment—and looks for alternatives.
Looking good feels good. 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? 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.
About the Author
Lauren Shields holds BFAs in religious studies and television, film, and music production, and a master of divinity degree. She is seeking ordination in the United Church of Christ, and lives in San Jose with her husband.
“This is not about men at all; it’s about women finding new concepts of beauty and empowerment, especially within religiously inspired norms . . . [Shields] allows readers an extended reflection on our notions of self.”
“In The Beauty Suit, Lauren Shields takes a much-needed, nuanced look at expectations of feminine beauty and sexuality through the lens of the world’s major religions and current events such as the Women’s March on Washington. She explores the uses and limitations of modesty as a feminist tool of empowerment, in turn challenging the assumption that Western culture is the apex of women’s liberation. Shields eschews easy answers to questions around sex, control, and harassment, which are more relevant than ever, given the #metoo movement. The Beauty Suit is an important addition to our understanding of what it can mean to be an empowered woman.”
—Carrie Pitzulo, author of Bachelors and Bunnies: The Sexual Politics of Playboy