The Beauty Suit: How My Year of Religious Modesty Made Me a Better Feminist by Lauren Shields
Published by Beacon Press on May 15, 2018
Genres: non fiction, religion, feminism
Rating: 3.5 stars
Recommend to fans of: social and personal experiments, feminist reads, learning about religion with modern interpretations
Read with food: whatever you want and your body needs, because it’s important that you do what’s best for you
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.
I received this book for free through Goodreads Giveaways. As always, an honest review.
Lauren Shields’ year of religious modesty, for herself, prompted her to write this book to share her thoughts about the journey. Overall the book reads as a bit disjointed, but that’s fairly in keeping with such a complex multi dimensional experiment. Throughout she’s figuring out for herself how to define her religion, other religions, modesty, feminism, the modern culture, and more. The author has a background in religious studies, so she’s very well versed in these topics. The book reads as an educational text combined with a memoir.
I enjoyed all the new information that I gained, especially the alternate interpretations of modest dress within a religious context. I also enjoyed the in depth discussions about feminism, both relating to religion and culture in general.
However, there were some topics in which I disagreed with the author including women’s empowerment versus self objectification. Also it came across to me that Lauren believes being spiritual is less than being religious. I’m not sure this was what she was trying to convey, or maybe it’s what’s true for her personally. But that aspect bothered me. Also, I wish there were more written bout the actual modesty experiment. Much of the book was a lesson about religion, modesty, feminism, and cultural norms.
In general, I enjoyed The Beauty Suit and learned more about religion, especially in a modern cultural context. I think this would be a good book for young women who are religious but struggle to connect feminism, choice and strength with some traditional religious teachings.
How many of you want to take off the “beauty suit” defined by our culture?