In a world fraught with facelifts, facials and fillers, many strive for a flawless look in the name of beauty.
From Victoria Beckham's digitally altered legs to Lena Dunham's essay denouncing the use of Photoshop in favor of stomach rolls, beauty remains a sight to be seen. Inner beauty is continuously masked by goopy, liquid foundations; morals, principles and quirks are drowned in oceans named Maybelline and Almay. Amanda Filipacchi explores the complexities and absurdities of society's fixation on appearance in her entertaining novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty.
Overweight and frizzy-haired, the novel's protagonist, Barb, is the hot mess among her creative group of friends in New York City. At least, that's what she wants people to think. A clever costume designer, Barb actually dons a fat suit, wig and fake teeth to make herself appear quite ugly, according to society's standards. While she hasn't had sex in two years, as part of her effort to find a man who loves her for her inner beauty, Barb is a total bombshell with looks that can — and do — kill. Her best friend, Gabriel, killed himself and cited Barb's stunning looks and lack of romantic interest in him in his suicide note.
Lily, a talented musician and friend of Barb's, lies at the opposite end of the spectrum (she's seen as hideous) and struggles as she watches her friend cover up all of her natural beauty; looks that Lily could only dream of having. Lily becomes fixated on winning the love of her life over with the beauty of her music, if not her face.
But why are women only deemed worthy of speaking to as long as they look a certain way? Stubborn and fierce, Barb uses her guise as a way to bring light to these issues prevalent in today's world. Barb sidles up to men at bars and is quickly judged, not for her confidence or charm, but immediately on her outward appearance.
"Haven't you noticed how the heroines are always beautiful?" Barb says to an unsuspecting bar patron. "There are no ugly heroines, no ugly girls that are worthy to be loved. There are poor heroines, dirty heroines, like Cinderella, but never ugly heroines. That sends out a terrible message to kids."
"Haven't you noticed how the heroines are always beautiful?" Barb says. "There are no ugly heroines, no ugly girls that are worthy to be loved. There are poor heroines, dirty heroines, like Cinderella, but never ugly heroines."
Indeed, she's right. Kids today are saturated with absurd beauty standards and judging folks has never been easier than with the plethora of media platforms for trolls to go lurking on today. Women with curves are compared to cheesecake, while facial anomalies are picked out and filtered away with the swipe of a finger.
Barb goes all out to make her point when she strips in front of the men she meets at bars. Off with the wig, teeth, glasses and fat suit; she's suddenly appealing and men are left to gape in awe as she struts away. This shocking stunt may be funny, but it also highlights the unpleasant truths about living in a superficial society.
A page-turner for all genders and ages, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty is an important commentary on how we view ourselves and others. Filled with surrealist wit and unexpected plot twists (think: murderous dinner parties), readers are left to cheer for Barb as she navigates through the city to find love that's real.
In a way, this book is the perfect beach read. After all, Filipacchi illustrates how the perfect beach bod pales in comparison to the glow of a true soul waiting to be seen.