Lolly's Library (Dork Kettle)'s Reviews > Ugly Beauty: Helena Rubinstein, L'Oreal, and the Blemished History of Looking Good

Ugly Beauty by Ruth Brandon
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's review
Apr 06, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: amazon-vine, nonfiction
Read from April 06 to 10, 2011 — I own a copy

Now that I've finished this book, I have to make a confession: I realize I am not the target audience. So why did I pick this book? For the mere fact that I'm interested in the beauty industry and saw a documentary about the rivalry between Rubinstein and Elizabeth Arden a while back and thought this book would be a nice complement to that program. It's not.

Focusing on the history of the Helena Rubinstein and L'Oréal beauty companies and the two wildly different founders of each, we are treated to a dissertation not only on the rise in fortunes of the two influential names in beauty but also tangents on Henry Ford, capitalism, communism and fascism, the Nazi party, and how wealthy old ladies attract the attentions of young impecunious playboys. What do all these subjects have to do with the beauty industry? Honestly, I'm not sure, other than to illustrate the dark side of the business and the questionable motives behind some of the twentieth century's most powerful and influential business magnates.

The biggest point I take away from Brandon's work is the dichotomy between Helena Rubinstein, who used the female-based and female-powered beauty industry to break free from her traditional (read: patriarchal) Jewish upbringing to become an empowered and vocal businesswoman; and Eugène Schueller, who promoted the ideals of feminine beauty and power through his company, L'Oréal, yet believed women belonged in the home and out of the workplace, a doctrine he advocated so firmly his only child, a daughter, was worthwhile to him and to L'Oréal only as the wife of a potential company man and certainly not as a potential heir to the business.

Other than that, I don't quite understand what picture Brandon is trying to weave together with the disparate threads in her book, other than the dichotomy I just pointed out. If that's the case, I think it could've been done in a less convoluted, vague and ultimately stultifying manner. Perhaps, were I a business major, I'd understand the book's purpose; as I'm not, I'm left feeling disappointed and dissatisfied and wishing I could get back the hours I've spent reading Brandon's work.
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message 1: by faeriemyst (new)

faeriemyst Stultifying, good word. Why do I never remember to put it into use? ;P I'm sorry to hear your first Vine pick was a dud, hopefully you'll enjoy your other one better. I think I'll pass on this book, so thank you for that. :) Judging from other Amazon reviews, they aren't too happy with this either. I've now learned a new description from one of those reviews: work alcoholic. I've heard of a workaholic, but a work alcoholic? Never seen that before. LOL

Lolly's Library (Dork Kettle) It just came to me in a flash of inspiration; frankly, I was quite surprised my brain dredged it up. But it is such a good word. ;) Well, it looks like both my Vine picks were duds; I'm collating my thoughts for my review of The Meowmorphosis. I can tell you right now, though, I'm not happy with the book. It figures I'd be lucky enough to get two disappointing books for my first Vine run. :| Isn't work alcoholic the same as workaholic? Unless they're talking about someone who gets drunk on the job. :P

message 3: by faeriemyst (new)

faeriemyst Ah, that doubly sucks. Well, at least you'll get more chances in the future for better picks. :)

Obviously workaholic is the combination of the two, but I've never come across it broken up like that. To me, it just doesn't make sense, seeing as an alcoholic is someone with an addiction to alcohol. So, if the words are separated, then that implies alcohol is involved. Otherwise, you have may as well say chocolate alcoholic, shop alcoholic, and on and on., which would most likely lead to a state of utter bewilderment. I thought 'aholic' was added to words to show an addiction to that particular activity or thing, but what do I know? ;P

Lolly's Library (Dork Kettle) Let's hope so. :/

Me either and that's exactly my take on the situation. As I said, work alcoholic conjures up an image of someone who consistently drinks on the job, not someone who is obsessed with their job as workaholic so clearly indicates. I don't get it. *shrug*

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