Book Review: Beyond Beauty

Three years after the demise of trailblazing 90s teen magazine Sassy, founding editor Jane Pratt published a book dedicated to exploring the role that beauty plays among teenage girls. Following the Sassy ethos, Beyond Beauty sets out to represent a vast range of modern teenagers (or rather, what was modern in 1997), interviewing 25 girls from different nationalities and backgrounds. Pratt does what she does best in giving a voice to young women. She presents each girl’s perspective without judgement, letting them tell their own stories.

There is a great deal of diversity in terms of the ethnicities, subcultures, and sexualities represented. While there is some range in body types (including at least one girl who has struggled with an eating disorder), they are still almost all overwhelmingly thin – though it’s still way more diverse than a typical teen mag. Some of it is dated, in the charmingly 90s sense – dark lip-liner is favoured among more than a few of the girls. A few actresses, singers and other celebrities were interviewed, so a lot of the novelty comes from interviews with the then up-and-coming teenaged Natalie Portman and Serena and Venus Williams. Then there is the added hilarity of seeing how different they were in their younger years, which more than anything leads me to be grateful that I was not famous at such a young age (14 year old Kirsten Dunst on hippie chicks: “It’s like, ‘That was a couple of years ago, dears.’”).

The title for weirdest interview definitely goes to Kyoko Date, a computer-generated Japanese 17-year-old. While including a cyberteen could’ve presented an opportunity to talk about the unrealistic expectations placed on teen girls, they interview her in the same style as they do everyone else. The result is creepy, to say the least: when asked how she prefers to wear her hair, she answers, “If I were to have long hair, it would take up too much memory on the computer, so I have to keep my hair short.”

A solid portion of the book is dedicated to actual beauty tips, which feels more Seventeen than Sassy. Tips include going to an esthetician (as opposed to a dermatologist) to treat a pimple, avoiding “dated” orange blush, and the imperative of only colouring hair at a salon — a far cry from the experimental, DIY tones espoused on other pages.

As far as this book standing the test of time, almost all of the concrete beauty and makeup advice is pretty much irrelevant. However, the spirit of the book – that is to say, the idea that everybody is beautiful in their own way, and that young women should be given more of a voice in determining their own beauty standards – still hold water. Older readers might like this book for nostalgic reasons, but it is really the intended teen audience who will likely connect with it.

Beyond Beauty, by Jane Pratt, Clarkson Potter/Publishers, 1997
Review by Anna Fitzpatrick

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Beyond Beauty

  1. You kept talking about that Kirsten Dunst article! I should get around to reading this next time there’s down time in the office.

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