rusq: Vol. 50 Issue 2: p. 183
Sources: The American Beauty Industry Encyclopedia
Tammy J. Eschedor Voelker, Michele Hadburg

Michele Hadburg, MSLS Candidate, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Billed as the first encyclopedia exclusively about the beauty industry, this compilation is indeed the first to gather the industry’s complex blend of trends, entrepreneurs, marketing, and the occasional troubling practice. The volume explores the industry according to the idea that “it is the intersection of culture and society, beauty and business, that fosters the industry’s multimillion-dollar reach into pocket books and headlines” (xv). The 115 or so entries cover a wide range of topics and assume no prior knowledge of the industry. Julie Willett, an associate professor of history at Texas Tech University, edited the volume. The contributors are professors, doctoral students, researchers, and journalists.

As the first encyclopedia on this topic, the volume occupies a unique space among beauty industry books. Many previous books have explored the industry using an exposé or “insider reveal” style. The closest, most recent comparison is Geoffrey Jones’s Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry (Oxford, 2010). The book covers the industry’s global history from a decidedly business perspective (Jones is a Harvard Business School professor). Willett’s encyclopedia focuses on the late nineteenth- and twentieth-century American beauty industry and offers a more sociological perspective.

This volume maintains a broad focus that amounts to a summary of the contemporary industry. A list at the beginning organizes the entries by topics: Clothing, Companies, Hair, Health, Industry, Institutions, Magazines, Male Beauty, Media, Movements, People, Products, Professions, Television, and Treatments. The entries are a worthy cross-section of today’s American beauty industry as the intersection of culture, business, and personal value.

The entries are concise, straightforward, and well written. The majority of entries maintain an encyclopedic tone. But some go beyond the publisher’s statement that the volume makes “analytical use of categories such as gender, race, sexuality” and come across as judgmental. For example, the entry about the television show What Not to Wear concludes, “WNTW teaches women to value themselves through their appearance and that they must appropriately care for their appearance in order to move ahead at work and attract a good (middle-class) man” (304). Entries such as this one read not as an analysis of the industry but as an indictment.

Although the entries are concise, each contains a further readings section. Furthermore, the volume’s selected bibliography is of great value, especially the thorough list of books. The included photographs are sparse and not in color, a disappointment for such a visual industry.

This encyclopedia is an admirable overview of the modern American beauty industry. It is also a valuable reflection of the multidisciplinary nature of the industry and should attract the interests of those in diverse fields, such as cultural studies, gender studies, sociology, history, marketing, media studies, art, and fashion. It is recommended for academic libraries serving these and related departments. Since the layout of the printed volume is not especially integral to the content, libraries might also consider the e-book. This volume is also recommended for public libraries, where even the casual reader will likely have an interest in the topic.



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