The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde

I can have my cake and eat too, i.e. I can have my red lipstick and love myself. 

About The Beauty Experiment by Phoebe Baker Hyde: I looked at my reflection and despaired. As an exhausted young mother I felt ugly and saw that a new dress or face cream would never help. I was at risk of passing on a habit of feeling miserable about my looks to my baby girl—if nothing changed.

Soon afterward Phoebe Baker Hyde made a vow: to give up new clothes, makeup, haircuts, and jewelry in hopes of revealing something she had always paid lip service to but never quite believed in—her inner beauty. The Beauty Experiment chronicles Hyde’s quest for self-acceptance in nothing but her own skin. In thoughtful, exquisite prose, Hyde holds up a mirror to all women and shows how perfectionism can keep us from achieving what we really want: happiness, confidence, and serenity.

My two cents

What if we forgot all the trappings of womanhood and focused on what really matters—inner beauty? Can you "survive" without your perfect red lipstick, or your power heels, your layered mane, or the perfect girly blouse? That's what the author did in The Beauty Experiment. As she navigates the expat life in Hong Kong, with an overly busy husband and headache-inducing demands of her children, she abandons all these things in an attempt to get to the crux of the matter ... and love herself.

While this is a fun and funny read, it will prod you into thinking about how society has shaped our ideals of beauty and much we place value in looking good, including the different superficial things that can become "crutches." This book breaks it all down from hair, cosmetics, how we and society judge a woman's appearance over history, clothing, appearance "professionals." And in the end, one can use the Beauty Wealth Calculator and see what percentage of ones' net worth goes into wardrobe and beauty products.


I have bad (horrible) hair days. I felt fat and ugly after pregnancy. I have had a love-hate relationship with my wardrobe. I can relate in so many ways to the feelings of insecurity experienced in different phases in her life throughout this book.

What I can't relate to is how the author equates her self-acceptance to these externals (which all seem to be quite skewed to the high-end spectrum, by the way). What was running through my mind was: Ahhh, First World problems! Why is ditching the lipstick or a salon haircut such a big deal in the first place? Really, how many cosmetics does one need (for example, going through her list of things to toss (p. 28) made me laugh -- I have never used anti-brassiness hair glosser or a microdermabrasion kit in my life!)? Why does she place so much value in buying the new designer dress for potentially just one-time use?

This is the list on page 28 ... how many of these do you have?
For a person like myself, who is pretty low maintenance and is all into moderation, this is mind-boggling because I feel that having these external trappings and inner beauty aren't mutually exclusive concepts. I'm a bit of a cynic and it's difficult for me to wrap my head around totally buying into what media says. I also think that I can have my cake and eat it too, i.e. I can indulge in my favourite red lipstick and love myself at the same time.

Props to her for her honesty, though. She doesn't sugarcoat anything (let's face it, who wants to admit that they don't shave their armpits?)

The "beauty" crisis that the author goes through seems more a function of her low self-esteem and the major life changes she was going through. The fact that she was also in an alien culture with its own set of views about appearances didn't exactly help her already fragile ego.

This book is a memoir, and as such, there is a lot of information about the personal circumstances of the author (albeit a little bit whiny for my taste). This is not a cut-and-dried experiment as the title led me to believe. However it is a valuable documented experience of one woman, informed by her own research and gaining more info from woman surveyed.

Verdict: This book has the potential to resonate with any woman with its lesson of self-love and self-acceptance, whether one loves their beauty products or not! While I found the experiment a bit extreme, I can relate to the author's struggle to understand herself better and find her happy balance.


As part of this review, I decided to try one of the suggested activities provided by the author. You may want to try one of these yourself!

I chose no. 2 under the Experiment Activities because I did a variation of it several years after my pregnancy.

My wardrobe was littered with clothes that simply did not fit, lots of faddish pre-pregnancy pieces, and lots of things on sale which I bought because they were on sale and not necessarily because I liked them. It was all a function of impulse buys, of sentimental clothing, and a (rather futile) hope that I'd fit into all my clothes again. My wardrobe stressed me out.

I decided to de-stress myself. I decided that I would only buy what I needed (say, I need a new pair of dress slacks and not: "I'll go shopping to feel better"), and only what I loved (no more: "I guess it looks ok on me, and it's cheap" ...).  I took my time window shopping. I would try the piece on. I often went home empty-handed (sales can no longer pressure me!) After often having slept on it, I would go back to the store if, and only if, I was absolutely sure I wanted to buy the piece. This is how I shop for clothes to this day.

Experiment Activities: 

1. Identify your major cosmetic crutch and go without it for two weeks, noticing any changes. I think it takes about two weeks to really start feeling positive results, whereas negative ones start in one week!

2. When in need of a new garment, go shopping without money and enjoy the "costume box approach" to the world's malls. Then go back to the same stores a second time and purchase any items you still want/remember. Gauge how your habits and shopping experience shifted.

3. Cover all but a small section of the bathroom mirror in your house for a week. Take notes on any changes, particularly interruptions of mental flow.

Inner Voice Activities:

1. Transcribe a recent inner conflict you've had as if it were two separate people arguing in dialogue. Label these voices "Me" and "Argumentative Inner Voice." Then, write out a monologue featuring the AIV riffing on the problem, as if or she could hold forth without limit. Afterward answer a few questions about that inner voice: What is it afraid of? What are it's survival strategies? What does it want to protect you from?

2. Draw a timeline chronicling the development of this inner voice, adding all the influences that have combined to form it over the years. Start as a tiny girl and go all the way to now. What "injuries" or setbacks has this inner voice suffered?

3. Write a love letter to your inner voice, explaining that you find him or her useful and appreciate the help, but would like to reframe your relationship. Explain how.

Check out the rest of the tour here. 
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Phoebe Baker HydeAbout Phoebe Baker Hyde

Phoebe Baker Hyde has written on self, place and culture for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times,, and The Wall Street Journal. She holds degrees in Anthropology and English from the University of Pennsylvania and Master of Fine Arts in writing from University of California at Irvine. She currently lectures and teaches in Boston.

Find out more about Phoebe at her website, connect with her on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter.

Paperback: 248 pages 
Publisher: Da Capo Lifelong Books; 1 edition (December 23, 2012)


  1. Hi Aloi, thanks for taking the time to read the Beauty Experiment. It bothered me too, that the book I needed to write to move forward was so laden with "first world problems" and it certainly bothered me that I spent $230 on a dress--the most I've ever-spent--and it didn't work as a pick-me-up. It frustrated me even more that I was advised NOT to disclose that amount, because readers would feel it was TOO LITTLE to feel so guilty and worked up over. That frustration, which I think you share, was why I wrote the book. The book I wish I'd had the clarity and time to write, while in Hong Kong, was about the city of Amahs who live in the shadows of that city's economic success. I may still write it yet. Thanks for helping get literature off the pages and up on the screens and best wishes in 2014, Phoebe Baker Hyde

    1. I appreciate your coming by my blog, Phoebe! Your honesty throughout really struck a chord in me ... which is why I think a lot of women will definitely come away with a nugget or two after reading it. We just have to be honest with ourselves.

  2. A book that makes you think about beauty and what it means....Nice review.

  3. Thanks for sharing your own experiment and for being a part of the tour!

  4. I enjoyed reading about this book. I think beauty is such an important, multi-layered topic for women. This book sounds personal and inspiring. (I think the "trick" is to feel beautiful in a way that's more than skin deep, in a way that's personally meaningful, no matter what you "look like". )


© guiltless readingMaira Gall