Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women

Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women

by Renee Engeln


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Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women by Renee Engeln

An award-winning Northwestern University psychology professor reveals how the cultural obsession with women's appearance is an epidemic that harms women's ability to get ahead and to live happy, meaningful lives, in this powerful, eye-opening work in the vein of Naomi Wolf, Peggy Orenstein, and Sheryl Sandberg.

Today’s young women face a bewildering set of contradictions when it comes to beauty. They don’t want to be Barbie dolls but, like generations of women before them, are told they must look like them. They’re angry about the media’s treatment of women but hungrily consume the very outlets that belittle them. They mock modern culture’s absurd beauty ideal and make videos exposing Photoshopping tricks, but feel pressured to emulate the same images they criticize by posing with a "skinny arm." They understand that what they see isn’t real but still download apps to airbrush their selfies. Yet these same young women are fierce fighters for the issues they care about. They are ready to fight back against their beauty-sick culture and create a different world for themselves, but they need a way forward.

In Beauty Sick, Dr. Renee Engeln, whose TEDx talk on beauty sickness has received more than 250,000 views, reveals the shocking consequences of our obsession with girls’ appearance on their emotional and physical health and their wallets and ambitions, including depression, eating disorders, disruptions in cognitive processing, and lost money and time. Combining scientific studies with the voices of real women of all ages, she makes clear that to truly fulfill their potential, we must break free from cultural forces that feed destructive desires, attitudes, and words—from fat-shaming to denigrating commentary about other women. She provides inspiration and workable solutions to help girls and women overcome negative attitudes and embrace their whole selves, to transform their lives, claim the futures they deserve, and, ultimately, change their world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062469786
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/17/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 400
Sales rank: 185,624
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Renee Engeln, PhD, is an award-winning professor of psychology at Northwestern University. Her work has appeared in numerous academic journals and at academic conferences, and she speaks to groups across the country. She is regularly interviewed by the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune,, the Huffington Post, Think Progress, and other national media, as well as local outlets and college student publications. Her TEDx talk at the University of Connecticut has more than 250,000 views on YouTube. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part 1 This Is Beauty Sickness

Chapter 1 Will I Be Pretty? 3

Chapter 2 Just Like a Woman 21

Chapter 3 I, Object 39

Part 2 This Is What Beauty Sickness Does to Women

Chapter 4 Your Mind on Your Body and Your Body on Your Mind 63

Chapter 5 It's a Shame 89

Chapter 6 Your Money and Your Time 111

Part 3 This Is How the Media Feeds Beauty Sickness

Chapter 7 Malignant Mainstream Media 141

Chapter 8 (Anti)social Media and Online Obsessions 169

Part 4 The Ways We're Fighting Beauty Sickness Aren't Working

Chapter 9 Media Literacy Is Not Enough 195

Chapter 10 The Problem with "Real Beauty" 213

Part 5 How We Can Fight Beauty Sickness

Chapter 11 Turning Down the Volume 231

Chapter 12 Stop the Body Talk 255

Chapter 13 Function over Form 279

Chapter 14 Learning to Love Your Body and Teaching Others to Do the Same 305

Chapter 15 Turning Away from the Mirror to Face the World 331

Acknowledgments 357

Notes 359

Index 371

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Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Its not often you find a book that raises your awareness and immediately changes your thinking. Ms. Englens writing is a powerful, thoughtful, and readable expose that provides not only insight, but valuable tools to help us overcome our cultures obsession with womens appearance.
Kaeira More than 1 year ago
I anticipated that this book, like most psychology books designed for the General Public, would involve summarizing a lot of research I already knew in the way that was interesting and possibly related to my life. What I didn't expect was Renee's voice and passion to reach through the pages and make me feel how beauty sickness has affected me and others on a deeper level. I was sickened by the negative way women talk about and view their own bodies. I related to the shame people felt about their body’s and the focus on appearance over health. I was inspired by the interventions that helped people improve their body image. The book is told through a mixture of psychology research and stories told by real women. The mix of facts and anecdotes was perfect. You got the knowledge and science behind beauty sickness. But you also heard the voices of women tell their own tales in a very human and relatable way. What is absolutely terrifying and shows how beauty sick our culture really is, is that while reading this book, I often felt like I should be engaging in the negative behaviors that were discussed. For example, hearing about how people use special software to edit their photos before posting on social media made me consider doing that before posting my next photos! But this book also changed the way I think of myself and my body in a positive way. I thought I knew about the negative effects of the media on body image, especially as a psychologist myself. I was unprepared for how little I actually knew, especially when it came to misconceptions about our bodies and how we treat them. I read the chapter on shame and started crying, because I related to so much of it. I didn't realize that I was trying to motivate myself to lose weight by shaming myself into feeling bad about my weight and what I was eating until I read this book. Beauty Sick has changed the way I think about myself and given me new strategies for cultivating a positive self-image and loving my body. I loved that the section on what we can do about beauty sickness was so extensive. It really opened my eyes to how I think about and treat my body as well as what I can do differently to improve my self-image. I've always hated exercising. I never realized that the reason I hated it was probably because I always thought the point was to lose weight. Exercising felt like a punishment to me- something I had to do so I could shave off a few pounds. I never thought about viewing through a "look what I can do!" lens or to think about what I might have fun doing instead of what I *should* be doing. I read this book ravenously- staying up late to read just one more chapter and sneaking pages in at work to devour its content. I needed to hear both how beauty sick our culture is and what I can do about it. I think every woman would personally benefit from reading this book. I hope its message becomes widespread and that we can make positive changes in our culture to decrease beauty sickness. In the meantime, we can make changes in our own lives and in the lives of the women we love by reading this book and applying it to ourselves and the people we love