Beauty books: The African Lookbook and other stories

The African Lookbook by Catherine E McKinley, Jacqueline Woodson

With beauty consumption at an all-time high, it’s no surprise to see an explosion of beauty books on the market. Last year saw much anticipate guides from Caroline Hirons* and Funmi Fetto*, and it feels like we’re going to see more variety over the coming year or two.

First out of the gate for 2021 was The Beauty Brief – An Insider’s Guide to Skincare* by Katie Service (below), a brilliantly digestible skincare manual that decodes the ingredients, products and myths in a user-friendly format. It’s beautifully illustrated and thoroughly researched with expert input from Katie’s network of doctors, formulators, make-up artists and facialists. (Katie has worked for numerous glossies and brands, not to mention wielding the make-up brush herself on occasion and she’s also the face of many an IGTV expert interview in her main job as editorial beauty director at Harrods.) My favourite section of The Beauty Brief is the ingredient glossary unpacking the often jargony world of beauty speak and the pros and cons of ‘natural’ versus synthetic skincare.

The Beauty Brief skincare book Katie Service

Another book to highlight, (although not strictly beauty) is The African Lookbook: A Visual History of 100 Years of African Women* (top and below). One of the most important books of the year, it combines photography, social history, storytelling and creative expression. Collated by writer and curator Catherine E. McKinley, it traces the Black African female experience from 1870 to 1970 via her impressive collection of 150 studio photographs. Order it here* and read a mind-enriching interview with McKinley and novelists Jacqueline Woodson and Edwidge Danticat in Harper’s Bazaar here.

Two Young Ye-Ye Girls with Sunglasses, 1965, Abdourahmane Sakaly FROM The African Lookbook

I think we’re going to see a welcome flurry of books about beauty as identity and self-expression coming through and David Yi’s Pretty Boys promises to scratch that itch. Part history book on masculine beauty and part beauty guide, Yi is founder of the Very Good Light site for non-binary beauty and also a brand founder. Pretty Boys comes out in June (pre-order here*) and you can read more here.

David Yi Pretty Boys book

Justine Bateman, the director, and producer (but better known to me for her turn in ye olde sitcom Family Ties) has just published Face: One Square Foot of Skin*, which looks at society’s attitude to ‘older women’s’ faces. It’s been getting a lot of press thanks to her refreshingly candid interviews (such as this one in Vanity Fair). It was mentioned in a Facebook group I’m part of where most of the women swap tips on ‘tweakments’ and ‘anti-ageing’ serums and I was pleasantly surprised to see it intelligently, and mostly positively discussed.


On which note, although it’s not out til next year, I’m looking forward to Jessica Defino’s debut book. If you don’t already subscribe to this beauty debunker’s newsletter ‘The Unpublishable’ or follow her Instagram, you’re missing out on some seriously insightful discourse. The fearless writer explodes myths around traditional beauty marketing – everything from ‘must have’ consumption culture to anti-ageing messaging, fairly and provocatively critically.

Finally, a self-care themed graphic novel from an amazing young illustrator. Last month saw the publication of Feelings: a Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp, who I met a few years ago when we both took part in a fashion illustration panel and workshop at the Apple Store. Her soothing novel would be great for any young people navigating the mental health waters of the last few months.

Manjit Thapp Feelings book

WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: The African Lookbook; The Beauty Brief; Two Young Ye-Ye Girls with Sunglasses,1965, Abdourahmane Sakaly from The African Lookbook; Pretty Boys; Face: One Square Foot of Skin; Feelings: A Story in Seasons
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links* and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here

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