If I’m Being 'Pretty Honest’ I Have Mixed Feelings About This Beauty Book

Despite pockets of good advice, I do wonder a little who exactly this book is for.
Publish date:
May 4, 2016
advice, books, beauty books, Sali Hughes

It seems like every voice in the online beauty world has published a book in the past two years, but most of them I'm not interested in picking up. I mean, good on them for getting a book deal and no doubt making mega-bank with it, but I don't want to spend my money to read a book-length amount of YouTuber fluff.

There's one writer whose book I was interested in reading, though, and that's British beauty journalist Sali Hughes. She's a weekly columnist at the Guardian and a broadcaster. Her book, Pretty Honest: The Straight-Talking Beauty Companion, came out in 2014, and I've finally got my hands on it.

The name alone suggests Pretty Honest is something I'd want to read — it kind of goes along with xoVain's tagline of "no beauty secrets" and my general life mantra of being frank and bullshit-free.

Sali's voice is clear and direct. I actually heard her voice in my head as I read. She doesn't do YouTube in the standard sense, but her "In The Bathroom" series is a must-watch if you like two hour videos of people talking through every product they own.

I find it a bit weird reading about beauty in print; I usually read books as a wind-down at the end of the day, but reading a book about beauty doesn't give me the same relaxation as immersing myself in a novel. This is my own fault, really, as Pretty Honest isn't the type of book you smash through in one sitting. There's a fair bit of repetition, which suggests it's meant to act as a reference more than anything.

Pretty Honest has given me a few valuable pieces of advice, though, which make up for the number of times Sali has told me that toner is useless and never to wax one's brows.

For example: pout without duck lips. How do you make your lips look luscious without injuring yourself, pulling an intolerable duckface, or resorting to the "I can't take a serious photo" kissy lips? You could overdraw your lip-line,or highlight your lips with a contrasting lip color or gloss. Or, you could try Sali's trick: press your tongue up and forward into the roof of your mouth.

I tried it in front of a mirror a bunch of times and I did see a difference. Subtle, but not insignificant. When I tried to photograph it, I found that doing it made me involuntarily lower my chin slightly, which also helps. And now I have another application for pushing my tongue into the roof of my mouth beyond trying to stave off a sneeze (which works, trust me).

Another useful tip she provides: what clothes to take off in a spa. Getting a facial or a massage is always a source of anguish for me, at least in the sense that I don't know how nude I'm meant to get. For this reason, most of the time, I pretend it's the first time I've ever had a facial/massage/whatever, but this ruse is getting harder and harder to keep up plausibly.

Sali says to take everything off except your bottom-half underwear for a massage; take your top and jewelry off for a facial, but leave your bra on.

Despite pockets of good advice, I do wonder a little who exactly this book is for. It is pitched very much towards beauty lovers, but most of the material and advice wasn't new to me. I don't think the bulk of this book would be illuminating to most xoVain readers. On the other hand, I don't see anyone who doesn't particularly care about beauty picking this book up.

I had to wince at the inclusion of quotes like the apocryphal "if you can't handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don't deserve me at my best," which was definitely not said by Marilyn Monroe but attributed to her regardless. I don't know if this was an editorial decision or if Sali chose that herself, but either way, Marilyn Monroe didn't say it, and the sentiment is questionable.

One other questionable thing that really stood out to me (there might be more, but I'll admit I put the book down in favor of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall) was that in several places Sali uses "girly" as a pejorative. It's a very strange thing to read in a book that also tells me that all women look better with makeup on — as though we must aim for some kind of middle ground where we have lipstick on, but don't risk looking too "feminine."

Like I said, I put this book down before finishing it, which means I can't give it a glowing testimonial, but to be honest I don't think I'm the target audience for it. I'd give it to a younger person just starting to get excited about makeup. Maybe I'll send it to one of my teenage cousins.

  • Have you read Pretty Honest? What were your thoughts on it?
  • What other books about beauty would you recommend?