Amanda Filipacchi’s “The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty”

At Dress for Success we put our weight behind the idea that a polished look can inspire confidence and empowerment professionally.  And since we believe appearance affects reality, we were completely taken by comedic writer Amanda Filipacchi’s latest novel, The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty. A satire, intertwined in a murder mystery, Amanda creates an adverse world that follows two best friends who struggle with the same concept of beauty from opposite ends.  Part of an oddball friend group, Lily and Barb are viewed respectively as “ugly” and “beautiful”. Barb, a natural beauty and blonde bombshell, is a successful costume designer who takes to dressing in a fat suit to find a man who will love her for her true self. Conversely, her other half, Lily is unfortunate looking in the “inoperable way.” Lily is a talented composer who wears a mask (made by Barb) to distract from her physical appearance and project a false allure, artistically through her music.

Using Barb as her narrator, Amanda juxtaposes witty prose with a flat tone to blatantly portray beauty as the end-all be-all in her contrived version of modern day New York City. Her humor is as sharp as her message, which reveals itself in a public unraveling of the girls’ charades.  When it’s explained that Barb guised her beauty to cope with the suicide of a friend, you’re left questioning just how “conventional” beauty truly is and why women are more subjected to its strict constructs.

Amanda poses these striking questions, but anchors her story in the strength of female friendship. The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty reminds us that physical appearance finds its limits in friendship and love. Through Barb and Lily’s companionship, we see the one sphere in Amanda’s exaggeratedly narcissistic society that is protected from the superficial.

Loosely inspired by her own experiences, Amanda is the daughter of Sondra Peterson, who was a top Ford model in the 1960s. She grew up in the shadow of the spotlight and self-proclaims she is the only “non-gorgeous” member of her family. In a personal essay appearing in The New Yorker, Amanda is as sardonic as her characters, explaining she stopped chewing gum after her father said her jaw was big enough already. A true contrast to her own observations, Amanda is stunningly creative and a real-life testament that beauty can transcend the physical and is sometimes found in spite of it. Spoiler alert: Contrary to her own assessment, Amanda definitely did receive some of her mother’s genes, but the writing is all her own.

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