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Looking Good: Male Body Image in Modern America Paperback – January 9, 2002


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Clothes, they used to say, make the man. Now sartorial grace is bolstered by a world of male cosmetics, diet products, hair products, hair-replacements and plastic surgeries. So much for uncontrived manliness. In this breezy, informative book (based upon the author's doctoral dissertation), Luciano traces the complicated and often surprising history of constructed masculinity. While the book focuses primarily on consumer patterns surrounding products that enhance masculinity (for example, in 1996 the bill for male plastic surgery reached $500 million, while in 1997 American men spent $3 billion on grooming aids and fragrances), Luciano deftly weaves these concerns into a larger historical narrative. She peppers her work with fascinating tidbits, from the fact that Julius Caesar crowned himself with laurels to hide his encroaching baldness to Pope Pius's XII's 1958 condemnation of plastic surgery because it "enhanc[es] the power of seduction, thus leading others more easily into sin." Luciano is at her smartest when looking at consumer products, like the electric reducing fads of the 1950s. Her competent, if often simplified, survey of cultural and sexual attitudes at times assumes a tone of moral conservatism, as when she states that "divorce was the logical outcome of the quest for self-fulfillment" popular during the 1970s, or when she ponders the "moral and ethical" issues of enhancing sexual performance through pharmaceuticals. While some of this material overlaps with Susan Bordo's The Male Body (1999) and Harrison Pope's The Adonis Complex (2000), Luciano's emphasis on historical and economic aspects of masculinity offers a refreshing perspective on Western views of the subject. (Jan. 19)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

College history teacher Luciano isn't interested in advising men on good grooming and tasteful dressing, despite what the title of her book might suggest. Instead, her study offers a serious but fluid and well-written "journey through the world of male vanity." She reports that eating disorders occur more frequently in American men than ever before and that increasing numbers of men resort to plastic surgery and hair modifications to increase their physical appeal. Why, Luciano asks, have men in this country apparently fallen into the "beauty trap so long assumed to be the special burden of women?" She examines social, economic, and cultural changes that "have been instrumental in shaping the new cult of male body image in postwar America," focusing her investigation on the four areas men have been most concerned about since the 1950s in terms of body alteration and enhancement: hair, physical fitness and body shape, cosmetic surgery, and sexual performance. A thought-provoking study. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (January 9, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809066386
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809066384
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,515,922 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Charles S. Houser VINE VOICE on September 8, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Luciano's message is both served and undermined by her mesmerizing and even-toned prose. I found myself at times wishing that she would get on a soap box and spew alarmist Vance-Packard-like jeremiads. I wanted her to denounce the predatory industries--medical, pharmaceutical, fitness, clothing, advertising--that seem to conspire to make people (in this case, men) so discontent (and preoccupied) with themselves. But Luciano is careful not to do this. The responsibility for this mad obsession with looking good (read "young") must be shared. Beginning with the 50s Organizational Man, Luciano traces how men's attitudes about themselves, their place in the economy, and their relationship with women has evolved in the last half-century. Though she presents more than adequate data (statistical and anecdotal) to make her points (her descriptions of hair-replacement and penile enlargement surgeries are not for the squeamish), it is her ability to interpret the broader economic, societal, and psychological issues that make "Looking Good" such a fascinating read.
If you read and enjoy this book, you'll probably also enjoy "The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private" by Susan Bordo. Bordo's take on this subject is more personal. I find it interesting that two of the most insightful books written about men recently have come from the pens of female academics.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 5, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book tells the recent history of why and how men have cared about their looks. As such, I think it's more informative than insightful. The most annoying thing about the book is that it is infused with an overly PC writing style: Quotation marks are overused in an attempt to distinguish traditional meanings from newer, liberal notions. Words like "male" and "beauty" are put in quotes with regularity, as if to repetitively stress, "if that word means anything, I mean it in the sense of what the unenlightened would say it means." The book would have been better served if it actually broached the anthropological as well as historical basis for what these words have meant to people at different times. This would have provided the tone of objectivity that the book aims for but lacks; its arguments would have been more persuasive.
On that note, I should mention that the author tends to overreach, drawing conclusions from isolated quotes and other insufficient evidence. This left me scratching my head all too often, saying, "Well, not necessarily." All in all, if you're interested in a history of the subject of the male beauty obsession, this book is a passable buy; I would skip it if you're looking for a thoughtful historical analysis.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By ben g. on May 24, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I didn't think this book was well-written and any different from another book called The Adonis Complex, which was much more interesting and focused. From what I understand, the authors of the Adonis Complex were the original doctors behind many of the studies Luciano discusses, including the GI Joe study. I suggest picking up The Adonis Complex if you want a better understanding of this problem in men.
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By Reader on September 3, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
An often laugh-out-loud funny, but brief history of 20th century male vanity and ways of enhancing the male image.
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11 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on January 9, 2001
Format: Hardcover
It's tempting to surmise that men's interest in body image, and their relatively recent concerns about physical attractiveness, along with sexualization of the male body, means they are becoming feminized. This, however, is decidedly not the case. Looking good is part of a quintessential male strategy whose ultimate aim is to make men more successful, competitive, and powerful. The means of achieving this goal may be new, but the objective is not.
Millions of American men have been transformed into body-conscious consumers of revealing fashions, seductive perfumes, and the services of hairstylists, personal trainers, and plastic surgeons. Due credit for this transformation must be given to advertisers, marketers, and self-esteem gurus, who have sold men--and all of us--a message of self-transfiguration through self-commodification. The traditional image of women as sexual objects has simply been expanded: everyone has become an object to be seen. -Lynne Luciano, Introduction to Looking Good
Though Lynne Luciano's look at male body image would be perfectly adequate as a long magazine article, maybe one of those forty page jobs in The New Yorker, it feels like it's stretched pretty thin as a book. Perhaps this is because one key element is missing : analysis and conclusions. The basic premise, as stated above, is intriguing, if arguable. The reportage, on trends in exercise, diet, hair loss remedies, cosmetic surgery, and sexual dysfunction treatments, over the past five decades, is excellent.
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