Riordan, Teresa

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Riordan, Teresa

PERSONAL: Children: two daughters, one son. Hobbies and other interests: Collecting buttons.

ADDRESSES: Home and office—P.O. Box 11305, Takoma Park, MD 20913. E-mail—tr@inventing

CAREER: Writer. New York Times, New York, NY, patents columnist.

AWARDS, HONORS: Knight Science journalism fellowship at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2000–01; Alfred P. Sloan Foundation grant.


Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 2004.

Contributor of articles to periodicals, including, People, U.S. News & World Report, and Washington Post Magazine.

SIDELIGHTS: Teresa Riordan's Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful puts forth the thesis that beauty aids such as cosmetics and foundation garments have not oppressed but rather empowered women in their relationships with men. "We can transform beauty, changing it from something we're born with to something we can impose on ourselves," Riordan told U.S. News & World Report reporter Nancy Shute. In the book, Riordan also points out that women have often been the creators of beauty products. For instance, during the period covered by the book—the mid-nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century—women received two-thirds of the patents for devices intended to enhance the bosom. Riordan said that she decided to deal with this era because it begins with the first calls for women's rights in the United States and ends with the rise of the feminist movement in the 1960s. "Inventions that come after the consciousness-raising of the 1960s have to be evaluated through a different lens, I think," she told Martha Henry, an interviewer for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site. "Some feminists, especially second wave feminists who generally came of age between the 1960s and the 1980s, have denigrated the pursuit of beauty as being oppressive, as being a kind of male ideal foisted on women," Riordan added. "But now that we're beyond the very important revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, it's time to consider beauty in a more nuanced way."

Some reviewers thought this type of nuance marked Riordan's book. Inventing Beauty "is neither a feminist polemic against the beauty industry nor a frivolous celebration of it," commented a Publishers Weekly critic. Riordan, the critic added, brings a "brilliant style" and "relish for the minutiae of technological history" to chronicles of such items as eyebrow pencils, nail polish, brassieres, and bustles. Linda V. Carlisle, writing in Library Journal, called the book "less social theory than a lighthearted story of inventions and inventors" and praised Riordan's far-ranging research and the book's many illustrations, which include patent-office documents and vintage advertisements. Similarly, Booklist contributor Barbara Jacobs noted that "Riordan has completed more than her share of homework." The book she has produced, Jacobs remarked, is "riveting."



Booklist, September 15, 2004, Barbara Jacobs, review of Inventing Beauty: A History of the Innovations That Have Made Us Beautiful, p. 184.

Library Journal, September 1, 2004, Linda V. Carlisle, review of Inventing Beauty, p. 174.

Publishers Weekly, July 26, 2004, review of Inventing Beauty, p. 45.

U.S. News & World Report, October 18, 2004, Nancy Shute, "The Technology of Feminine Allure," p. 76.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology Web site, (June 13, 2005), Martha Henry, interview with Teresa Riordan.

Teresa Riordan Home Page, (June 13, 2005).