Review: Pretty Honest

Pretty Honest by Sali HughesNow that I am 40, I realised that I’m probably going to have to make some changes to my lifestyle, particularly where my body is concerned. It’s not just my fitness (or lack thereof) that I can no longer afford to ignore, my skin could do with a bit more attention too. I bought Pretty Honest by Sali Hughes as soon as it came out because I love her writing, but have recently decided that it should help me to plan for the future. In addition, pampering is almost certainly a good way of feeling better, whatever your age, and I want to make sure I’m doing it properly. I started the book in the week I bought it, back in September, but only managed about a quarter before dissertation writing and the festive season sapped all my time, hence the rather slow arrival of this review. I read the rest this week whilst snotty, spotty, make-up free and dressed in a kigu, nursing my inevitable post-Xmas/NYE/birthday cold. It was so good that I thought I should probably share why.

Where to start? Well, there’s the accessible humour, the straightforward honesty, the 33 brilliant sections – on everything from skincare, haircare and waxing to how to pay/receive compliments, beauty in motherhood and during illness – and the refreshing lack of focus on images or the latest trends in beauty. The first section is entitled “What’s your skin type?” and it reminded me that it’s good to set your preconceptions aside. There may have been a time when my skin was combination but I think that, having taken a break from hormonal birth control in the last year, it’s time to admit that things have changed and my cheeks definitely don’t get dry any more. There are good points to this – like not showing ageing as clearly – but I’m definitely in need of some advice regarding things like foundation that doesn’t simply slide off oily skin. Of course, the book provides that too.

There was a moment of horror when I looked at the juxtaposition of my, admittedly silly, butterfly stencilled nails and Hughes’ scathing remarks on nail art as a “workplace no-no”, but apparently it’s OK in a nail salon or fashion environment, so I think I’d be spared her wrath as I work at London College of Fashion. Most of the time though, the pages of Pretty Honest are filled with very sensible and useful advice on products, services, techniques and also money/time saving tips. Anyone who says you shouldn’t save nice things for best will always get my vote, and Hughes says: “Lovely things deserve to be seen, used and enjoyed, not hidden away. And you deserve to live well and feel great now, not later.” So very true.

The chapter entitled “What Men Want” made me cringe slightly because, although it tackled some interesting questions about why we wear make up, it appears to assume all readers are straight women. However, her “be yourself” advice for what make up you wear on a date is pretty solid, and her tips on what to include in a morning after survival kit do include the brilliant line “your partner should have toothpaste for you to use – if s/he doesn’t, looking good is the least of your worries. Call a cab.” The bridal chapter also has a useful note on make up for same-sex weddings too.

From finding out your skin type, which products are pointless, what to use and when, to how to look good in photos, how to look good for your age (whatever age), and navigating beauty counters or salons, The advice in Pretty Honest is utterly brilliant. It’s like hearing from an experienced, trusted and eloquent friend which is exactly what you want when trying to look your best. No one wants to be patronised, which is what some beauty counter staff and magazines do, but Sali can help you to work out how to look good and fix any problems (real or perceived) for any budget. I think that makes this book an excellent investment and a great new year’s resolution.

UPDATE: After sharing my review on Twitter, Sali clarified something important that I wanted to share here: “The reason the What Men Want chapter is about just that, is that women are constantly accused of wearing makeup for men, as though this is terrible. Same doesn’t apply with same sex relationships. I deliberately didn’t address both there as it’s a uniquely man/woman accusation and therefore a specific argument. However, I deliberately included everyone in all the practical stuff, as you note, because that is universal. I promise you I never, ever assumed my reader was white/straight/of a specific age.”

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