Published on February 28th, 2022 | by Chris O'Connor
Skin Deep Book Review
Summary: Skin Deep somewhat lives up to it's name by tackling so many aspects that it's hard to really dig in and get under the skin of skin.
I want to say from the outset here that I suspect my view of this book is more a reflection on what I’ve been reading beforehand and what I was hoping to read.
Skin Deep seeks to tell “the inside story of our outer selves”, covering topics such as skin cancer, racism, medical conditions of the skin and more. I would like to make a quick note here that I found it quite irritating that chapters were not listed at the top of pages, I understand this is a formatting issue more than a writing issue but I find it helpful to see at the top of the page which chapter I’m in rather than having to either jump to the table of contents or flick through until I find the start of the chapter (this frustration may have soured my view of the book).
There is an awful lot to cover here and Phillipa has clearly gone to a lot of trouble looking into aspects of skin, what it is, what it means, how it influences our health and how it influences our psychological well being. There are some really interesting insights into what skin is from a medical stand point. Some fascinating points about how our skin influences how we are seen and how we see others. Experts are consulted and their views help to inform certain passages in the book.
My main issue I think is how the information is presented. We are given some factual or at least more clinical information… then we are taken on a variety of anecdotal stories, learning all about Phillipa’s coffee shop chats or house visits with friends or contacts with personal experiences to colour the telling of the story of skin. By about a third of the way through I started getting quite bored of all the anecdotes and found myself loosing interest in the bigger theme because of all the time spent going over what someone was wearing or what beverage was served at the current chat. I’m sure for some readers this approach makes it feel more personal or friendly but I think in part because I’ve been reading a lot of science themed books recently I was hoping for more facts and detail rather than chats and retail.
But my biggest frustration with the book was the section on cosmetics and the related industry. Now I will state very clearly that I have a big issue with the industry as I’m a huge cynic and skeptical of many of the claims made by high priced procedures and products. On the one hand Phillipa acknowledges that the industry may be principally well packaged bulls#@$ but then goes on to say she still buys it all. She does explain the “why” by pointing out that she is part of western culture which is full of fancy images pushing the products and using fear to encourage people to feel the “need” to buy the products. But it seems odd to be well aware of the manipulation and yet be unable to step away from it (I’m obviously not a psychologist so there may well be many elements at play here making it entirely reasonable to know you are being scammed but still continue to buy into the scam). This was all topped off by a visit to a clinic where she had a $700 or so procedure that sounded like it was probably a chemical peel and or microdermabrasion but doesn’t talk to any professionals (other than the practitioners of these procedures) as to whether they are good for you (they certainly don’t sound healthy). Admittedly this section irritated me because of my personal gripe with the industry and it could certainly be argued that as a man I’m not subjected to the same media barrage of “perfect skin” images etc… but I still felt it was a section that didn’t seem to try and dig into the issue with any depth or sincerity.
Ultimately I suspect there are plenty of people who will love this book… if the writing style is to their liking. If you like “the writers journey” style writing… where you are kind of accompanying the author on their journey rather than simply being presented with information then this might well be just your thing. If like me you prefer more substance and science then you may well be disappointed in this book.
Skin Deep is available from 16 March 2022