About The Beheld

"You should either be thinking about beauty less," said a friend of mine in 2010, "or writing about it more." I chose the latter.

To be clear: I'm not obsessed with my appearance, and in general I could care less about beauty products, even though I use them daily. What I care about is: How does our appearance affect how we move through the world? What is the relationship between our "beauty labor" and our visibility? What can we glean from women's history—from Cleopatra and her kohl to the "lipstick liberation" of the 1920s to Naomi Wolf's groundbreaking 1991 book The Beauty Myth—about the role of appearance, beauty, and cosmetics in our lives? How do we experience being seen, seeing others, and seeing ourselves?

The Beheld is an attempt not necessarily to answer these questions, but to engage with them. With my personal essays, I examine the actual power of pretty, how not ever hearing I was pretty as a child affected me as an adult...and how believing I would win a modeling contest as a terrifically awkward 13-year-old instructs my thoughts on the self-esteem crisis in girls. Through my interviews with women whose experiences lend them a unique perspective on personal appearance—everyone from bodybuilders to sex workers to butch comics—I share angles of beauty that might otherwise go unarticulated. And with my weekly roundups of beauty news, I let in readers not on the latest nail polish (well, unless it's really good), but on what we can take from the worlds of business, economics, feminism, sociology, media, politics, and globalization to inform our ideas on appearance. And those worlds reflect back to The Beheld: In addition to outlets like Jezebel, The Hairpin, Fashionista, and BellaSugar, my work has appeared in or been linked to by Business Insider, The Wall Street Journal Ideas Market, Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast, Sociological Images, Salon, Feministe, and The New Inquiry. I've also appeared on radio shows and college campuses, talking about issues surrounding women and visibility, and was featured on the Today show in 2012.

My background in magazines echoes the arc of The Beheld: I moved to New York as an intern at Ms. magazine, and though I still proudly call myself a feminist, I chose to bring my perspective to mainstream women's and teen magazines. My essays have appeared in Marie Claire, Salon, and Glamour, and my 12-plus years as a freelance copy editor for everywhere from Playboy to Self have shaped my Thoughts on a Word series, in which I examine the etymology and usage of words we use to describe women's appearance.

The goal of this blog is to foster a larger conversation about beauty and what it means. I'd love for you to be a part of that conversation.

—Autumn Whitefield-Madrano
the.beheld.blog [at] gmail dotcom 


  1. Glad to have found you and your blog. My partner Di Golding and I are currently shooting a documentary film that is engaged in examining some of the same issues that you allude to in your introduction. However we are specifically engaged with fashion and how Di, and women in general, manage that byzantine minefield. My particular interest is the part that western culture and its commercial expression play in women's individual and collective understanding of self-- and fashion's role in that. (We've also found examining personal histories to be a huge asset in understanding the larger issues at play.) It's nice to find others attempting to explore alternate approaches and stepping outside the usual narratives-- for me that's been the most valuable part of the process. Again, thanks and good luck.

    1. Tim, your project sounds fascinating. Please keep me abreast of how the documentary proceeds. Examining the intersection of personal histories and larger cultural histories is, in my mind, what fashion and self-styling of all sorts are about--eager to see what you and Di do with your work!

  2. Landed here through your blog on OS. This is a brilliant initiative; I was talking to a friend recently about how we need a dialogue like this for men too because beauty really is such a pervasive, invasive concept these days, and certainly not exclusively a women-issue. I just noticed you have a "men" tag in your cloud, so I'm going to go check that out now. Great work.

    1. IcyHighs, great to meet you! And yes, we definitely need more examination of what the shifting masculine ideal means for men. The most in-depth piece I've done on this is here:


      In short: Absolutely nobody wins when we try to superimpose these standards onto men. That is, nobody except people with products to sell.

  3. The lady's on the today show did not get the mirror fast concept..the point of a fast was not harsh it is a way to become a softer person in the world we live in ..so much more positive ..they missed it !

  4. I bumped into your blog, searching for Janis Joplin! Just want to say that I like the theme of your blog. Physical beauty for girls and women is a huge component of our lives. Like it or not, I don't think it will change, although the definition of beauty is evolving for the best, I think. Anyway, thanks for being interesting.

  5. Do you accept submissions on this wonderful blog?

  6. Hi Autumn, I have an inkling that you'd enjoy this piece I wrote titled: "On Deconstructing Clean Notions of Girlhood" [http://wp.me/p307CT-Hu]

    Would love for you to check it out.

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