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Related to This Book

Posing Beauty

African American Images from the 1890s to the Present

Deborah Willis (Author, New York University)


Long overlooked in American culture, African American beauty finally get its due in this landmark work.

As a student in the 1970s, Deborah Willis came to the realization that images of black beauty, female and male, simply did not exist in the larger culture. Determined to redress this imbalance, Willis examined everything from vintage ladies’ journals to black newspapers, and started what would become a lifelong quest. With more than two hundred arresting images, many previously unpublished, Posing Beauty recovers a world many never knew existed. Historical subjects such as Billie Holiday and Josephine Baker illuminate the past; Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali take us to the civil rights era; Denzel Washington, Lil’ Kim, and Michelle Obama celebrate the present. Featuring the works of more than one hundred photographers, including Carl van Vechten, Eve Arnold, Lee Friedlander, and Carrie Mae Weems, Willis’s book not only celebrates the lives of the famous but also captures the barber shop, the bodybuilding contest, and prom night. Posing Beauty challenges our most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be “beautiful.”

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • October 2009
  • ISBN 978-0-393-06696-8
  • 9.4 × 12.4 in / 244 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“The book is a treasure, a triumph and a singular achievement that invites fresh and enduring insights with each viewing.” — Jennifer Baszile, The New York Times Book Review

“Drawing on 10 years of research and photos from archives, galleries, photographers, friends, and family, Willis reflects the broad spectrum of images of beauty over more than a century. She examines how beauty is defined, exploited, manipulated, and marketed.... An aesthetic look at black beauty by the author of Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present.” — Vanessa Bush, Booklist

Also by Deborah Willis All

  1. Book CoverMichelle Obama: The First Lady in Photographs


  2. Book CoverReflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers 1840 to the Present