Womanhood cannot be reduced to physical beauty. Annie Leibovitz and Susan Sontag highlight intelligence and confidence in a book that redefines the norms of beauty

Annie Leibovitz, Susan Sontag, Women

Published 2000 by Random House


Women is the result of an intelligent collaboration between two exceptional women, a collection of more than 100 individual portraits which put together demonstrate that when taking initiative women can fight stereotypes  and redefine their place in society.

louise bourgeois
Louise Bourgeois, Sculptor, New York City

Annie Leibovitz is known for her celebrity photographs in the United States and nobody questions her talent. As Sontag said in her introductory essay of the book, the world has a great appetite for images, so the two used this photographic medium but changing the perspective. The traditional books of women photographs mainly capture their sexual charms and the beauty of their youth.

Imagine a book of pictures of women in which none of the women could be identified as beautiful. Wouldn’t we feel that the photographer had made some kind of mistake?


There were always several kinds of beauty: imperious beauty, voluptuous beauty, beauty signifying the character traits that fitted a woman for the confines of genteel domesticity – docility, pliancy, serenity. Beauty was not just loveliness of feature and expression, an aesthetic ideal. It also spoke to the eye about the virtues deemed essential in women.

The book is an anthology that includes artists, actresses, athletes, prostitutes, a surgeon, the First Lady of the United States, activists, coal miners, teachers, a general, a maid, each identified by name and occupation. There are women in all roles, proving that they can assume intellectual and artistic activities and it is not only beauty that defines women.

Ellen DeGeneres, Comedian, Kauai, Hawaii

It is also an invitation to reflect upon domestic violence and equal rights between men and women.

No country gave women the right to vote before giving it to men. Nobody ever thought of men as the second sex.

eudora welty
Eudora Welty, Writer, Jackson, Mississippi

The purpose is to make women think of themselves, find confidence and understand that their existence should not be reduced to youthfulness and slimness, two of the main characteristics of the nowadays consumer society. The models in the book represent ambition, strength and intelligence. Some abused, some old, some obscure or victims of racism all these women are a plurality of standards. The first image in the book is of Leibovitz’s mother.

Complement your reading with Susan Sontag’s early diaries, a volume of her most intimate thoughts or Rebecca Solnit’s essays on the feminist movement.


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