WGS 345 • Race and Beauty in American Culture-W
This class will use beauty culture to historicize ideas about race and gender in American culture from the colonial times to the present. In our intellectual exploration we will openly acknowledge the contradictions and paradoxes of beauty culture with regard to race and gender. On the one hand, critics of beauty culture argue that the industry subordinates women even more than legal and economic subjugation. Others argue that the very practice of making oneself beautiful in a world that considered one ugly and worthless, could be a source of personal empowerment. In other words, beauty culture becomes a fruitful site upon which to examine racial and gender contestations of power.
Our intellectual journey will use the experiences of African American women as a lens to illuminate how American women's identities more generally have been impacted by beauty culture. We will take a thematic and chronological approach to address the following topics: theories of race, gender, and beauty; womens bodies and the development of racial discourse; beautification rituals of enslaved women; the rise of commercial beauty culture; the connection between beauty and nationalism; beauticians as political activists; hair as a political symbol; and the role of beauty in popular culture.