Posts

My body, my self?

Image
Last New Year, I wrote a short piece for The Conversationon how we believe – and often unreflectively – that we are, or will be, better if our bodies are better.
That our bodies have become our very selves in a visual and virtual culture is one of the main arguments of Perfect Me. This is so widely believed that we often don’t recognise either that it is true (until someone points it out) or how surprising and transformative this is. To think that our selves are our bodies is new. New Year’s Resolutions show us very clearly what we value and what matters to us. These are the goals we set for ourselves. We think these things are valuable and having them is important to us. The top New Year’s Resolutions for 2019 again show this focus, with the top three all being aimed at transforming the body:
1. Diet or eat healthier (71%) 2. Exercise more (65%) 3. Lose weight (54%)
The next two are not body related: 4. Save more and spend less (32%) 5. Learn a new skill or hobby (26%)

The fourth is pragmati…

A Year in Beauty Demands

At this time of year, magazines urge us to dress in “perfect party dresses to hit the dance floor in” (Marie Claire), and to buy “Christmas makeup sets ALL beauty lovers will want” (Cosmopolitan), not forgetting “the best fake tans for surviving the winter washout” (Glamour).
It all sounds somewhat exhausting! Why not instead look back at our blog and see what our contributors have said and done about beauty in 2018? 
We began the year, appropriately, with Heather Widdows musing on how New Year’s resolutions had changed over time to focus on appearance rather than character improvement, and the potential harms of this; an idea also explored by Ajmal Mubarik. Throughout 2018, various other themes have emerged: Social Media As a primarily visual environment, social media is impossible to ignore in relation to appearance. Knowing that social media images are idealised does not make us less susceptible to their effect, according to Jasmine Fardouly. However, the impact is not clear-cut wi…

Blending in and standing out: Comfort and visibility in beauty practices

Image
When I was about twelve years old, a schoolfriend said I had beautiful eyes. “You should outline them in black!” she said. Encouraged by the compliment, the next morning I attempted to follow her advice. I didn’t own any black eyeliner, so I tried to create the recommended effect by layering blue and brown eyeliner on top of each other. On the school bus, my friend smiled and gave me the thumbs up. I had succeeded!
The pleasure was short-lived. Over the course of the day the liners separated and smudged, leaving me with multi-coloured panda eyes. A boy with whom I was usually friendly passed me a note on which he’d written a humorous poem mocking my makeup skills. I was not a figure of beauty. I was a figure of fun.
Decades later, most days I still don’t wear makeup. Occasionally, though, I do apply it. Sometimes I regret it instantly: my skills aren’t necessarily up to the job, and I end up wiping it all off. Other times, knowing my limitations and working within them, I achieve a …

Too dark skinned to win Strictly: Alexandra Burke, race hate and why love still matters

Image
In 2017, I was approached by a fashion editor on a UK broadsheet for comments on why Alexandra Burke was consistently voted against by the great British public watching Strictly Come Dancing. I did not watch Strictly at the time and told her that I could not help her. Being persistent, the journalist shared with me a Guardian newspaper report on research that showed that Alexandra was voted against every week even though the judges gave her great points and comments on her skills as a dancer. Responding to the journalist again in the light of this research, I said that Alexandra was too dark-skinned to win Strictly because ballroom dancing is still seen as a white dance form by the public. This meant that only bodies racialized as white or that were ‘mixed-race’, light skinned and normatively feminine (which accounts for Alesha Dixon’s triumph) could ever win Strictly. This was reported in the broadsheet as Alexandra Burke is "too black to win Strictly" though the rest of th…

Researching beauty in meat space – my brush with the beauty vloggers

Image
My PhD research centred on beauty vloggers, namely, young women who regularly produce beauty content on YouTube for a living – it’s their jobs. In my work I demonstrate how although the beauty vlogger appears solo in front of a camera, they rarely work alone. The UK (and many other countries) has a sizable beauty vlogging industry, which (in addition to YouTube and brands) also features a proliferating number of intermediaries, managers and ‘industry experts’. A significant element of the beauty vlogging ecology is the ‘networking event’. These events are highly feminised and ostensibly centred on leisure: they often featuring a ‘tea party’ or ‘cocktail’ theme, but are branded through post-feminist logics of girl-boss empowerment. In highly decorated rooms, often around a high-end centrepiece cake, stakeholders give lectures, and successful vloggers and influencers speak on panels. Beauty and lifestyle brands horseshoe around the peripheries of event locations, giving out products tha…

The Challenge of Writing About Colourism

Image
Colourism, skin shade prejudice involving the preferential treatment of people with light skin within and between ethnic groups, affects the life chances of people of colour around the world and fuels the multi-billion dollar global skin lightening industry. Evelyn Glenn (2008, 289) argues that in India there is an “almost universal” preference for light skin and “in terms of sheer numbers, India and Indian diasporic communities around the world constitute the largest market for skin lighteners.” Focusing on the USA, Margaret Hunter (2007) argues that people with light skin earn more, stay in school longer, live in better areas, and marry people of a higher status than those with darker skin from the same ethnicity or racialised group.

According to the World Health Organization (n.d.), 77 percent of women in Nigeria, 35 percent of women in South Africa and 59 percent in Togo are reported regularly to use skin lightening products and in 2004, skin lightening was reported by almost 40 pe…

“I know why I have the scars that I do, and the bottom line is that I need them to exist”: Cancer treatment and women’s body image

Image
The month of October is a time when charities, individuals, brands and businesses in the UK raise awareness of diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer affecting women in the UK, and in any one month around 5000 women will be diagnosed with the disease (Breast Cancer Care, 2018). Surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy are used to treat women affected, and cancer survival has doubled in the last 40 years (Cancer Research UK, 2018).  
Procedures and therapies impact on women’s bodies physically and emotionally as they experience the changes caused by the disease and treatments.Women might find it difficult to come to terms with a body that differs from idealised media images, and previous work on women’s body image and well-being after cancer treatment has focussed mostly on the negative impacts (e.g. Baucom, Porter&Kirby, 2006). To understand more fully women’s experiences of cancer treatment and body image from their own per…