Men are real, Women are ‘made up’: beauty therapy and the construction of femininity

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Abstract

Beauty therapy as an industry is multi-faceted; as a set of practices it is complex. The beauty industry has been the subject of much critique but comparatively little empirical study. Based upon research with beauty therapists themselves, this article investigates the complex relationship between femininity and beauty. The beauty industry is located within debates about the body and leisure. The growth in the beauty industry is also linked to the commodification of body practices. Despite remaining critical of the role of beauty in the lives of women, we also emphasise the fact that women are not ‘cultural dopes’ (Davis, 1991). The actual experiences of beauty treatments and the testimonies of women involved in the industry paint a picture of competing discourses and contradictory outcomes. This is not least because both clients and therapists deny being concerned with beauty, but rather aim to provide ‘pampering’, ‘treatment’ or ‘grooming’. The beauty salon may be seen as the site of both compliance with, and escape from, a feminine ideal. The role of class, ethnicity and age in breaking down the monolithical concept of beauty and in fragmenting the experiences of beauty practices are also discussed.

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