China’s Beauty Proletariat: The Body Politics of Hegemony in a Walmart, China

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:45
Location: Hörsaal 22 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Eileen M. OTIS, University of Oregon, USA
In her best-selling book, Beautiful Faces Grow Rice (Meili liandan zhang dami), author Lu Junqing articulated an emergent aesthetic and economic logic: women’s pursuit of beauty is the most certain means of achieving career success. Now anxious about the state of their appearance, millions of women flock to retail beauty counters where they consult with cosmetics sales agents about how to best enhance their appearance so as to ensure their place in the labor market. This research examines the workers of China’s beauty economy through a case study of rural migrant cosmetics sales representatives in an outlet of a major global retailer. The Author asks, how are the new “body rules” generated by the beauty economy used to organize and discipline labor in the workplace? Body rules are norms for the public presentation of different types of bodies. Retail cosmetics employers recruit bodies to become models for customer emulation, vehicles of display, and vessels of communication. Employers seek to alter and control this physical capacity. The author argues that as retail employers offer women workers opportunities to master new body rules for femininity, perceived as a form of cultural capital, they are less apt to question the low-wage and insecure conditions under which they labor. This state of affairs is termed embodied hegemony.