The Beauty Industry: Gender, Culture, Pleasure

By Paula Black | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Just because it feels good doesn't make it right

Identity in the beauty salon

Feminist theory on beauty needs to be grounded; that is, it must take the ambiguous, contradictory, everyday social practices of women as its starting point.

(Davis, 1991, p. 33)

I have chosen the beauty salon as a site par excellence, where attainment of femininity and its definition are being negotiated. In its generally closed and intimate nature, the beauty salon is not only a feminised space, but also one in which the secret routines of femininity are commodified and exemplified. Much feminist writing has been concerned to criticise the operation of the beauty industry, but has generally remained ungrounded in empirical settings. It has also remained critical of some practices while neglecting others. Those practices which relate to appearance have come in for particular criticism. In approaching this complex area I agree broadly with Davis' statement above. What might a grounded theorisation of the beauty salon look like? How might the feminist critique of the beauty industry be refined if the salon was placed in historical perspective, and if the testimonies of clients and therapists themselves were taken into account?

The women in this study were in no sense unambiguously oppressed in their use of the salon. A complex web of social, cultural, economic and political factors contribute to the reasons why women choose to visit beauty salons. None of the clients remained unambiguous in their use. They were all self-critical to

-40-

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The Beauty Industry: Gender, Culture, Pleasure
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Chapter 1 - 'Ordinary People Come Through Here' 1
  • Chapter 2 - Inventing Beauty 20
  • Chapter 3 - Just Because It Feels Good Doesn't Make It Right 40
  • Chapter 4 - The Hidden Labour of Beauty 101
  • Chapter 5 - Look Good, Feel Better 141
  • Chapter 6 - 'You Feel Better When You Leave' 179
  • Bibliography 191
  • Index 200
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