Beauty Marks: Counter-hegemonic Power of the Body?

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Klein, Reisa Hayley




My dissertation furthers a conversation about beauty and the body in communication studies by considering how beauty standards, norms and practices operate within techniques and tactics of power in diverse modes of communication. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the dissertation re-figures ‘beauty’ as a meaningful concept, considering it not just as an instrument of (patriarchal) domination but also as part of techniques and tactics of resistance to domination. The claim of my dissertation is that beauty should be re-conceptualized in ways that counter the generally accepted notion of the term, particularly in the field of communication studies where media practices are held mainly to reproduce unattainable body ideals that are designed to keep women in positions of subordination (Bordo, 1993/2003; Brand, 2000; Kilbourne, 2000; Wolfe, 1991). It also brings some nuances to cultural studies scholarship that suggests that the body is not only a natural entity but is often culturally produced in line with patriarchal, capitalist and racist interests (Collins, 1990; Hall, 1997; Phillips, 2004). Through an analysis of diverse practices of communication situated in different contexts, I investigate the ways in which beauty standardisation and normalisation practices can operate in processes of counter-hegemony. Operating from the starting point that beauty is a social construct and tied to communication and media practices, I examine its operation in different types and techniques of power and resistance using three case studies: 1) propaganda posters and face-to-face communication under German Fascism; 2) fashion blogging and social media practices; and 3) neo-burlesque theatre. I use the concepts of (counter) hegemony developed by Gramsci and Milliband and introduced to the areas of communication and culture by Hall, Williams and Martin-Barbero to extend beyond a top down model of power. To complement this approach, I borrow from a Foucauldian model of power and resistance, using the notions of governmentality, subjectification, biopower, and technologies of the self to flesh out a non-hierarchical type of power that targets the body. This conceptual framework finally uses Butler's notion of gender performativity and de Certeau's concept of tactics to go more deeply into some aspects of my three case studies.


Mass Communications
Gender Studies




Carleton University

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