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. In an industry that is rapidly growing, 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, these women are less apt to question the low-wage and insecure conditions under which they labor.
1 February 2016
Eileen Otis; China's Beauty Proletariat: The Body Politics of Hegemony in a Walmart Cosmetics Department. positions 1 February 2016; 24 (1): 155–177. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3320089
Download citation file: