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Home arrow Political science arrow Aesthetic Labour: Rethinking Beauty Politics in Neoliberalism


Individualised and responsibilised, called by ever-increasing consumer options, obliged to exercise ‘choice,’ per force the entrepreneurial neoliberal subject becomes a risk-taker. Based on interviews with young and class-privileged women in Lagos, Nigeria, who dress up and appear in spectacularly feminine style, this chapter explored the risks involved in their intensified and hyper-technologised postfeminist beauty practice. It showed how the consumption of new or increasingly normative beauty technologies posed both physical and psychic risks for the women, to which they tended to consent as a means to access the highly desired promises of beauty. I argued that the women’s beauty practice was characterised by entrepreneurial calculations of risk-reward, then, including a knowing and concerted effort to manage what became construed as beauty’s ‘necessary’ risks.

The chapter introduced the concepts of ‘aesthetic vigilance’ and ‘aesthetic rest’ to theorise the research participants’ particular risk- management strategies and practices. These entailed keeping a keen eye on one’s beauty practice so as not to fall into beauty’s traps, and taking mini-breaks from beauty to later become all the more beautiful. I cast aesthetic vigilance and aesthetic rest as cruelly optimistic for further binding or attaching the women to disciplinary power. Indeed they are especially effective and insidious vehicles of power, I would argue, because they appear not only reasonable but also empowered and empowering, even somewhat subversive. In subscribing to such logics, being passionately attached to the terms and tools of their spectacularly feminine style, the women took up subject positions as aesthetic entrepreneurs: subjects guided by the fundamental postfeminist and neoliberal rationality that, for women, beauty is a most serious business.

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