In this post, I will be reviewing Meeta Rani Jha’s book, The Global Beauty Industry. The book was published on September 19, 2015 by Routledge. It is a nonfiction paperback with 134 pages and its price is listed by the publisher at $24.95. The Global Beauty Industry is part of a series on current social issues titled Framing 21st Century Social Issues. The purpose of this evaluation is to understand Rani Jha’s views on beauty, gender, and race, and how they are molded in different cultural and geopolitical contexts.

First and foremost, The Global Beauty Industry analyzes beauty as a form of privilege and discusses its impact in power relations [1]. Rani Jha (2015: 4) defines the terms beauty capital and racial capital to explain that both beauty and race are resources that either enable or inhibit one from gaining economic and cultural mobility, depending on whether or not they abide by the Western ideals of beauty. To build upon this foundation, Rani Jha (2015: 24) explores American beauty pageants in terms of their creation of an ideal feminine identity and propagation of brand nationalism. She analyzes the impact of self-determination in the Black Liberation and Black Is Beautiful movements (2015: 39-40), and the influence of global cultural circuits in countries like India (2015: 60-70) and China (2015: 81-82).

Rani Jha’s goal in writing The Global Beauty Industry is to show how skin color, hair textures, facial features, class privilege, and racial and ethnic identities are mapped onto ideas of gender norms of beauty and femininity. Rani Jha (2015: 29) argues that beauty is a means of privilege and class mobility, thereby influencing a woman’s life chances and opportunities. She describes American beauty pageants, specifically the Miss America pageant, as an example of this. Although Miss America has changed their public image to a “scholarship agent,” and has integrated ideas of gender equality and individual choice in their identity, by linking academic scholarships to physical attractiveness, they are initializing a beauty “transaction,” or the exchange of beauty for other forms of capital. While I agree with Rani Jha’s position on beauty pageants, a contradiction may arise in the critique of these pageants and specifically, the intentions behind the Miss America Corporation. I address this issue in the following paragraphs. The concept of neoliberalism (2015: 23) and the idea that a person is valorized if they maximize their human capital becomes important for beauty companies, who can encourage women to buy their products in order to change and empower themselves – thus maximizing their human capital (by maximizing their beauty capital). Again, the sole aim of companies is to make money. The problem is not with the companies themselves, as they are only taking advantage of society’s association of power and influence with lighter skin. The focus should be on how we can work to change this misconception of “lighter is better,” thereby forcing the beauty companies to change their products and marketing strategies. Rani Jha also outlines (2015: 36) the Black Liberation Movements beginning in the 1960s, which mobilized racial and cultural pride and established a sense of black identity. However, in many cases, black nationalists tended to embrace patriarchal values and thus, black women’s experiences of poverty, misogyny, and sexism were often ignored. Because their experiences were different from those of white women, they were seen as not constituting women’s struggles. For me, Rani Jha does not go into enough detail about how and why black women’s struggles were ignored. She could give more concrete examples of cases of this injustice, and outline how certain members of society benefited from their privilege, and thus refused to let others be heard. While The Black Is Beautiful movement increased black women’s body satisfaction and challenged white standards of beauty, light-skin privileges were and still are prevalent. Rani Jha (2015: 67) details that the expansion of Western ideals of capitalism and consumerism to India also created an assimilation of Western beauty norms of lighter skin. She shows that the pre-existing colorism in India’s caste-class-color hierarchy was exploited by multinational beauty companies through the marketing of skin lightening creams. In India, the Dark Is Beautiful movement (2015: 69) acted to raise awareness of the dark-skin stigma created in part by media and capitalism. At the end of the book, Rani Jha (2015: 81) highlights the widespread acceptance of cosmetic surgery in China, which is viewed as accumulating the advantages of beauty and femininity. She explains that cosmetic surgery is seen as an investment for power and personal gain, and that femininity itself is used as a commodity to develop China’s economy.

I believe the author does achieve her goal by explaining that the beauty ideals of lighter skin and lighter, Anglo-Saxon features have created social problems of sexism and racism. Rani Jha makes it clear that by attributing a greater value to the physical attractiveness of certain people, a class system is created, enabling a certain population to have more power and influence than those in “lower” classes. And thus, in order to gain opportunity, those in the “lower” classes will have to change, thus prompting a global beauty industry of (in today’s society) skin-lightening and skin-bleaching treatments. However, I am not necessarily satisfied with all of the conclusions reached because I think Rani Jha may have lacked evidence to make a few of the arguments she did. For example, she argues (2015: 30) that The Miss America Corporation appropriates multiculturalism by representing individuals who embody diversity. She states that the corporation only does this in order to “consolidate cultural dominance on a global stage.” Although it is very likely true, I think it is difficult to come to this conclusion. When can one know whether a corporation is actually working to change society’s definition of beauty or just playing pretend in order to gain influence? Even if the latter case is more likely, can one assume that is the case? Also, some contradictory ideas are presented that make the reading more complicated. For example, Rani Jha explains that beauty may not be wholly oppressive, and in fact can be an anti-racist tool as well as an important aspect of women’s leisure and bonding experiences (2015:12). Once again, where do you know where the lines of beauty standards are drawn by society and society’s expectations or by the people themselves? If it’s a combination of both, how do you go about fixing the negative aspects of beauty and beauty standards? The Global Beauty Industry is the epitome of this week’s theme of the local, transnational, and global influences of beauty. With the globalization of the economy, Western beauty standards that are representative of power and influence are increasingly adopted by women in other countries, forming complex issues of race and a new means of social and gender oppression.

The book is understandable; however, it is very easy to get lost in the amount of information. All the concepts that Rani Jha discusses are interrelated – each idea is connected to another, forming an intricate mesh of ideas that often becomes hard to follow. Regardless, as the series editor mentioned in the book’s forward, the book is student friendly, and provides glossaries of terms that may be confusing. In my opinion, the book is most useful to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of how and why our social structure and class systems were built the way they were, and how the covert, seemingly non-racial practices of today continue to maintain the social structure that is in place.

The Global Beauty Industry is an interdisciplinary text, as the intersection between beauty, gender, and race is not only defined by society but continues to shape society, cultures and nationalistic ideals. The concepts discussed in The Global Beauty Industry are unquestionably some of feminism’s biggest talking points, but they are also some of the underlying issues behind other highly debated political and social issues like immigration laws and police enforcement. By reading this book, people from all fields would learn something relevant to their life and work, and likely something that would improve their understanding of the world and provide insight into how and why social issues arise, enabling them to find better ways to address and fix these issues.

 

[1] Rani Jha, Meeta. The Global Beauty Industry: Colorism, Racism, and the National Body. Routledge Publishers, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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