Tuesday 3rd May: Amanda Kidd on ‘Beauty Therapy Training’

This Tuesday May 3rd, from 1pm to 2pm, in SB 317, University of Sussex. All welcome!

Amanda Kidd: ‘Beauty Therapy Training: Symbolic Violence and the Reproduction of Femininity

Chair: Laurence Clennett-Sirois


This paper discusses some key issues arising from my doctoral research on young women’s experiences of NVQ beauty therapy courses in two further education colleges in the south west of England. In particular, it will explore how the students’ affective ties to beauty may function as a form of symbolic violence, obscuring its role in the production of sexual difference and inequality and erasing awareness of what ‘second wave’ feminists have understood as the violence inherent in sexual objectification.

Drawing particularly on the work of Bartky (1990), Skeggs (1997), Gill (2007) and McRobbie (2009), I suggest that beauty therapy students’ engagement with bodily self-presentation is an ideal site for understanding how dominant ideologies of gender and (hetero)sexuality are ‘made real’ in the production of subjects who experience beauty as beneficial and ‘pleasurable’. Contrary to those who argue that women’s pleasure in ‘doing looks’ is testimony to their autonomy and ‘choice’ in using beauty practices for their own ends, I consider the idea that the pleasures experienced by students in learning and doing beauty are both produced in the context of social power relations and play a central role in pulling them into normative gendered and (hetero)sexualised and identities.


Amanda is a third year PhD student at the university of Bristol, researching beauty therapy students in FE colleges in the south west of England. Her  research focuses on the relationship between beauty therapy training courses in further education and the construction of gendered subjectivity and inequality. It is concerned with why young women choose to enroll on beauty therapy programmes and how these programmes might contribute to the shaping of gendered identities and inequalities. It is also concerned with the extent to which western beauty practices fit the UN definition of traditional practices harmful to the well-being and social status of women and girls (Jeffreys, 2005), and can therefore be understood as a form of violence against women.  In the light of this, the research also sets out to examine how the construction of gendered difference/inequality on beauty courses might involve violence in symbolic forms (Bourdieu, 2001) and how this might relate to other forms of gendered violence, for instance, structural, physical or psychological (Bourgois, 2001) experienced by the trainees in and outside the classroom’.


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