All American Beauty: The Experiences of African American, European American, and Japanese American Women with Beauty Culture in the Mid-twentieth Century Untied States

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2008-04-22

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This study documents how shifting attitudes regarding female display were negotiated between the start of World War II in 1941 and the close of the 1950s. During the middle decades of the twentieth century, multiple players including women, men, employers, and the U. S. government, defined beauty, charm, poise, and grace as essential characteristics of womanhood, creating what I term an all-American beauty ideal. By examining this ideal as it functioned in the lives of African American, European American, and Japanese American women, I argue that each of these groups inscribed its own notions of gender, power, race, and nationalism into representations of the female form. Analyzing this ideal as it operated within and outside of American borders, my study demonstrates the many ways in which beauty culture functioned as a powerful mechanism to expand or diminish the cultural, economic, and political agency of various social groups in the middle decades of the twentieth century.

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