The Beautification of International Relations

My first year in policy debate, the topic was about increasing economic and diplomatic engagement with the People’s Republic of China. One of the seniors at that time delved into the critical literature surrounding US-China engagement and its parallels with plastic surgery. As a freshman, I remember being interested, but hardly understanding the implications for beauty having a central role in international relations. This year for Theory of Knowledge (an IB class), I had the opportunity to finally dive into the politics of aesthetics. This isn’t a proper post per se, but the following are my notes of my research:

Writing the Nation on the Beauty Queen’s Body: Implications for a “Hindu” Nation

  • “Beauty queens” are used as role models for young girls in India –> reflects the role of gender performance in the state’s agenda
  • Women’s bodies are used as sites to express nationalism
  • Beauty queens convince other countris that India is modernized & developing. At the same time, beauty pageants reflect patriarchal notions of women being “consumed”
  • Traditionally, women are portrayed by their feminity, purity, submissiveness, and compassion
  • Vulnerability is supposed to protect from influence of the West (i.e. nudity, television, etc)
  • Women’s status in Afghanistan used to justify military actions in Afghanistan
  • Beauty pageants are what “American” women should be, which is a gendered construction of national identity.
  • In 1996, Bangalore was the site for Miss World. Feminist marched, also right-wing fundamentalists decried the events for tainting image of Indian women, expressed threat of western forces
  • Contrasting images in media: “good woman” image showed in films, television serials, magazine interviews w/ right wing politicians. “liberated” image shown on advertisements and beauty pageants
  • Reviled for “westernization” but also essential to compete on a global level
  • Beauty queens evoke self-confidence and ambition in young women
  • “Globalization replaced colonialism encouraging indigenous populations to believe that they need to participate in the development process”
  • Balanced the modern and traditional (i.e. I am beautiful because I am Indian. I have the culture inside me” — Miss World 2000
    • Western-like looks, modern dancing, perfect English
    • Yet wore designer “ethnic” outfits, traditional Indian rhetoric

The Democratization of Beauty

  • Culture has “long linked physical appearance to moral worth”
    • Beautiful princess and ugly witches ugly duckling, pygmalion, Cinderella
    • Eugenicists & slope of nose
    • Whitening skin, foot binding
    • These all influence the desire to receive cosmetic surgery
  • Inferiority complex and the psychology of plastic surgery
    • Elizabeth Haiken, a historian, noted that in 1920s-30s, women linked physical appearance and mental health —
    • The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being,” which technically encourages plastic surgery
    • Dr. George Watson asked questions like why should you get therapy when you can get surgery?
  • Economic perspective — plain people earn less than average looks especially for women. Unattractive women less likely to participate in labor force — survival of the prettiest

Colourism and the Politics of Beauty

  • magazines lighten pictures of women of color
  • Plastic surgery industry grew US $19.8 billion in 2018
  • History–
    • Transatlantic slavery — preferred treatment to slaves with lighter skin as a product of slave masters rapes
    • Light skin privileged due to colonialism i.e. through Indian caste system

Popular Culture and Masculinity Ideals in East Asia, with Special Reference to China

  • Emergence of a Chinese metrosexual
  • Migrants are urban professionals instead of village laborers and can benefit from economic growth within china
  • Used-to-be-brain drain is a brain gain and is obsessed with brand names
  • Beautiful man used to be modernity from the “west” and now it’s more align with Japan and Korea
  • Influence of Japanese manga to create beauty standards where men are feminized
  • Unity in East Asia as exemplified by Japanese celebrity, who was fluent in Korean and sang songs like “keep it up japan, thank you china, asia is one family”
  • DBSK propagated a “pan-East Asian soft masculinity”
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