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Female personal appearance and the politics of personal choice are largely shaped by the changing social landscape. Issues, particularly with respect to feminist notions of “body modification” has been hotly debated over the years and resultantly, an overwhelming body of research has been conducted on how these personal choices have grave political consequences.
However, much of the work that is available regarding the rationale that women employ when making appearance management strategies, generalises their motivations and overlooks how women subvert normatively gendered scripts to formulate unique ways of self presentation through beauty and grooming practises. This study builds on Judith Butler’s idea that gender is performative and undertakes an exploration into the lived experiences of urban young adult women from Kolkata between the age cohort of 18-25 years old, with reference to the use of non surgical cosmetics, including but, not restricted to make up, tattoos, salon treatments and digital applications to modify themselves. It also situates these ethnographic accounts within a theoretical framework that borrows from Cartesian dualism, Foucault’s concept of Docile Bodies, Impression Management by Goffman and the empirical works of a wide variety of feminist scholars like Naomi Wolfe, Susan Bordo and Sandra Bartky among others. It has been organised around three main phases:
1. Decision Making Process: Reflecting on how women regulate their beauty and grooming practises in a way that confirms to gender identity and expression.
2. Consuming Process: Analysing the kind of beauty and grooming products and procedures women choose to purchase or undergo and their experience of it.
3. Meaning Making Process: Understanding the ideological basis upon which these decisions are grounded and how it shapes the meaning and presentation of the self. This research fortifies the existing perspective that rampant glorification of certain forms of female beauty which is allied with Western, patriarchal and capitalistic hegemony by associating it with high social and cultural capital serves to further oppress women and feminists, particularly with Radical or Marxist affiliations, reject these predetermined ideals as inherently regressive. However, it also reveals that a growing category of women are attempting to overcome the pressure to meet impossible ideals mandated by society and exploitative corporations that profit off of women’s insecurities, not through a show of resistance but, by reclaiming these practises. In fact, some women merge these two approaches and instead of completely resisting or reclaiming, they alter their practises in ways which make it a creative medium for self liberation. It is due to this new range of possibilities that such a study becomes a timely subject of inquiry and opens up new avenues.
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