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Research Case studies

Racisms: Affect, Aesthetics, Institutions

Our work

The study of racism and aesthetics is not new and has the majority of its publications emanating from Black feminist and anti-racist aesthetics scholarship in the USA. However, very little has been written on this issue in the UK, the Caribbean, Brazil and South Africa which have been the major global contexts where my work has been taken up. The work is also part of the US landscape because of its focus of looking at racism and aesthetics from within Black stylization, Black Nationalism, Black anti-racist aesthetics and Black decolonial thought. That is, it critiques white aesthetic iconicity as well as Black normative expectations of what Black beauty should look like. It asks the question of the entanglement of racism with aesthetics by going against the grain of the taken for granted of beauty- that is, that the preference for white beauty is a global phenomenon. Instead it takes up the position that there are and have always been Black beauty models on which individuals draw and thus it decentres the focus on European whiteness as the ideal. It also problematizes the taken for granted idea that Black-white mixed race beauty is preferred and complicates this by also showing that light skin and straight hair can also have dis-values within Black politics and community.

Our impact

Expert committee membership (race and culture in aesthetics) and post-report now an affiliate of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (http://nuffieldbioethics.org/wp-content/uploads/Cosmetic-procedures-key-recommendations.pdf). Some of the impact since the report in terms of the organizations at which the report was targeted:

  • DH: The Nuffield Council on Bioethics provided a telephone briefing to the Department of Health, who contacted them as part of their work to scope policy options for meeting the Conservative manifesto commitment to provide “effective registration and regulation of those performing cosmetic procedures”. (The official appeared particularly interested in our recommendations on limiting access by children.) In response to a PQ tabled by Clive Lewis MP, the Minister of State for Health described our report as ‘thorough and thoughtful’.
  • Parliamentary action: The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has supplied a briefing to Lord Lansley who has a private members’ Bill in the House of Lords, and who has invited colleagues to meet him in person. Bambos Charalambous MP and Baroness Gould of Potternewton have agreed to put down written parliamentary questions for us, in the Commons and Lords respectively, in order to probe the Government’s response in more detail.
  • ASA: The Nuffield Council on Bioethics received a lengthy written response from the ASA, who appear to be happy that their current rules and guidance on advertising cosmetic procedures strike the right balance, but who nevertheless state that they will be using everything they’ve learned in their report on gender stereotyping (published shortly after our report) to develop new standards. We will keep a watching brief.
  • We also supplied one-page summaries for delegates at the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses’ conference in September.
Plus Icon References to the research


  • The Governmentality of Black Beauty Shame: Discourse, Iconicity and Resistance (Palgrave, 2017 online 2018 paper)
  • Black Women’s Bodies and the Nation: Race, Gender and Culture (Palgrave, 2015)
  • Skin Bleaching in Black Atlantic Zones: Shade Shifters (Palgrave, 2015)
  • Black Beauty: Aesthetics, Stylization, Politics (Ashgate, 2009)

Journal articles

  • Libidinal economies of Black hair: Subverting the governance of strands, subjectivities and politics, Image and Text, 29, 2017: 95-111
  • The performativity of Black beauty shame in Jamaica and its diaspora: problematizing and transforming beauty iconicities, Feminist Theory, 14 (2), 2013
Plus Icon Consultations

The Council has responded to two consultations:

Plus Icon Public engagement/invitations
  • Royal Society of Medicine event on 17th October 2017 in London Changing the image of cosmetic surgery: patients before profit – we are also supplying short versions of the report for delegate packs.
  • Aesthetic Nursing conference on 24th January 2018 in Manchester: session on ethical concerns facing medical aesthetics
  • Appearance Matters on 13 June 2018 in Bath: participation in moderated panel discussion Getting under the skin of the cosmetic procedures industry
  • We also supplied one-page summaries for delegates at the British Association of Cosmetic Nurses’ conference in September.
Plus Icon Wider dissemination
  • International coverage since the launch has included an interview on World Service Health Check, presented by Claudia Hammond, and on World Service TV.
  • A week after the initial news item on our report, the BMJ published a two page feature entitled Cosmetic industry regulation is only skin deep. We’ve also had a piece on doctors.net (read by 51,000 GMC-accredited doctors per day; subscription-only); there was a short report by Sally Taber in the September issue of the Journal of Aesthetic Nursing; and an interview for Aesthetics Journal.
  • Harry Cayton’s speech at the launch was developed into a blog, Regulation and cosmetic procedures: counselling caution, published in July; and a blog was published in September, You don’t put a bad picture on Instagram, rounding up the latest series of reports on body image.
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