FOR ALL THE BEAUTIFUL SHADES OF YOU: how race, gender, and embodiment shape the retail beauty work

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In my dissertation, I examine various forms of subordination as well as resistance along the multiple axes of identities experienced by marginalized women of colour in the beauty industry. I specifically focus on how employees navigate their positions in the retail division of cosmetic industry, both in large chain stores owned by white men and in small entrepreneurial companies owned by women of colour. Using qualitative methods —in-depth-interviews with 30 women working in the beauty stores, and discourse analysis of the social media content produced by my focal companies, I show how gender and race act as organizing structure of women’s work experiences in the business of beauty in conjunction with sexualities and immigration status. In the big box stores, the gendered and racialized processes in organizations shape and reconfigure the subjectivities of their employees. I underscore that in these stores, women employees’ personhoods, including their embodied and emotional qualities, are governed and reconstructed under, direct and indirect, organizational control. Gender discourses are activated in this feminized occupation through specific organizational policies as well as the intangible organizational culture recreated through customer-employee interactions. Bringing sexuality and class on the same level of analysis as gender, I show how hierarchy, not only between women and (gay) men, but among women with various immigration statuses, is legitimized within the aesthetic economy. Focusing on beauty companies run by Indigenous, Black, white, and immigrant women of colour entrepreneurs, I show how deploying marginal positionalities under conditions of immigration status, gender, and race marginalization serve not only to redefine these women’s identities as empowered, but also to decenter masculinity and whiteness in organizational culture through their leadership style. Located in the Canadian context, my research shows how women’s work within the business of beauty traverses across intersectional experiences of Indigenous, Black, white, and immigrant women of colour.
Beauty Industry, Racialization, Gender and Embodiment, Work and Organization, Entrepreneurship
Borzoo, S. (2023). For all the beautiful shades of you: how race, gender, and embodiment shape the retail beauty work (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from