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Work of beauty, work on body

Deadline for receipt of proposal summaries: july 05 2019

File issue coordinated by Ya-Han Chuang, Fanny Gallot et Pascal Barbier

Sociologists, anthropologists and historians have considerably demonstrated the social determinants of the body (Bourdieu, 1977; Saint-Pol, 2010). Individuals appearances attest their inscription in the social groups (sex or class) and elaborate in relation with the historically and socially contextualize norms. These norms are social because they imply social, moral or political issues. According to different contexts, beauty can be domesticated (Laurent, 2007) or exacerbated; it can be perceived as a suspicious artifice or a moral greatness, etc. These norms are also social because they participate in the differentiation of gender, class and race, as numerous recent work has illustrated (see for example Skeggs, 2015). Individual’s relationship with beauty and the importance given to the valorization of their body vary according to their social milieu in which inscribed norms of beauty: these norms were underestimated among the working class in the 19e century because they reject coquetry; in the same time, they were euphemised in the upper class although they did pay special attention to their body - “naturalization” of beauty constitute a powerful mechanism of social reproduction of hierarchies and the relationship of domination.

Our intention here is to pay attention on a specific aspect: how the activities, practices and concrete process engaged by the individuals in a professional framework result in the social differentiation of appearances. In other words, this special issue aims at articulating research analyzing the way that process of social differentiation is made through the maintain and valorization of the body (practice of sport, of clothes, accessories, hairdos, makeup). Therefore, we propose to reflect on the profession of beauty, defined here professional activities of those who, in their professional activities, work on the production of a physical appearance considered as advantageous or “beautiful” according to the norms in their social milieu. The beauty work implies a work of enactment and transformation of the norms of beauty (conception of the tendency in the industry of cosmetics, transformation of a point of view on the corpulence or the skin color by the mass media, etc.). It also refers to a sort of material or relation work aiming at transforming their clients’ physical appearance. The term of such a work can be formalized by a professional group (the case of those who hopes to acquire the income by banalizing the professional knowledge, such as the Youtubers), more or less extended (ranging from the punctual transformation of a hairstyle to a fitness program implying a work of diet and musculature, etc.), more or less institutionalized (the work can base on injunction between self-control and that of a deliberated control of an individual of a diet regime, or a fitness center), more or less enforced technically (recording of body transformations through indicators, technical devices for measuring body performances, etc.). If the systematic study of the beauty work is interesting, it is because such a work has gone beyond a simple transformation of the body. In fact, such a work on beauty translates into some attention to diet, the pace of life, etc. Working on the physical appearance aiming at rendering these appearances conform to the norms of beauty thus imply all the processes of transformation of dispositive that go beyond the body.

The special issue’s objective is to reflect on this work about its professional forms, on the work sectors, on the emergence and content of its work, on their qualifications, their constraints, the social characteristics of the individual worker who practice these professions, their hierarchy and their segmentation, as well as the prescriptions of the “norms of beauty”. Regarding the last point, we wish to explore the way that the work of beauty can act as a factor of socialization and thus the circulation of social norms, learning of technical and the professional values, incorporation of the professional norms toward the private sphere, to the lifestyle) and the social relations that it involves which will allow to transmit the norms between clients and employees.

The article can draw on the following four problematic axis. These axes should be considered as problematic axes that can be employed in the special issue of Recherches Sociologiques & Anthropologiques. Another axis can also be proposed by the authors, and not all the axis will be necessarily explored in the special issue. Moreover, the special issue will be especially open to interdisciplinary dialogue: the contributions from the discipline of sociology, history and anthropology will be especially welcomed.

Axis 1. Professional hierarchy and the work on beauty

The beauty work includes variable forms and characteristics of the professional sphere. In certain spaces of the professional world, it constitutes the center of the profession; in some others, it appears as an adjacent dimension more or less valued. The challenge is to understand the way that these concerns of the beauty structure the division of work in these professional activities. We propose here to reflect on the value of this dimension of work (the work of beauty) from the point of view of those who realize these works and in the hierarchy of qualifications. Such approaches imply, first of all, to document the legitimacy of the beauty work in different professional milieu. In this sense, the objective is to grasp the place occupied by the beauty work in the division of work globally (is it leverage by the subaltern work and a dimension underestimated if we want to elevate in the professional hierarchy? Does this hierarchy intersect with gender inequality in the professional hierarchy?) and locally (in a specific professional segment or in a profession in particular). The moral challenge often associated with the expression and the production of beauty make beauty work a telling case to study the moral division of work (Hughes, 1996) in the various activities. Such an entry will allow, for example, to grasp the role played by the principal justifications and distinction relatively discreet and malleable (the beautiful, the futile, the useful, etc.) in the hierarchy of medical or professional world, for example. Moreover, the trajectories, the professional position and the content of these activities of those who situate in the “margin” of the professional sectors of beauty work practiced traditionally by the status of the independent, can be examined. This position signifies to analyze the professional world through its technical dimension by reflecting on the conception that can evaluate its technical dimension in different social milieu of beauty work: material work of technical intervention on the others, relational work of the strict process (for example from the esthetic care to the medical conception of care), the magical and mysterious work of the transformation of the body as in the case of the esthetic care. Is the position of the beauty work in the everyday reality of work formalized and organized? Which form does the rationalization take? Which type of the professional socialization produce? What does this professional socialization produce in the socialization within the family, friendship and especially in the teenagers’ sociability? Finally, this question also supposes to understand the motive of such a valorization of the beauty in different professional sectors: is it more a “feminine” and thus illegitimate concern? Is it a reaction to a transformation in the gendered allocation of a profession or in the entry of a commercial preoccupation in the production or the organization of work? Is the “creative” dimension of work valorized? Is there a fear of a possible regulation and automatization of such a creative dimension? Is the work on the body involves in certain distance or, contrarily, it is valorized?

Axis 2. The beauty work face with norms

We also invite contributors to reflect on the issues involved in the meeting of standards of beauty from the point of view of sex, class, and race, which are often defined as certain professional activities that include the work of beauty. Therefore, the proposition can discuss, on the hand, how the social norms of beauty on the body, style of femininity or masculinity, operate under the framework of the production of service of beauty (esthetic care, coaching in terms of sport, alimentation and clothing, etc.). How does the social hierarchy of the expression and the conception of the beauty reproduce itself or recompose by the intermediate of the sphere of work? Do these social norms of beauty articulate with specific forms of sociability? Does the concrete content of work of beauty and the social relations caused by it participate in the differentiation of styles of femininity or masculinities?

On the other hand, it is a matter to understand the way that these norms of beauty produce itself. How are these norms discussed in the framework of a preparation of work, in its production, especially when its production involves an interaction with a client or other types of professionals who intervene of the client (but also other types of professionals such as the client’s children or friends?) Does professional socialization in these trades consist in learning to work on the dispositions of others (learning the codification of bodies, the work of compliance with certain standards of beauty, impositions on the client? A look at one’s own body, etc.)?

Axis 3. Beauty work and the corporal socialization

In what sense does the content of beauty work – constructed around certain legitimate forms of beauty – transform the culture of class and the lifestyle as well as the employees’ display and expression of their body?

In the first place, we invite contributions analyzing the wat that certain norms of beauty in the profession become legitimated in the organization and execution of the work. Contemporary study of the emotional work and the care work has highlighted to which point the emotional intelligence is imbricated in the process of relational work (Hochschild 1983). According to different professions, the capacity to be smiling, empathetic or reserved function not only as professional skills, but can also become a source of exhaustion. Similarly, we invite contributions that take into account the commercialization of emotions in the relational work of beauty. Numerous studies have highlighted the existence of certain demands of physical appearances or body in the service work. It is a matter here to interrogate on the legitimation of these esthetic norms in the beauty work. From the criteria of recruiting to the ritual of interaction with the clients, passing by the employees’ formation, how are the implicit expectation on the employee’s appearances normalized in the process of work? Which are the mechanisms contributing to the circulation, the mutation and the stabilization of these esthetic norms socially and sexually diversified – in the professions where women are overrepresented but also within the professions where men are overrepresented?

Second, we propose to analyze the employees’ subjectivity and agency confronting the norms of beauty in certain sectors. If the professions of beauty include a spectrum of various clients, ranging from cheap to expensive products of care, it is indispensable that the majority of these employees are members of the working class. In this sense, being employed in these professions, especially in those of luxurious products, signifying a form of social distinction and thus motivated them to reply to the esthetic norms in their professional milieu. The challenge here will be to grasp the way that these employees interpret and internalize the norms of beauty during their work and out of work.

Axis 4. The boundary of work with the prism of beauty

Questioning the way in which employees internalize the norms conveyed at work can lead to consider the activities, the tasks, the daily gestures necessary for the production and the reproduction of these norms. Would not it be a job? A work on oneself in domestic space, neither recognized, nor qualifying, but nevertheless real that the one-s-the-others are brought to make to be recruited-e-s during a job interview, for example? On a day-to-day basis, what are the explicit or tacit orders or reminders that require employees to comply with these standards? Where and when does this self-study stop for employees who hope to embody the beauty canons? Can we observe situations of burnout, discrimination and suffering at work related to these tacit injunctions?

Finally, beauty work makes it possible to study the question of the boundaries between professional work and domestic work (Albert et al., 2017). From a historical point of view, professions appear and disappear, in relation with the taking over of certain practices in the private sphere or not (Vigarello, 2004, Lanoe, 2008), as was the case of the barbers, for example. Today, the confusion of spheres can be observed in the partition of spaces where the professionals invites themselves to their own place while the private invades places considered public. Some activities become professional while others are domesticated. The challenge of this axis is therefore, first of all, to examine what the work of beauty produces as a confusion between domestic and professional work and, by extension, to what extent it makes it possible to re- examine the definition of work by its margins (Calderon et al. alii, 2016). Here again, the situation of youtubers could be examined with attention.


  • July 5 2019: submitting the abstract of 2000 signs with the methodology, sources, articulation with the special issue and the principal results.

  • July 12 2019: notice for authors of the selection result.

  • January 6 2020: submitting the article to the journal.


ALBERT Anaïs, PLUMAUZILLE Clyde, VILLE Sylvain, (coord.), « Déplacer les frontières du travail », Tracès, 2017, n° 23.

AMADIEU Jean-François, Le poids des apparences. Beauté, amour et gloire, Paris, Odile Jacob, 2002.

BOURDIEU Pierre, « Remarques provisoires sur la perception sociale du corps », Actes de la Recherche en Sciences Sociales, 1977, n° 14, pp. 51-54

CALDERON José-Angel, DEMAILLY Lise, MULLER Séverin (coord.), Aux marges du travail, Toulouse, Octarès Editions, coll. « Le travail en débats », 2016.

CHANLAT Jean-François, « Émotions, organisation et management : une réflexion critique sur la notion d’intelligence émotionnelle », Travailler, 2003, n°  9, pp 113-132.

COCHENNEC Morgan, « Le soin des apparences. L’univers professionnel de l’esthétique-cosmétique », Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 2004, n° 154, p. 80-91

DARMON Muriel, Devenir anorexique, Paris, La Découverte, 2003.

DARMON Muriel, « Surveiller et maigrir. Sociologie des modes de contrainte dans un groupe commercial d’amaigrissement », Revue d’Etudes en Agriculture et Environnement, 2010, n° 91, pp. 209-228.

DE SAINT-POL Thibaut, Le corps désirable. Hommes et femmes face à leur poids, Paris, PUF, 2010.

DENAVE Sophie, RENARD Fanny, « Aspirants mécaniciens, aspirants coiffeurs », La construction de masculinités populaires différenciées, Terrains & travaux, 2015, n° 27.

ENTWISTLE Joanne, WISSINGER Elizabeth, ”Keeping up appearances: aesthetic labour in the fashion modelling industries of London and New York”, The Sociological Review, vol 54, n° 4, pp. 774-794.

HIDRI Oumaya, « Faut-il travailler son corps pour réussir un entretien d’embauche ? La place de l’apparence physique dans les manuels d’Aide à la Recherche d’Emploi », Lien social et politiques, 2008, no 59, pp. 21-32.

HOCHSCHILD Arlie, The Managed Heart, Commercialization of Human Feeling, University of California Press, 1983.

HUGHES Everett, Le regard sociologique, Paris, Les Editions de l’EHESS, 1996. LANOE Catherine, La poudre et le fard : une histoire des cosmétiques de la Renaissance aux Lumières, Champ Vallon, 2008.

LAURENT Pierre-Joseph, « Aspects de la domestication sociale de la beauté », Recherches sociologiques et anthropologiques, 2007, vol 38, n° 1, pp. 183-189.

PERETZ Henri, « Le vendeur, la vendeuse et leur cliente : ethnographie du prêt- à-porter de luxe » Revue française de sociologie, 1992, vol 33, n° 1, pp. 49-72.

SKEGGS Beverly, Des femmes respectables. Classe et genre en milieu populaire, Marseille, Agone, 2015.

VIGARELLO Georges, Histoire de la beauté : le corps et l’art d’embellir de la Renaissance à nos jours, Paris, Éd. du Seuil, 2004.

WACQUANT Loïc, Corps et âme : carnets ethnographiques d’un apprenti boxeur, Marseille, Agone, 2003.

WILLIAMS Christine, CONNELL Catherine, “Looking good and sounding right” aesthetic labor and social inequality in the retail industry.” Work and Occupations, 2010, vol 37, n° 3, pp. 349-377.

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