Selling and Consuming Cosmetic Surgery: Construction of Hegemonic Femininity in Post-socialist China
post-socialist gender politics
Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
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AbstractThis presentation analyzes two contrasting cultural discourses surrounding women’s consumption of cosmetic surgery in post-socialist China: cosmetic hospitals’ marketing materials and women consumers’ interview narratives. Contextualizing my analysis within China’s neoliberal market imperatives and postfeminist mentality, I find that the sampled data point to the fomentation of hegemonic feminine ideals that hinge on not only narrowly defined aesthetic and self-regulating moral standards, but also patriarchal, heterosexual gender roles. The hegemonic femininity embodied by a Ms. White Wealthy Beautiful (the thus labeled “Bai Fu Mei”), for instance, has left indelible imprints on both selling and consuming cosmetic surgical procedures. Remapping intertwined class and gender codes on the female body, cosmetic surgery has paradoxically brought about the promise of upward class mobility and the predicament of regressive gender mandate. Whereas neoliberal social transformation and evolving gender politics foment new configurations of Chinese femininity, I further posit that consumers of cosmetic surgery play a complex, complicit role in constructing oppressive subtexts of feminine normalcy, which reinscribes cultural control over the female body.