Exploring how Panoptical Ideas of Inter- and Intra-Surveillance Affect Women’s Beauty Work

  • Amy Walker

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The politics of beauty have long been a focus of feminist debate, where ideas of women’s agency, patriarchal power, and gender performativity are often invoked. Beauty standards and practices vary globally and historically. However, the beauty industry continues to pervade women’s lives with growing intensity (Elias & Gill, 2017). Whilst there exists a plethora of feminist beauty scholarship, extant research tends to be predicated on conceptualising beauty work as either oppressive or liberating for women. This thesis disrupts these binary ideas by utilising a Foucauldian-feminist theoretical framework and conceptualising beauty work as a distinctly gendered form of bodily discipline. This thesis extends Foucualt’s metaphor of the panopticon, a prison structure which encourages inmates to carry out self-surveillance, to the field of women’s beauty. In this conceptualisation, women are placed within a field of visibility where they are both the ‘seer and the seen’. This thesis argues that, in being aware of this visibility, women carry out beauty work to adhere to conventional, hegemonic beauty standards, thus perpetuating its normalisation, at the same time resisting normative ideas of beauty. Using semi-structured interviews with 27 women, this thesis explores women’s relationship with beauty ideology and beauty work. In particular, it explores the role of the media in shaping women’s understandings of normative beauty ideology, how ideas of choice are conceptualised, how intersectional ideas influence women’s beauty work, and how beauty ideology and practices are resisted by women. As such, the nuance and complexity of women’s relationship with beauty is explored, furthering academic understandings of beauty.
Date of Award7 Sep 2023
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorGrainne McMahon (Main Supervisor) & Tray Yeadon-Lee (Co-Supervisor)

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