The beauty and the car: tradeshow hostesses and sociocultural constructions of ideals of beauty
Tanja Kubes (TU Munich)
Paper short abstract:
Motor show hostesses represent an almost archetypical image of Western femininity and beauty. My paper addresses the various physical and mental activities that shape the process of living up to this specific ideal of beauty and develops a concept of beauty as performance.
Paper long abstract:
Motor show hostesses represent an almost archetypical image of Western femininity and beauty. The process of becoming a hostess includes constant defragmentations and recompositions of the female body and the acquisition of specific "hostess beauty techniques". Seemingly everyday activities like standing or smiling are stripped of their codified social meanings and emotional values and are re-acquired as purely physical actions to live up to idealized images of the beautiful young woman next to a car. There is a clear cognitive/emotional dissonance between how those hostesses feel (e.g. sore legs and aching backs) and what their mimic seems to suggest (cheerful smiles and alluring glances). Performing beauty is a complex physical and mental activity that needs to be studied in a holistic, multisensory way. The ethnographer has no choice but to subject herself to the strict regime of (often quite painful) bodily experience. My paper is based on extensive "thick participation" and participant observation among motor show hostesses and discusses the physical (or incorporative) aspects of culture that can be observed in the act of performing beauty. I will address how ideals of beauty form the body and how they are incorporated, how they inscribe themselves in the body and "naturalize" body and mind. In addition, I will develop a performative concept of "doing beauty" as it can be induced from the sensory experience of hostessing.