Accepted paper:

Performing 'Asian beauty' through make-up artistry: discussion and negotiation of beauty amongst Muslim Pakistani women in Sheffield


Hester Clarke (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

I propose an exploration of how Muslim Pakistani women in Sheffield perform ‘Asian beauty’ through narratives of race, class, piety, and womanhood in the context of Asian bridal make-up artistry with reference to ugliness, transformation, and perceptions of alternative understandings of beauty.

Paper long abstract:

In this paper I will discuss performances of beauty amongst Muslim women of Pakistani heritage residing in Sheffield (UK) through presenting a section of my ethnographic research conducted in 2013 with women working as or training to become specialist Asian Bridal Make-Up Artists (known as MUAs). MUAs transformed their clients for special occasions, predominantly weddings and religious celebrations, striving to create 'false', 'fake', and 'doll-like' looks which conformed to a strict understanding of 'Asian beauty'. Looks were created through imagined constructs of Asian, Arabic, English, American, and celebrity beauty contrasted with English and 'Paki' ugliness. Beauty was not a fixed set of aesthetic and moral values but incorporated ambiguity, uncertainty, and an emphasis on the transformative process, which relied upon the development of aesthetic ugliness and unattractiveness by clients, particularly brides, in the weeks preceding the celebration. Exaggerating the change in the individual's appearance through removing make-up and dressing down, enhancing the effort employed by the individual in transforming, was a practice driven by the desire to impress and compete with female guests. I suggest that the negotiations and relationships between understandings of race, national identity, class, piety, appropriate expressions of womanhood, and a desire to be 'a little bit different' within a particularly strict expression of 'Asian' beauty make for an interesting discussion on how beauty norms are constructed in relation to imagined alternative interpretations of beauty amongst those designated as English, Arab, and 'Paki'.

panel P39
'Alternative' beauty in 'alternative' communities, scenes and subcultures