Discipline and power in women’s beauty practices in post-Soviet Russia
This paper considers the influence of Russia’s transition from communism to capitalism on women’s gender identity and self-perception as expressed in their beautification practices. I examine women’s daily beauty rituals as a form of self-surveillance and the internalisation of social norms, and as practically applied to oneself, in the context of an increasingly consumption-oriented society. For the analysis of these practices in the context of an emergent consumer culture in the post-Soviet Russia of the 1990s, I employ Michel Foucault’s notion of surveillance of self and others through the gaze and Pierre Bourdieu’s notion of habitus and cultural capital in its embodied state. I argue that women as social agents turn a disempowering experience of their bodies as the-body-for-other into a supposedly empowering experience when they reapply to other women beauty norms that they accept and apply to themselves. An experience of gaining power and control comes from the belief that through beautification they have managed to reshape their bodies to match current ideals of feminine beauty and secured their main cultural capital, beauty. But critical gazes and comments directed to other women are a selfreassurance of fitting in to the normative femininity rather than an imposition of influence over the other. In short, despite cultural representations of female beauty as a high valued quality, beauty-power is illusory in a sense that it has no effect on masculine privilege, characteristic of current gender relations.