Race and beauty in Canada: print culture, retail, and the transnational flow of products, images and ideologies, 1700s to present

by Cheryl Thompson

Institution: McGill University
Department: Department of Art History and Communications Studies
Degree: PhD
Year: 2015
Keywords: Communications And The Arts - Mass Communications
Record ID: 2060598
Full text PDF: http://digitool.library.mcgill.ca/thesisfile130519.pdf


This dissertation is about race, class, gender, and the emergence of modern consumer capitalism. Using an historical approach, the project makes a link between transatlantic slavery, women's hair and beauty practices, and consumer culture. It pays particular attention to how black beauty and mainstream (read: white) beauty culture intersect, overlap, conflict, and mimic one another. Throughout this dissertation, I contextualize the growth and development of Canada's beauty culture by examining histories of migration and immigration to central and Atlantic Canada, and explain the rise of barbershops and hair salons in Toronto, Montreal, Halifax and Western Canada. I also examine the relationship between the sale of beauty products at retail and the visual representation of beauty in product advertising. Chapter one is an examination of Canada's colonial history of slavery, the advertisement of slave and runaway notices, the material conditions of black women's (and men's) labour, and the corporeality of the black female body with respect to hair care, dress, and resistance in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. I pinpoint the cultural significance of headwrapping and dress among black slave women, in addition to the colonial regulation of dress and self-care practices across the transatlantic. In chapters two and three, I give detailed accounts of the commercialization and commodification of mainstream beauty in North America, and explain the impact of late-nineteenth and early twentieth-century feminist movements, such as suffragism, temperance, dress reform, and the ideology and practices of the New Womanhood on the beauty ideal. Chapter four outlines the rise of advertisements for barbershops, hair salons, and beauty products in black Canadian newspapers in the 1920s through the 1940s. Chapter five explains how political movements of the 1960s such as second wave feminism and Black is Beautiful shifted the visualization of beauty and the politics attached to women's hair. In chapter six I deconstruct the role black community newspapers and Canadian women's magazines played in the promotion of beauty in the 1970s through the 1990s, and explain the ways in which skin and hair care products geared toward black women entered department stores and drugstores. Lastly, I argue that when Canadian magazines and advertisers began to perceive multiculturalism as a fashion aesthetic in the late-1980s, it raised questions about the diversification of the beauty standard and the issue of white bias. I also explore the contemporary health concerns associated with chemical hair straightening, hair weaves, and skin lightening products. This project makes a contribution to the study of Canada as it relates to slavery, consumer culture, European settlement, print media, and retail history. It also contributes to a wider understanding of the sociocultural, triangular relationship between the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. Cette dissertation traite de race, de statut social, de genre, ainsi que de l'√©mergence de la…