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The late-nineteenth century beauty influencer and the optimizable subject

Resource type
Thesis type
(Thesis) M.A.
Date created
Subjectivity in wellness culture contains a central paradox: self-optimization, framed as the means to self-fulfillment, holistic health, and optimal well-being, presupposes an imperative to discipline the self. The subject of wellness culture is thus created and maintained through (the right kind of) consumption along a personal quest towards self-optimization. To foreground the process of subjectification and the operation of power in contemporary wellness culture, this thesis turns towards the archive to examine the late-nineteenth century media forms of beauty culture, namely London women's domestic and fashion magazines and a "beauty culturist" (Clark, 2020) named Anna Ruppert. I argue that the beauty culturist/influencer was a vector of discipline and control, constructing idealized bourgeois beauty and womanhood from within a form of biopolitics that conceived of the self-regulated, white, abled, and wealthy individual woman as a central element to 'civilizing' the British empire. This historical case study of beauty's governance of the subject serves to illuminate how the construction of idealized white femininity was and still is a site for individual discipline and the overall functioning of biopower. Ultimately, I show that, like late-nineteenth century London beauty culture's magazines, advertisements, and culturists like Ruppert, wellness culture's influencers and brands like Gwyneth Paltrow and goop position the malleable and optimizable subject, also often understood as the white, abled, and wealthy woman, as a central lever for 'optimizing' the contemporary capitalist empire.
91 pages.
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Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Hong, Sun-ha
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