Beauty Industry

The notion “beauty industry” is employed in various fields and from manifold angles, including everyday language. In order to make a critical interrogation of the beauty industry fruitful for Marxist thought, and vice versa, both the beauty industry and the ‘hidden labor of beauty’ (Black 2004, 66-91) must be situated within an analysis of the capitalist gendered division of labor. Marxist feminists have furthered Marxist thought by emphasizing and analyzing the fundamental necessity of house and care work (‘reproductive labor’) in capitalism. Attending to the beauty industry from a Marxist feminist perspective allows for extending the analysis of the capitalist gendered division of labor beyond these domains of ‘care work’ or ‘emotional labor’.

In line with Euromonitor, the beauty industry can be defined as including fragrances, hair and skin care products, sun care, color cosmetics, men’s grooming products, bath and shower products, as well as oral and baby care, and as overlapping with other industries and services such as fashion, hairdressers and beauty salons, and plastic surgery and other more medical services (Jones 2010, 9). The use of products to increase attractiveness and alter one’s scent goes way back in history to ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, as well as medieval Chinese, Arabs, and Europeans (ibid., 4). The development of the beauty industry, however, was initiated by a number of female and male entrepreneurs during the nineteenth century. The mid-nineteenth century saw the rise of beauty salons and of businesses that marketed beauty products, workplaces which in industrialized countries such as the UK or the US provided some of only a few employment opportunities for White (mostly working-class and some middle-class) women as well as for US Black women and men in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Black 2004, 15-21). The history of the beauty industry is by-and-large a history of “large numbers of small and medium-sized entrepreneurial firms” rather than of “capital-intensive, mass marketing and mass production industries” (Jones 2010,15). It would become a mass-industry and increasingly globalized only by the 1920s and 1930s, a trend that intensified massively after World War II (Black 2004, 20-26). Currently, in the 21st century, the beauty industry is a multi-billion-dollar global industry, with consumers having each spent on average more than 330 dollars on cosmetics around the world in 2008 (Jones 2010, 1).

The gendered division of labor in capitalism is of at least twofold significance when it comes to the beauty industry. First, in many industrializing countries, a gendered division of labor started to unfold in the White bourgeoisie in the late 18th century (e.g., Sieder 1987) and generalized to the White (e.g., Rendall 1993) and only partly to people of color and black working classes throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries (e.g., Collins 2000, 53f.). This division of labor assigned the wife to reproductive labor in the private sphere of the home and the husband to productive labor in the public sphere. Reproductive labor includes all activities that are needed in order to reproduce the workers’ ability to work, e.g., cleaning, cooking, having and raising children, and many other chores. For the middle-class wife of bourgeois societies in particular, domestic duties increasingly went along with representational as well as consumption responsibilities since the second half of the 19th century (Penz 2010, 14). The woman then became and has, to some extent, remained “the index of [the husband’s] economic situation, the prestige-object of a household, who is ceaselessly occupied in the task of creating fine distinctions” (Vinken 2005, 5), while the husbands’ attire grew more and more homogenized and plain. Beautification practices, in turn, became more and more inextricably linked with femininity.

Second, services and products of the beauty industry, as well as a considerable amount of beauty labor carried out by employees, are increasingly required by a continuously expanding service sector. Furthering discussions about the significance of ‘emotional labor’, especially in the care work occupations, Witz, Warhurst, and Nickson (2003) have examined the rising importance of aesthetics in contemporary organizations as ‘aesthetic labor’. Bourdieu (1984) already hinted at the fact that this form of labor is both fundamentally classed and gendered when he pointed out that it was mainly women of the petit-bourgeoisie who “devote such great investments, of self-denial and especially of time, to improving their appearance and are such unconditional believers in all forms of cosmetic voluntarism” (ibid., 206). What is more, he differentiated between professions with traditionally male representational functions (e.g., diplomacy) and rather new “representational and ‘hosting’ functions” (ibid., 152) which rely on traditional notions of femininity and had led to a market for certain physical attributes where “beauty thus acquires a value on the labour market” (ibid., 153). Following this train of thought, Black (2004) has hinted at the necessity of situating aesthetic labor within a gendered and classed analysis of changes in late capitalist labor markets. Especially for the working classes, traditionally masculine skills valued in the manufacturing sector are becoming increasingly obsolete while the service sector, which relies on skills and features that are traditionally coded as feminine, is ever-expanding. In this sense, Lovell considers femininity as – albeit limited – embodied cultural capital that “may begin to have a competitive market advantage compared with the attributes of traditional working-class masculinity” (Lovell 2000, 25). However, Black (2004, 126) points to the hidden aesthetic labor behind supposedly natural femininity as it requires considerable skills which need to be learned as well as continuous extensive labor, both of which “remain unrecognised when they are viewed as an immanent characteristic of femininity”. Thus, in a sense, aesthetic labor is a form of reproductive labor required in the service sector.

Double Socialization of Women

The term “double socialization of women” [doppelte Vergesellschaftung von Frauen] was coined by the German sociologist Regina Becker-Schmidt (1991, 2003, 2010) in order to theorize the relation between gender and socialization as well as the discrimination and resistance of women. A former student of Theodor W. Adorno, Becker-Schmidt is strongly anchored within Marxist and critical theory but specifically criticizes the notions of ‘labor’ and ‘socialization’ employed by both theoretical traditions (e.g., Marx 1962, 53) for failing to capture the social significance of private housework (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 11). While Adorno and Horkheimer, for example, did criticize the inadequate social recognition of housework (see Becker-Schmidt 2003, 12) they nevertheless retained the Marxist equation of labor with productive labor and located women in the private sphere of the family (see Becker-Schmidt 1991, 289-390). In a feminist re-interpretation of Marxist and critical theory, Becker-Schmidt exposes not only the social and psychological consequences for women of the gendered division of labor in capitalist society, but also the ideological nature of ruling gender relations.

Becker-Schmidt further developed a number of feminist critiques of, and engagements with, Marxist theory. In Italy these debates were initiated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa (1972, 159-160), who in contrast to Marx ascribed surplus value to (mainly women’s) housework activities, arguing that the capitalist class could only produce surplus value because work as commodity was reproduced in the private sphere. Other Marxist feminists substantiated Dalla Costa’s manifesto using empirical data. Based on historical research, Silvia Federici (2012; other works on the topic date back into the mid- 1970s) interpreted the gendered division of labor as a (pre-)condition of capitalism. In Germany, the Bielefeld group around Maria Mies coined the term Hausfrauisierung der Arbeit [Housewification of work; trasl. N.R.] in order to theorize the observation that the gendered division of labor is not only a necessary basic condition of capitalist relations of production but also leads to the systematic demotion of reproductive labor (Werlhof, Mies and Bennholdt-Thomsen 1988).

Becker-Schmidt complemented these more structural Marxist feminist analyses by a psychological perspective that asks how working conditions are reflected in women’s psyches. Her theoretical endeavors were motivated by empirical analyses of the experiences of women employed as factory workers and who furthermore shouldered the majority of childcare and housework responsibilities in their families (Becker-Schmidt 1980). The interviewees insisted on the significance of both forms of work while relating their difficulties of combining and alternating between two incommensurable spheres of work. On top of the time-consuming nature of this double-burden, the women experienced considerable psychological pressure trying to live up to the distinct requirements of these two fundamentally different lines of work. Nevertheless, for their own personal fulfillment the women chose to put up with the consequences: “It is a lack within one domain of practice that is compensated by gratification within the other domain” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 67; transl. N.R.). Becker-Schmidt (2010, 66-8) developed her social theory on the basis of the experiences of these women and called for a re-interpretation of the Marxist notion of socialization: women, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, are subject to ‘double socialization’.

The process in which individuals in capitalist society become members of society is fundamentally mediated by (wage) labor. Along the lines of class, ethnicity, and other social groups, individuals are socialized into concrete relations of labor and gender (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 1-2). The logic of capitalism furthermore infiltrates all domains of social life by increasing rationalization, the logic of exploitation, unification, and ubiquitous commodification. However, the process of socialization is not only achieved by partaking in social life. Becker-Schmidt borrows the term ‘inner socialization’ from Adorno in order to theorize the fact that individuals adjust their inner lives to the demands of objective reality, i.e., drive and personality structures as well as patterns of action and perception are reconfigured in response to social forces. This intrapsychic adjustment does not come without resistance, though (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 36). Defiance arises when the potential of self-determination, i.e., ‘individuation’, is constrained too much in the process of socialization. Individuals can thus never be totally socialized (Becker-Schmidt 2003, 2).

Broadening the androcentric notion of labor in Marxist theory allows for the ideological nature of ruling gender relations to come into view. Becker-Schmidt here addresses the social separation of productive labor and reproductive labor as an artificial division of two social domains that are hierarchically ordered along gender lines, while at the same fundamentally interrelated. In order to understand the ideological nature of this division, she employs Marx’ analysis of commodity fetishism (Marx 1962, 86). Marx proposed that capital and human labor are structurally related. While capital is needed in order to produce machines, it is wage labor that puts them into operation. It is thus only when both capital and labor are combined that commodities can be produced. However, to the workers it seems as if machines produced without their effort. In commodity fetishism commodities appear as natural things, and the social conditions of their production, as well as the human labor necessary to produce them, are obscured. Becker-Schmidt (2010, 72) proposes that a similar mechanism makes the social value of women’s care and housework invisible: while reproductive labor is utterly indispensable in order for productive labor power to be (re-)created and sustained, the mutual interdependence of these two social domains is obscured in capitalist society. It is exactly by rendering the inextricable interrelation of productive and reproductive labor invisible that relations of power and oppression elude criticism and resistance (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 69-72).

Beyond a social-theoretical analysis of women’s exploitation and discrimination, the notion ‘double socialization of women’ also allows to take into view specific potentials for resistance, for both women’s inner and outer socialization are marked by more ruptures than are men’s. In their biographical development, girls tend to identify more strongly with parents of both genders and with their respective gender roles than do their male siblings. Thus, they do not unambivalently internalize their socially-attributed gender role. This mode of inner socialization of women creates specific patterns of perception and thought (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 68-9). Maybe more importantly, however, insofar as they partake in both productive and reproductive labor, women are not totally subject to the logic of rationalization that characterizes wage labor (Becker-Schmidt 1991, 389). It is exactly because women are socialized through both of these social domains that the contradictory nature of social organization can be unveiled. To Becker-Schmidt, this opening for defiance, critique, and resistance carries the enormous potential “of collapsing the entire casing of unreasonableness and unacceptability which houses women’s ambivalent socialization into two halved life-worlds.” (Becker-Schmidt 2010, 72-3; transl. N.R.).