Cosmetic Citizenship: Beauty, Affect and Inequality in Southeastern Brazil

Alvaro Jarrin

This dissertation examines how perceptions of beauty in Brazil reflect both the existing social inequalities and the struggles to produce a more egalitarian society. While hegemonic discourses about beauty in Brazil foster an upper-middle class, white standard, the working-class make claims to citizenship by redefining beauty according to their own affective, sensory experiences. As I see it, the affective relationship that plastic surgery patients have towards their own bodies is central to understanding why beauty is a source of social recognition in Brazil. In this dissertation, I argue that even though discourse attempts to discipline the body to perceive only the "truths" it produces, subjects reinhabit discourses through their immediate sensory experiences, opening up the political space to generate social change.

In order to access this form of "cosmetic citizenship," however, working-class patients undergo low-cost aesthetic surgeries in public hospitals, which are subsidized by the State and help build the national reputation of plastic surgeons. I argue that this national investment in beauty establishes personal appearance as a precondition for citizenship and inclusion in the nation. While media narratives construct beauty as a vehicle for upward mobility in Brazil, the medical discourse about beauty imagines the Brazilian population as becoming progressively homogeneous through "miscegenation" and surgery. These discourses depend on the raciology established by Neo-Lamarckian eugenics at the beginning of the twentieth century, and later popularized by the work of Gilberto Freyre.