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UAL Research Online

Keeping up Appearances: aesthetic labour and identity in the fashion modelling industries of London and New York

Entwistle, Joanne and Wissinger, Elizabeth (2006) Keeping up Appearances: aesthetic labour and identity in the fashion modelling industries of London and New York. Sociological Review, 54 (4). pp. 774-794. ISSN 0038-0261

Type of Research: Article
Creators: Entwistle, Joanne and Wissinger, Elizabeth

This paper addresses itself to literature on ‘aesthetic labour’ in order to extend understanding of embodied labour practices. Through a case study of fashion modelling in New York and London we argue for an extension of the concept to address what we see as problematic absences and limitations. Thus, we seek to extend its range, both in terms of occupations it can be applied to, not just interactive service work and organizational workers, and its conceptual scope, beyond the current concern with superficial appearances at work and within organizations. First, we attend to the ways in which these freelancers have to adapt to fluctuating aesthetic trends and different clients and commodify themselves in the absence of a corporate aesthetic. The successful models are usually the ones who take on the responsibility of managing their bodies, becoming ‘enterprising’ with respect to all aspects of their embodied self. Secondly, unlike Dean (2005) who similarly extends aesthetic labour to female actors, we see conceptual problems with the term that need addressing. We argue that the main proponents of aesthetic labour have a poorly conceived notion of embodiment and that current conceptualizations produce a reductive account of the aesthetic labourer as a ‘cardboard cut-out’, and aesthetic labour as superficial work on the body's surface. In contrast, drawing on phenomenology, we examine how aesthetic labour involves the entire embodied self, or ‘body/self’, and analyse how the effort to keep up appearances, while physical, has an emotional content to it. Besides the physical and emotional effort of body maintenance, the imperative to project ‘personality’ requires many of the skills in emotional labour described by Hochschild (1983). Thirdly, aesthetic labour entails on-going production of the body/self, not merely a superficial performance at work. The enduring nature of this labour is evidenced by the degree of body maintenance required to conform to the fashion model aesthetic (dieting, for example) and is heightened by the emphasis placed on social networking in freelancing labour, which demands workers who are ‘always on’. In this way, unlike corporate workers, we suggest that the freelance aesthetic labourer cannot walk away from their product, which is their entire embodied self. Thus, in these ways we see aesthetic labour adding to, or extending, rather than supplanting emotional labour, as Witz et al. (2003) would have it.
The paper develops the concept of aesthetic labour in the following ways. It examines aesthetic labour within newly expanding forms of freelancing project-based work (Grabher 2002; Henson, 1996; McRobbie, 2002,2003, Ursell, 2000), considering how, in this case, fashion models, manage and maintain their bodies for work. The concept of aesthetic labour is extended to this group of workers in three ways. First, asking how do freelancers manage their bodies and sell themselves in absence of corporate code? Second, it argues that aesthetic labour is not just about surface appearance, but involves some degree of ‘emotional labour’ (managing rejection, appearing ‘happy’). Finally, it demonstrates how aesthetic labour involves body maintenance – dieting or exercise to maintain ideal working weight – not just a superficial performance at work.

Official Website: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-954X.2006.00671.x
Additional Information (Publicly available):

The paper, based on two projects on models in London and New York (64 interviews) and observations in situ at castings, in agencies, at fashion shows, captures the working population of fashion models. It is published in a peer reviewed, international journal.

Keywords/subjects not otherwise listed: Clustering & networking, Employment conditions, Management, entrepreneurship & SME
Publisher/Broadcaster/Company: Sage
Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Other Affiliations > RAE 2008
Research Centres No Longer Active > Fashion, The Body And Material Cultures Research Centre (FBMC)
Date: 1 November 2006
Digital Object Identifier: 10.1111/j.1467-954X.2006.00671.x
Date Deposited: 02 Dec 2009 15:37
Last Modified: 11 Aug 2011 14:25
Item ID: 1745
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/1745

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