Becoming Beautifully Modern: An Ethnographic Study of the Work of Beauty Amongst British Pakistani women in Sheffield

  • Hester Clarke

Student thesis: Phd


My research explores the tension between being and becoming modern and moral for British-born Muslim Pakistani women in Sheffield through an investigation into the judgements that surround beauty, beautification, and beauty work. Through ethnography I unpack the raced and classed regimes in which my interlocutors are embedded, arguing that global Islam and Asian are affiliations that are realised in relation to the English (White British) community. Through comparisons to White British women (referred to as 'English' amongst my informants), the young Pakistani women I met negotiate an understanding of themselves and others within a schema of British multiculturalism, in which English are the standard for which to aim. Over the last 10 years, the number of young, British-born Pakistani women in Sheffield who are establishing Ladies Only beauty salons and training as Asian Bridal Make-Up Artists has increased rapidly. These specialised services, catering for Muslim and Asian women respectively, appear at first glance to be conflictual with the notion of piety. In my thesis, I demonstrate how these two narratives overlap and are brought together by the idiom of 'good intention', a trope which centres on a discussion of self-esteem and female empowerment. In the everyday, beauty and beautification are judged through perceptions of 'naturalness' and 'balance', a narrative that gives way to one of beauty-as-effort during celebratory occasions. Whereas everyday beautification is directly linked to the superior beauty and beautification of White English women through discussions of 'natural' fair skin and good taste, I suggest that the perception of Asian beauty-as-effort is also compared to perceptions of White English beauty. Although Asian beauty-as-effort and transformation are considered superior to the mere improvement undertaken by White English women during celebratory occasions, forms of beautification thought of as Asian, are used as a measure of the 'progression' of the Pakistani community as a whole along a continuum on which the White English community is thought of as the furthest progressed. The popularity of beauty work amongst my informants is due to the perception that such work has high earning potential as well as offering job flexibility and the possibility of being one's own boss. These positive attributes are troubled, however, by a perception of beauty work as being specifically related to Pakistani women, low-skilled, and potentially immoral. In my thesis, I explore how beauty workers negotiate the negative connotations of beauty work through contemplation of their Islamic faith, kinship relations, and the notion that beauty work is just a hobby or a stepping stone to 'proper' work within a graduate profession.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJeanette Edwards (Supervisor) & Petra Tjitske Kalshoven (Supervisor)


  • Beauty, Beautification, Beauty Work, Race, Islam, Pakistani, Britain

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