How South Asian Americans' engagements with Indian beauty and fashion help structure their uneven access to social mobility, capital, and citizenship
Beauty, Femininity, and South Asian American Culture
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A title in the American Literatures Initiative.
In her insightful study, Fashioning Diaspora, Vanita Reddy carefully maps how transnational itineraries of Indian beauty and fashion shaped South Asian American cultural identities and racialized belonging from the 1990s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. She observes how diasporic subjects engage with and respond to various encounters with Indian beauty and fashion.
One of the first books to consider beauty and fashion as a point of entry into an examination of South Asian diasporic public cultures, Fashioning Diaspora examines a range of literature, visual art, and live performance. Through careful analyses of novels by Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri, young adult literature, performance art by Shailja Patel, beauty and adornment practices, as well as objects of popular culture including an Indian American fashion doll, Reddy challenges fashion and beauty as a set of dematerialized, overly commodified cultural practices. She argues instead that beauty and fashion structure South Asian Americans' uneven access to social mobility, capital, and citizenship, and she demonstrates their varying capacities to produce social attachments across national, class, racial, gender, and generational divides.
Read an excerpt from the Introduction (pdf).
"Fashioning Diaspora is an extraordinary intervention into the joint fields of Asian American studies and feminist and queer theory. Reddy makes important contributions, and her book is distinguished by fresh, original readings of a diverse archive of South Asian American public culture. This innovative constellation of texts not only enables us to see how the archive constitutes a historical source for narratives of South Asian migration but also produces a state of feeling: what she argues is the feeling of beauty."
"Vanita Reddy has now made it very difficult to think about the South Asian diaspora without paying attention to the subjects, objects, discourses, and practices of beauty that animate it. Moving seamlessly from discussions of the 'exceptional beauty' of literary heroines like Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine to the transformation of Delhi and Mumbai into new fashion capitals, Reddy's compelling readings and vast archive of 'beautiful forms' leave us much wiser about how aesthetic desires and demands have shaped South Asians' everyday practices of belonging."
"Vanita Reddy, through a remarkable sleight of hand, shifts our optics away from looking at beauty directly. Instead of asking what beauty is, her new book, Fashioning Diaspora, asks what beauty does. The strength of her approach removes beauty from the abstract realm, instead positioning it as an agent, activator and animator of the social.... Reddy's scholarly, timely and attentive analysis of how beauty shapes the experiences of South Asian Americans is a necessary text for bridging the gaps between embodied practices and cultural signifiers, between fashion and race and between aesthetics and politics."
"Reddy focuses on the study of appearance to understand how beauty and fashion, in the context of South Asian diaspora in the United States, between 1989 and 2010, come to be explicitly linked to citizenship and belongingness.... Reddy bases her study on the empirically valid assumption that beauty, fashion and habits of attire are 'social domains through which to articulate diasporic belonging in a new global economy', in other words, that people use beauty and fashion to express identity in a world where definitions are multifaceted."
About the Author(s)
Vanita Reddy is an Assistant Professor of English at Texas A&M University.
Subject CategoriesAsian American Studies
Literature and Drama
In the series
Asian American History and Culture, edited by K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Cathy Schlund-Vials.
Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture, series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi and David Palumbo-Liu, series editors K. Scott Wong, Linda Trinh Võ, and Cathy Schlund-Vials continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.