Between the 1920s and the 1970s, American economic culture began
to emphasize the value of consumption over production. At the same
time, the rise of new mass media such as radio and television
facilitated the advertising and sales of consumer goods on an
unprecedented scale. In Style and Status: Selling Beauty to African
American Women, 1920--1975, Susannah Walker analyzes an
often-overlooked facet of twentieth-century consumer society as she
explores the political, social, and racial implications of the
business devoted to producing and marketing beauty products for
African American women. Walker examines African American beauty
culture as a significant component of twentieth-century
consumerism, and she links both subjects to the complex racial
politics of the era. The efforts of black entrepreneurs to
participate in the American economy and to achieve
self-determination of black beauty standards often caused conflict
within the African American community. Additionally, a prevalence
of white-owned firms in the African American beauty industry
sparked widespread resentment, even among advocates of full
integration in other areas of the American economy and culture.
Concerned African Americans argued that whites had too much
influence over black beauty culture and were invading the market,
complicating matters of physical appearance with questions of race
and power. Based on a wide variety of documentary and archival
evidence, Walker concludes that African American beauty standards
were shaped within black society as much as they were formed in
reaction to, let alone imposed by, the majority culture. Style and
Status challenges the notion that the civil rights and black power
movements of the 1950s through the 1970s represents the first
period in which African Americans wielded considerable influence
over standards of appearance and beauty. Walker explores how beauty
culture affected black women's racial and feminine identities, the
role of black-owned businesses in African American communities,
differences between black-owned and white-owned manufacturers of
beauty products, and the concept of racial progress in the
post--World War II era. Through the story of the development of
black beauty culture, Walker examines the interplay of race, class,
and gender in twentieth-century America.
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