“Race” and Beauty: the so-called Ethnic Beauty Market and Industry – a Comparative Study of France and Brazil

In recent years a beauty market has emerged known as “ethnic”, manifesting itself in a growing offer of products and services addressed specifically to black and mixed race populations. Along with it has been the increased visibility of these populations in the media and an effort to valorize their representation in France and Brazil, as well as globally. Our aim in doing this research is to examine the social conditions and transformations at the source of this market evolution, but also, more broadly, the construction, modes of existence and maintenance of corporal canons.

Beauté et race

Marcha do orgulho crespo – São Paulo 26/07/2015.

The fieldwork is in three parts. The first explores, by means of an ethnographic inquiry in various “affro” hairdressing salons, the uses and treatments as well as the consumption practices attached to frizzy hair. It also attempts to grasp the role played by discourse and representations of the body and of color, of frizzed hair, as well as “black” feminine and masculine characteristics in the production, but also in the structuring of the market. The second part examines the circulation of discourse and representations associated with black populations (through general and specialized media, social networks, cultural, artistic, and/or militant associations). Lastly, the study examines the industrial elaboration of the ethnic beauty products in question (scientific construction and marketing, production rationales, segmentation and distribution). In this way we look into the relations between production and consumption, the link maintained by the various market actors and how producers structure it. It also examines strategies available to consumers to modify demand, thus finding an alternative to the representations and identities assigned to them. The comparative study between France and Brazil, with its important esthetic tradition and the significant weight of its beauty industry and services, gives insight into how the question of « race » works in the two countries. The aim is to understand, by setting alongside one another the experiences of individuals who a priori have in common only the color of their skin and the texture of their hair, in what way the image of black beauty is constructed.