GWSS Colloquium - Beauty Diplomacy: Embodying an Emerging Nation

Presentation by Kemi Balogun
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Beauty pageants are big business in Nigeria. They are transformed by multiple stakeholders into contested vehicles for promoting complex ideas about gender and power, ethnicity and belonging, and a rapidly changing articulation of Nigerian nationhood. Drawing from fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, this talk examines how Nigerian beauty competitions use a tactic I call beauty diplomacy to redeem Nigeria’s poor global reputation. The industry positions beauty contestants - young, upwardly mobile, and ambitious women - as the aesthetic center of an ethnically diverse nation and the public face of a country on the economic rise. Beauty queens are trained and deployed to forge relationships between businessmen and politicians, embody attributes that reflect positively on the country, and cultivate new elevated lifestyles that signal their ascending trajectories. These shifts connect femininity, nation, and beauty to global state politics.

Professor Balogun received her B.A. in Sociology from Pomona College in 2003, and a Ph.D. in Sociology with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender, and Sexuality from the University of California Berkeley in 2012. She joined the faculty at the University of Oregon in 2013. Her research focuses on gender, globalization, nationalism, race/ethnicity, and migration. She has published articles in outlets such as Ethnicities and Gender & Society. She is currently working on a book that examines the Nigerian beauty pageant industry in order to document the country’s transition from post-independence to an emerging nation.

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