‘The Bottom Line Is That the Problem Is You’: Aesthetic Labour, Postfeminism and Subjectivity in Russian Self-Help Literature.
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Aesthetic Labour: Rethinking Beauty Politics in Neoliberalism
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This chapter explores the ways in which women are called upon to work on and manage their body, personality and sexuality in bestselling Russian self-help literature targeting a female audience. We argue that the aesthetic labour promoted in this literature needs to be understood as intrinsically embedded in the cultural and economic context where it is performed. Growing job insecurity, widespread gender discrimination, insufficient social protection and decreasing employment quality characterise the everyday life of a great number of women in Russia (Adamson and Kispeter 2017; Kozina and Zhidkova 2006). At the same time, the rise of the service sector and the demand for ‘aestheticised’ forms of labour (Walker 2015) have been accompanied by a growing rhetoric concerning the importance of self-presentation and ‘image’ (Cohen 2013) and an increasing emphasis on beauty practices as a crucial part of successful femininity (Porteous 2013). As we show in this chapter, women are encouraged to invest time and energy in aesthetic labour in the hope that mastering ‘the art of femininity’ will allow them upward mobility in a context where channels for mobility are increasingly constrained. We suggest that aesthetic labour is mobilised as a form of tactical agency (de Certeau 1984) to combat social and economic precarity. Through unpacking the elements of this labour we also suggest that this aesthetic makeover entails a profound transformation of subjectivity.