Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



First Advisor

Bedelia Richards


This thesis examines how race and gender shape the meaning that Black women associate with their beauty consumption practices and spending. Much of the existing feminist scholarship on beauty has been postfeminist, privileging the concept of agency and empowerment over structural realities. However, the materialist feminist frame has more utility to address how beauty operates within the lives of Black women as a form of distinct gendered racial oppression. The concept of aesthetic capital emerges from the materialist feminist perspective and suggests that beauty demands the investment of considerable economic resources and can deliver economic returns. Despite this, aesthetic capital has thus far not been applied to studies on race and beauty. To demonstrate how aesthetic capital operates on the individual level, the current study will focus on meanings, which connect cultural phenomena to structural realities. Through a survey and a series of focus group interviews, this thesis investigates the meanings that Black women associate with their beauty consumption practices with the goal of settling the competing perspectives that view beauty as empowering or beauty as oppressive. I found that the participants thought of beauty as a chore, revealing the existence of a high psychic and financial toll, but also as a requirement, because of its power to shape economic opportunities. These findings represent a challenge to the postfeminist literature’s emphasis on “choice” and body image and instead suggest that the materialist feminists’ concept of aesthetic capital more accurately reflects the reality that beauty functions as a form of classed and gendered racial oppression for Black women.