The Biopolitics of Beauty examines how beauty became an aim of national health in Brazil. Using ethnographic fieldwork carried out in Brazilian hospitals, the author shows how plastic surgeons and patients navigate the public health system to transform beauty into a basic health right. The book historically traces the national concern with beauty to Brazilian eugenics, which established beauty as an index of the nation’s racial improvement. From here, Jarrín explains how plastic surgeons became the main proponents of a raciology of beauty, using it to gain the backing of the Brazilian state. Beauty can be understood as an immaterial form of value that Jarrín calls “affective capital,” which maps onto and intensifies the social hierarchies of Brazilian society. Patients experience beauty as central to national belonging and to gendered aspirations of upward mobility, and they become entangled in biopolitical rationalities that complicate their ability to consent to the risks of surgery. The Biopolitics of Beauty explores not only the biopolitical regime that made beauty a desirable national project, but also the subtle ways in which beauty is laden with affective value within everyday social practices—thus becoming the terrain upon which race, class, and gender hierarchies are reproduced and contested in Brazil.
Alvaro Jarrín is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at College of the Holy Cross.
"What lies at the heart of the yearning for beauty? In this sophisticated but accessible ethnography about plastic surgery in Brazil, Alvaro Jarrín unpacks the historical entanglement of beauty, race, and gender. In a voice both critical and poignant, Jarrín offers a prescient platform from which to consider the ethical, cultural, and political underpinnings of the approaching global boom in cosmetic procedures."—Robin Sheriff, author of Dreaming Equality: Color, Race, and Racism in Urban Brazil
"At once timely and sharp-edged, The Biopolitics of Beauty examines the affective labor wrought by plastic surgeons and everyday Brazilians to render their bodies 'beautiful' in regimes that privilege, and racialize, class. Combining biopolitics with affect, and critiquing a governmentality that fosters a 'cosmetic citizenship' that does nothing to undo the precarity of those (classed/raced) at the bottom despite the 'gift' of free surgery, Jarrín is masterful in a book as ethnographically as theoretically rich."—Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology at Duke University and author of Precarious Japan