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Beauty & Cultural Capital

I was curious to explore some of the idiosyncrasies concerning the haves and have-nots in terms of beauty. Because I have been blogging about the effect of beauty (real and/or perceived) on our culture, the idea of “taste” becomes important. I mean the kind of “taste” individuals assign to high and low brow stuff. For example, those who attend the ballet are perceived as having more refined tastes than those who attend a UFC battle. But why is that? Based on theories developed by social theorist, Pierre Bourdieu, taste is a way of defining one’s cultural capital. Bourdieu assigns cultural capital as if it is a form of money or clout. So, I began attaching my previous blog thoughts, referencing the costs and rewards of physical idealized beauty, to Bourdieu’s capital.

Bourdieu identifies three forms of cultural capital: embodied, objectified and institutionalized. For our purposes, let’s examine objectified beauty capital because it would indicate social class based on what one can afford to buy. As all of us are acutely aware, clothes, make-up, cars, houses, vacations, etc., are all means of demonstrating a level of cultural capital to our peers. Consequently, if I can show off this capital then my family, friends and social networks will categorize me as having significance; therefore, power and status.

In what ways does society award or punish people based on their beauty capital?

Without getting too social science nerdy on you, simply, beauty capital is earned by acquiring material objects and equally as important, through taste, manners, skills and credentials. Theoretically, beauty capital is available to everyone. Unfortunately, it can be a source of social inequality too, especially if one comes from an indigent background and/or lacks cultural support.

The refinements taught to us by our parents such as manners and where we go to school, especially elite colleges and universities, will increase our cultural capital. Having designer clothes, expensive make-up and the options of plastic surgeries increases our beauty capital. As I mentioned in my previous blog about Dr. Chatterjee’s TedMed Talk, plastic surgery can change our biological features to imitate more subjectively attractive features: younger skin, bigger lips, bigger butts, or whatever is trending in celebrities today…

At the extreme level, one can literally trade their youth and beauty for actual cash returns. Witness the disturbing but age-old trend of “marrying for money” between spouses 20, 30, 40 or even more year’s difference in age.

Consider, that beauty capital can be spent on doing good instead of merely cashing in to make things easier for oneself. So, if you have it, then spend it wisely.

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