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The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror

by Mimi Thi Nguyen

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“After the events of September 11, 2001, George W. Bush’s administration launched a military and public relations campaign to promote U.S. national interests using the language of feminism and human rights. While these discourses in the United States helped to reinvigorate a declining economy, and specifically a flagging fashion industry (as Pham addresses in her companion essay), feminism abroad was deployed to very different ends. This article considers the establishment of the Kabul Beauty School by the nongovernmental organization Beauty without Borders, sponsored in large part by the U.S. fashion and beauty industries. Examining troubling histories of beauty’s relation to morality, humanity, and security, as well as to neoliberal discourses of self‐governance, the author teases out the biopower and biopolitics of beauty, enacted here through programs of empowerment that are inseparable from the geopolitical aims of the U.S. deployment in Afghanistan.”

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