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Towards a Biopolitics of Beauty: Eugenics, Aesthetic Hierarchies and Plastic Surgery in Brazil

by Alvaro Jarrín

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This article provides a historical and ethnographic perspective to explain the saliency of beauty within the reproduction of racial inequalities in Brazil. I argue that Brazil’s neo-Lamarckian eugenics movement was the first to craft beauty as an index of racial improvement within the nation, and this eugenic legacy undergirds many of the contemporary discourses of beautification. Plastic surgery, in particular, inherited the biopolitical aim to produce a homogeneous body politic through beautification, an aim that was easily adapted to the contemporary context of neoliberal self-improvement. Today, beauty is a technology of biopower, one which ranks the population within an aesthetic hierarchy that produces non-white facial characteristics as undesirable, and interpellates patients as responsible for their own surgical corrections, albeit with state support in the case of the poor. Thus, this article contributes to the literature that understands science and medicine as key within the history of racialization in Latin America, making explicit how biopolitics has fashioned race and beauty as inextricable and intertwined elements of social inclusion and exclusion.

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