Latin American Studies Beauty in Latin America
Alvaro Jarrin
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 September 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766581-0238


Beauty clearly has power in Latin America—people deploy beauty to organize bodies in particular ways, and beauty clearly intersects with race, class, and gender inequalities present in the region. Within the nation, beauty gives meaning to particular hierarchies that exist within the body politic, and it is used by social actors to both craft ideal forms of racialized femininity (and to a lesser extent, masculinity) or to challenge those hegemonic beauty standards. Transnationally beauty allows people to generate narratives of how nations relate to one another, and beauty informs how individuals consume and practice gender and race across borders. The scholarly work on beauty in Latin America is still small, but it has grown rapidly over the last two decades as beauty pageants, practices of beautification, and other performances of beauty have become the object of study within anthropology, sociology, psychology, cultural studies, history, and gender studies. Beauty, once considered a superfluous topic of academic study, has gained traction because it helps explain why some bodies matter more than others in Latin America, and provides an additional analytic that explains the salience of femininity and race within biopolitical projects of various kinds. The global mediascape and the transnational political economy, additionally, has only exacerbated the importance of beauty as a form of bodily capital that provides hope and meaning to people in precarious economic situations, since it is associated with upward mobility across Latin America. In what follows, the literature on beauty has been organized according to the types of beauty practices being examined (Beauty Pageants, Weight and Eating Disorders, Cosmetic Surgery, and Fashion and Cosmetics) or according to the main themes they cover (Race and Beauty, Popular Culture, Masculinities, and Sex Work and Sex Tourism). This annotated bibliography is not meant to be an exhaustive compendium of all the literature on beauty in Latin America, but rather a selection of some of the most important interventions and the ways in which they speak to one another.

General Overviews

There have been only a few attempts to sum up the importance of beauty in the region as a whole. Three essays—de Casanova 2018, Moreno Figueroa and Rivers Moore 2013, and Muñiz 2014—describe the ways in which gender and race intersect with beauty as a category, and make a call for more scholarly work on beauty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Jones 2011 and Wade 2009 touch on beauty more tangentially, but are important resources when placing Latin American beauty within larger contexts. Three collections of essays—Goldenberg 2002, Kogan 2015, and Erlick and Jarrin 2017—represent introductory compendiums on different beauty practices. The main differences among them is that Goldenberg 2002 focuses on Rio de Janeiro, Kogan 2015 focuses on Lima, and Erlick and Jarrin 2017 covers many countries in Latin America, but in a writing style geared towards a general audience.

  • de Casanova, Erynn Masi. “Beauty Ideology in Latin America.” dObra[s]: Revista da Associação Brasileira de Estudos de Pesquisas em Moda 11.23 (2018):10–21.

    This overview of the literature on beauty in Latin America makes the case that the countries of the region have two things in common: an embrace of artificiality, and the equation of beautification with racial mobility.

  • Erlick, June Carolyn, and Alvaro Jarrin, eds. Special Issue: Beauty. ReVista (Harvard Review of Latin America) 16.3: (2017).

    This special issue focuses on beauty in Latin America, and brings together a wide variety of short scholarly articles and photographic essays covering how beauty intersects with race, gender, economics, and politics.

  • Goldenberg, Mirian, ed. Nu & vestido: Dez antropólogos revelam a cultura do corpo carioca. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Record, 2002.

    This edited collection brings together ten essays that examine the importance of physical appearance in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and touches upon topics such as bodybuilding, race, plastic surgery, beach culture, and masculinity.

  • Jones, Geoffrey. Beauty Imagined: A History of the Global Beauty Industry. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

    This global history of the beauty industry is not focused on Latin America, but it provides plenty of information regarding how global brands entered the Latin American market and how local brands like Natura in Brazil were able to conquer that national market.

  • Kogan, Liuba, ed. Belleza, musculatura y dolor: Etnografías de cuerpos en Lima. Lima, Peru: Universidad del Pacífico, 2015.

    This short edited collection consists of five ethnographic essays covering bodily aesthetics in Lima, three of which analyze the relationship of masculinity to musculature, fashion, and wrestling, and two of which analyze how feminine beauty is expressed in theater settings and in hair salons.

  • Moreno Figueroa, Mónica G., and Megan Rivers Moore. “Introduction.” In Special Issue: Beauty, Race and Feminist Theory in Latin America and the Caribbean. Edited by Mónica G. Moreno Figueroa and Megan Rivers Moore. Feminist Theory 14.2 (2013): 131–136.

    This introduction to a special issue on beauty in Feminist Theory makes the case that beauty has serious consequences for women’s self-worth in Latin America, particularly given the centrality of appearance to the racial hierarchies in the region, informed by a history of mestizaje.

  • Muñiz, Elza. “Pensar el cuerpo de las mujeres: Cuerpo, belleza y feminidad. Una necesaria mirada feminista.” Sociedade e Estado 29.2 (2014): 415–432.

    Muñiz makes a strong critique of beauty culture in Latin America in this article, pointing out the ways in which interventions like plastic surgeries claim to empower women but instead enslave them to continuously perform beauty and adhere to strict standards that homogenize bodies.

  • Wade, Peter. Race and Sex in Latin America. London: Pluto Press, 2009.

    This book examines beauty in the context of ideologies of mestizaje and racial democracy, particularly in the fifth chapter, where Wade reviews the literature that tackles the intersection between race and sexual desirability.

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