How fashion models experience their aesthetic labor

cover beauty work self how fashion models experience their aesthetic labor

Sylvia Holla gives in her dissertation an elaborate account of what working as a fashion model entails. She addresses the question of what it is that male and female fashion models actually do during their work, and accordingly, how labor conditions impact how models experience their work.

Work and life of a fashion model

Models perform what is called ‘aesthetic labor’: they professionally cultivate their bodies and emotions to look and behave like a fashion model. Importantly, aesthetic labor also involves the imperative to project and produce a particular self, in the form of personality.

This dissertation highlights different practices and experiences of aesthetic labor.

  • Chapter 3 investigates how ‘food rules’ challenge the work and lives of fashion models.
  • In Chapter 4 Holla analyze objectification, a process that happens continuously in fashion modeling.
  • Chapter 5 explores how models maintain a coherent self, when their lives are strongly guided by aesthetic imperatives.
  • Chapter 6 addresses what it means to work in the periphery of fashion, where chances of consecration and success are low, but where labor conditions are not all that bad compared to the fashion centers.

Beauty, work, self

The popularity of fashion modeling signifies the importance of beauty in contemporary society and places models on a pedestal as ‘symbolic carriers of aesthetic capital’. However, models’ labor practices and conditions also complicate their self-experience. Models work hard and continuously, at times obsessively, to comply with narrowly defined beauty standards of slenderness, youthfulness, tallness, and often whiteness as well. Especially at the ‘high-end’, where beauty standards are more extreme, beauty is elusive and hard-won. This potentially causes a drift away from the self.

Sylvia Holla was a scientific researcher at Atria.

Holla, S. M. (2018). Beauty, work, self: How fashion models experience their aesthetic labor

Photocredits: Clyde Semmoh