Feminist, Queer and Trans Geographies

“I want to … let my country shine”: Nationalism, development, and the geographies of beauty

There is little geographic work on beauty. Yet beauty offers important insights into spatial, geopolitical, and geoeconomic processes. In this article, we attend to the powerful role of beauty labor, norms, and practices in national development. We center the Miss Tourism Uganda beauty pageant, held annually since 2011, and the centerpiece of tourism-based development in Uganda. Designed to attract foreign visitors and investors and to promote a sense of nationalist pride among Ugandans, the pageant-as-development strategy is increasingly mirrored across the neoliberalized Global South. This approach relies on young women’s beauty labor: the work of self-improvement via intimate beauty technologies, and the intellectual work of learning and showcasing a beautiful, idealized, national imaginary. This labor is physically, emotionally, and financially demanding, and is largely unremunerated. Yet, it is lucratively exploited to promote local and international corporate brands, generate tourism revenue, and attract foreign investment. Despite this, pageant participants and organizers find creative and collaborative strategies to navigate these demands. As part of our efforts to fashion a “geographies of beauty”, this article argues that the power of beauty, and specifically the labor of beauty, is central to understanding contemporary tourism-centered development efforts.

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Volume 38 Issue 5

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