Teaching Beauty and Power through the film “The Beauty Academy of Kabul”

| February 12, 2012

Recently, I came across an article by Mimi Thi Nguyen called “The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror,” which functions as an excellent companion piece to Liz Mermin’s documentary film, The Beauty Academy of Kabul. In this article, Nguyen describes how the “biopower of beauty” is operationalized “in the geopolitical contexts of neoliberalism and human rights discourses at the turn of the millennium” (2011, 360). The article is based on a critical analysis of a beauty academy established in 2003 by an organization known as Beauty without Borders, modeled off of Doctors without Borders. Nguyen argues that “to take beauty seriously is to elaborate on its force as biopower, to which the hope that beauty might enliven us all would seem to lead” (2011, 264). This hope is packed with complex dualisms that Nguyen masterfully brings to light and untangles. For these reasons, I find the article a complimentary resource for helping students contextualize the film’s arguments and relevance to both public affairs and social theory.

Nguyen, Mimi Thi (2011). The Biopower of Beauty: Humanitarian Imperialisms and Global Feminisms in an Age of Terror. Signs. 26(2): 359-383.

You can access this article via Jstor here.