Leoni Schwandt

Thesis title:

Beirut Looks – Racial Capital, National Aesthetics, and the Female Body


Leoni’s study investigates fashion and commercial models’ embodiment of racial and linguistic capital within Beirut’s fashion modelling industry. Taking the example of Beirut as the fashion metropolis of the Middle East, this study explores the impact of conflicting hegemonic neocolonial narratives of racialized and nationalized aesthetics on female Lebanese models as aesthetic labourers. Rooted in Lebanon’s colonial history and ethno-religious diversity, Beirut’s fashion industry is strongly marked by conflicting racial and national aesthetic ideals, mirrored by the diverse bodily appearances of Lebanese models. This research asks how models, as active labourers and in charge of their bodily transformations, possess agency to either reproduce, but moreover resist and disrupt hegemonic aesthetic ideals, and thus challenge overarching racial and national hierarchies within the Lebanese fashion industry. It will shed light on the techniques with which models volitionally consume, manage, and employ bodily and linguistic symbols imbued with racial meaning as essential parts of their self-commodification and self-presentation.Embedded in a Bourdieusian approach to fashion as a field of cultural production, this study builds on Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s works on embodiment to dissect the discursive nature and transformative power of bodily practices. Further it draws on literature on the female body as a representative medium of racial and national identity. The project will contribute to knowledge about the underexplored domain of aesthetic labour in the Middle East and its racial and linguistic implications.

First supervisor:

Joanne Entwistle


7 – Linguistics, Media & Culture