Beauty, Femininity, and South Asian American CultureVanita Reddy
In her insightful study, Fashioning Diaspora, Vanita Reddy carefully maps how transnational itineraries of Indian beauty and fashion shaped South Asian American cultural identities and racialized belonging from the 1990s through the first decade of the twenty-first century. She observes how diasporic subjects engage with and respond to various encounters with Indian beauty and fashion.
One of the first books to consider beauty and fashion as a point of entry into an examination of South Asian diasporic public cultures, Fashioning Diaspora examines a range of literature, visual art, and live performance. Through careful analyses of novels by Bharati Mukherjee and Jhumpa Lahiri, young adult literature, performance art by Shailja Patel, beauty and adornment practices, as well as objects of popular culture including an Indian American fashion doll, Reddy challenges fashion and beauty as a set of dematerialized, overly commodified cultural practices. She argues instead that beauty and fashion structure South Asian Americans' uneven access to social mobility, capital, and citizenship, and she demonstrates their varying capacities to produce social attachments across national, class, racial, gender, and generational divides.
"Fashioning Diaspora is essential reading for scholarship on beauty. Reddy introduces a shift the field has long needed, as she reads beauty as embodied practice alongside cultural signifier; as produced within networks of social power and yet complicating them with its own disruptive logic. This is an analysis both critical and appreciative of its topic, and in its nuance a fine example of 'why the humanities matter' for making sense of neoliberal, transnational, material realities."
—erin Khuê Ninh, Associate Professor, Department of Asian American Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Ingratitude: The Debt-Bound Daughter in Asian American Literature
"Fashioning Diaspora is an extraordinary intervention into the joint fields of Asian American studies and feminist and queer theory. Reddy makes important contributions, and her book is distinguished by fresh, original readings of a diverse archive of South Asian American public culture. This innovative constellation of texts not only enables us to see how the archive constitutes a historical source for narratives of South Asian migration but also produces a state of feeling: what she argues is the feeling of beauty."
—Bakirathi Mani, Associate Professor, Department of English Literature, Swarthmore College, and author of Aspiring to Home: South Asians in America
" Vanita Reddy has now made it very difficult to think about the South Asian diaspora without paying attention to the subjects, objects, discourses, and practices of beauty that animate it. Moving seamlessly from discussions of the 'exceptional beauty' of literary heroines like Bharati Mukherjee's Jasmine to the transformation of Delhi and Mumbai into new fashion capitals, Reddy's compelling readings and vast archive of 'beautiful forms' leave us much wiser about how aesthetic desires and demands have shaped South Asians' everyday practices of belonging."
—Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu, Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis, New York University, and author of The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion
"Vanita Reddy, through a remarkable sleight of hand, shifts our optics away from looking at beauty directly. Instead of asking what beauty is, her new book, Fashioning Diaspora , asks what beauty does. The strength of her approach removes beauty from the abstract realm, instead positioning it as an agent, activator and animator of the social.... Reddy's scholarly, timely and attentive analysis of how beauty shapes the experiences of South Asian Americans is a necessary text for bridging the gaps between embodied practices and cultural signifiers, between fashion and race and between aesthetics and politics."
—LSE Review of Books
"Reddy focuses on the study of appearance to understand how beauty and fashion, in the context of South Asian diaspora in the United States, between 1989 and 2010, come to be explicitly linked to citizenship and belongingness.... Reddy bases her study on the empirically valid assumption that beauty, fashion and habits of attire are 'social domains through which to articulate diasporic belonging in a new global economy', in other words, that people use beauty and fashion to express identity in a world where definitions are multifaceted.”
—Asian Review of Books
"Fashioning Diaspora is a pioneering book that straddles the interdisciplinary fields of women's studies, literature, South Asian American Studies, and dress studies (specifically fashion). Although it speaks to these interdisciplinary interests, the methodology is clearly literary analysis of a variety of texts including photography, art work, and interactive websites.... The book's strength lies in Reddy's excellent analyses of the texts... (She) should also be commended for including the analysis of lesser-known literary texts." —Pacific Historical Review
"Reddy goes outside of the frequently analyzed realms of layered South Asian identities to provide richer insight into how ideals of beauty, femininity, and race intersect with transnationalism particularly in North America. Given the current political tensions around American cultural identity and who can be a part of it, this book is timely in the way it examines how the politics of everyday identity are shaped by the crossing of borders and migration matters.... The book reads clearly and each chapter is well-structured. It would be of value to all those studying transnational flows of Indian beauty, fashion, and multimedia.... Reddy's textual analysis is extremely rich." —QED
"Reddy asks how our use and understanding of critical theories of race, gender and sexuality, and social class deepen and change when discourses of beauty and fashion are at the center of intellectual inquiry.... She presents nuanced readings of beauty and fashion that offer a framework in which to think thematically about material icons of South Asian femininity and beauty.... Reddy delivers an in-depth study.... Her textual readings are rich, and the historical contexts she develops around material culture such as the bindi and the sari highlight the intersections of art, labor, sexuality, and race relations embedded in discourses of beauty and fashion." —MELUS
"Reddy provides insights on how beauty and fashion make space for new racialised subject formations, feminist and queer femininities in particular....(O)ne of her major moves in Fashioning Diaspora is to reveal the power of beauty and fashion economies, that is, economies naturalised as feminine and too often rendered apolitical or, at best, in her words, "juxtapolitical.'....Nevertheless, Fashioning Diaspora is already a wonderful contribution to the scholarship within transnational feminisms."
Founded by Sucheng Chan in 1991, the Asian American History and Culture series has sponsored innovative scholarship that has redefined, expanded, and advanced the field of Asian American studies while strengthening its links to related areas of scholarly inquiry and engaged critique. Like the field from which it emerged, the series remains rooted in the social sciences and humanities, encompassing multiple regions, formations, communities, and identities. Extending the vision of founding editor Sucheng Chan and emeriti editor Michael Omi, David Palumbo-Liu, K. Scott Wong and Linda Trinh Võ, series editors Cathy Schlund-Vials, Rick Bonus, and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee continue to develop a foundational collection that embodies a range of theoretical and methodological approaches to Asian American studies.