Shaping Beauty, Claiming Authenticity: Gender, Work, and Immigration Experiences of Low-Wage South Asian Immigrant Women Workers
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Based on in-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews and participant observations in immigrant women run beauty salon, this dissertation illuminates the lived experiences of low-wage, majority Muslim, immigrant women from Pakistan and India. The study brings attention to the experiences of low-wage work and answers three central questions: (a) How is race, class, and gender reproduced within the ethnic beauty salon?; (b) How do immigrant women working in the ethnic beauty salon self-identify themselves through the work they do?; and finally (c) How does the beliefs, ideas, and practices within the beauty salon space shape how women present themselves as immigrants and workers? Using an intersectionality lens and centering women's standpoint, I draw upon feminist theories of gender and class to show how women experience being an immigrant woman and a good worker in the U.S. The study shows how oppression, agency, and pleasure simultaneously take place, shaping the lived experiences of immigrant women workers.
I pay particular attention to the multi-level micro practices in immigrant spaces such as an enclave. I show how immigrant women working in beauty salon use interactions and meanings to imagine spaces and transform them into places. Discussing and describing the multi-level micro practices, through my dissertation I identify immigrant run business such as a beauty salon to be transnational social space where immigrant women workers create a sense and being and belonging through their work and interactions with peers and customers. This transnational social space, as I show you throughout my dissertation, has both social and physical characteristics. It is social because through displays and performances, immigrant women reproduce their identities that is both classed and gendered. It is physical because through their interactions and practices within the beauty salon, with the peer and customers, the women workers feel connected to an understanding of their country and its cultural practices.
This dissertation describes the place making practices in the beauty salon and how participants claim their status and dignity, which are lost during the migration process. Additionally, being in the U.S. and how race, religion, gender, and immigration status intersect further positions immigrant women of color and Muslims within racialized hierarchies. I argue that while the structural inequalities and the resulting oppression shapes the lives and identities of the immigrant women workers this process is not liner. As I show, immigrant women working in the beauty salons actively engage in creating dignity by creating status that is shaped by their authority over specific beauty services and asserting authenticity through their work in the beauty salon. Women workers in my study created an authentic self through their work and thus drew recognition to being a good worker and thus a good immigrant in the U.S. In this way, they repositioned their class and positioned themselves as morally superior subjects and thus shaped their status that is both classed and gendered.
Chacko, Soulit, "Shaping Beauty, Claiming Authenticity: Gender, Work, and Immigration Experiences of Low-Wage South Asian Immigrant Women Workers" (2020). Dissertations. 3839.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Copyright © 2020 Soulit Chacko
Available for download on Wednesday, February 11, 2026