My dissertation, “Brown Skin is Half of Beauty”: Representations of Beauty and the Construction of Race in Contemporary Cairo, examines racialized aesthetics and representation in Mubarak-era Cairo, Egypt. Building upon scholarship that historicizes the construction of race in Egypt, I contend that the promotion of skin bleaching and cosmetically modifying the nose in Egyptian popular media contributed to multilayered and restrictive narratives about the ideal Egyptian subject. Additionally, I discuss competing cultural models of beauty among Egyptians (embodied in the phrase “Brown Skin is Half the Beauty”) that praise the beauty of brown-skinned women as part of a larger aesthetic ideal that emphasizes the importance of physical features and the cultivation of an ethical disposition.
From 2010-2012, I conducted ethnographic research for a Smithsonian Institution multiregional collaborative project entitled “Will to Adorn”: African American Dress and the Aesthetics of Identity. The study examined the diversity of African American identities as expressed through cultural aesthetics and the traditional arts of the body, dress, and adornment. In addition to an exploration of the significance of various forms of dress, my research considered alternative markets (e.g. artisan private sales parties and African American organized fairs and markets) that influence the stylistic practices of African Americans in the Atlanta University Center, the West End, and throughout Southwest Atlanta.The research findings were shared in the Smithsonian’s online publications and informed some of the programming at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival Program held in June-July of 2013.