WGS 434 - Advanced Topics in Gender, Culture, and Representation
Fall 2021, Section 001 - Skin Deep: Race and Beauty in American Culture
Instruction Mode: Section 001 is  In Person (see other Sections below)
Subject: Women's and Gender Studies (WGS)
Department: LSA Women's and Gender Studies
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Requirements & Distribution:
Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
May be elected twice for credit.
Rackham Information:
Rackham credit requires additional work.
Primary Instructor:


The age-old saying, “beauty is only skin deep,” tells us that physical attractiveness does not account for more meaningful qualities like character, intelligence, and goodness. But throughout American history, “beauty” has been used as a proxy to determine racial differences and at the same time, to ascertain those more meaningful personal characteristics. Throughout this course, we will examine the various ways in which Americans have used determinants of beauty (e.g., body size, skin color, height, musculature, hair texture, facial symmetry, etc.) to racialize and subsequently, rank and place value on people. Starting with Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1785) and ending with current-day discussions of beauty and race (e.g., the Kardashians, racial discrimination in online dating), the course will cover several topics including the black is beautiful movement, pageants, interracial dating, colorism, and debates over cultural appropriation.

Course Requirements:

This is a 400-level seminar course with an Upper-Level Writing Requirement component. A substantial research paper on relevant course themes will be due at the end of the course. This paper, both in its draft and final forms, will account for a significant portion of the final grade. Students will propose, outline, receive feedback, and revise their work throughout the term, while still contributing to the intellectual life of the course. In addition to preparing for the final research paper, regular participation and thoughtful discussion about course readings will make up a majority of our class. There are no timed-based exams in this course.


WGS 434 - Advanced Topics in Gender, Culture, and Representation
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
 In Person
MW 4:00PM - 5:30PM

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