Three Faces of Beauty

Casablanca, Paris, Cairo

Three Faces of Beauty

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 19 b&w photos Published: February 2002

Author: Susan Ossman

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies

Three Faces of Beauty offers a unique approach to understanding globalization and cultural change based on a comparative, ethnographic study of a nearly universal institution: the beauty salon. Susan Ossman traces the images and words of the beauty industry as they developed historically between Paris, Cairo, and Casablanca and then vividly demonstrates how such images are embodied today in salons located in each city.
By examining how images from fashion magazines, film, and advertising are enacted in beauty salons, Ossman demonstrates how embodiment is able to display and rework certain hierarchies. While offering the possibility of freedom from the tethers of status, nation, religion, and nature, beauty is created by these very categories and values, Ossman shows. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, she documents the various rituals of welcome, choice-making, pricing practices, and spatial arrangements in multiple salons . She also reveals ways in which patrons in all three cities imagine and co-opt looks they believe are fashionable in the other cities. By observing salons as scenes of instruction, Ossman reveals that beautiful bodies evolve within the intertwining contexts of media, modernity, location, time, postcolonialism, and male expectation.


"A refreshing new perspective. . . . The book stands out in the burgeoning field of anthropology studies of Middle Eastern women in its approach to an institution that features in the experiences of women of all classes across the cultures discussed. . . . Ossman's lyrical, sensual prose is a delight to read." — Deborah A. Starr, Comparative Literature Studies

"Combin[es] rigorous scholarship with an eloquent writing style. . . ." — Alison Clarke , Current Anthropology

"Elegance and sophistication are widely lauded virtues of contemporary social theorizing. Susan Ossman’s study not only exemplifies these qualities but it also engages with them as critical themes in social practice, identity construction, and globalization. . . . The range of issues raised in Ossman’s work speaks to its sophistication. The quality of writing is elegant and alluring. Indeed, Ossman’s writing is often as seductive as the problems she investigates. . . . I have great respect for the intellectual quality and beauty of Ossman’s text. It should be of interest to a wide range of readers for the breadth and depth of the issues it engages."
— Brad Weiss , American Ethnologist

"Ethnographers must try to find balance without locating the truth in the representative eye and must be attentive to how difference works to create sameness. Ossman here proves that beauty salons are a perfect place to start." — Al Jadid

"Susan Ossman’s book comes as a deep reflection on a subject that is too many times categorized as superficial, even frivolous . . . . Three Faces of Beauty is a book with several levels of lecture. It may be read as pleasurable as a novel, as detailed as a classic ethnography, as concentrated as a lecture that raises fundamental questions about the relations between gendered bodies, places, and ideas of modernity. . . . Three Faces of Beauty is a book that should attract a multidisciplinary public, and it may be particularly interesting for those interested in gender and stereotypes about the Middle East." — Alec Balasescu , H-Net Reviews

"Susan Ossman’s verbal description of the non-verbal is lilting and illustrative. Few authors so well capture the physical, the ephemeral in text. In fact it is difficult not to string together Ossman’s delightful prose and avoid writing a review altogether. . . . Ossman presents riveting vignettes such as how it feels to be ‘done over’ by the neighborhood beautician or such as how the beauty salon becomes a clinic where the body is compartmentalized. . . . Her work is both a delicious read and a landmark in studying aspects of the popular, the informal everyday culture."
— Evelyn A. Early , Middle East Journal

"The return of beauty salons to Afghanistan . . . makes Ossman’s new book especially timely." — Doug Shaw , Blue & Gray

“Ossman’s trajectory is like the braiding and weaving of hair, like a dance of nimble fingers and scissors. She achieves a rare vividness for which anthropologists often strive but rarely attain.” — James Faubion, Rice University

“Susan Ossman lets us hear women’s hopes for beauty and difference—out of or under the head shawl—in Casablanca, Cairo, and Paris. What a pleasure to linger in these beauty shops, where talk, the snipping scissors, and Egyptian songs help open the door to modernity. A delightful and insightful read.” — Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University


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Price: $24.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Susan Ossman is Visiting Associate Professor of Anthropology at Georgetown University. She is the author of Picturing Casablanca: Portraits of Power in a Modern City.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Translations and Transcriptions



1. Anywhere Bodies and Faraway Eyes

2. Background Bodies

3. Society, Salons, and Significance

4. Styling Distinctions

5. Forms and Passages

6. Beauty’s Edge


Glossary of Terms

Selected Bibliography

Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2896-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2881-0