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Clean beauty, toxic bodies and digital technologies

Authors: Roberta Hawkins*, University of Guelph
Topics: Gender, Environment, Cyberinfrastructure
Keywords: feminist, environmental justice, digital, app, bodies
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In North America there is a lack of regulation around personal care products in terms of their effects on human health and natural environments. One consequence is that consumers are exposed to a variety of toxic ingredients through their everyday use of make-up, shampoos, moisturizers etc. Feminized beauty standards mean that this issue disproportionately affects women. Currently, huge gaps exist between scientific research on toxins, government policy on beauty products and consumer awareness on the health and environmental impacts of such products. Aiming to fill these gaps are several mobile phone apps that allow consumers to scan products they might buy and determine whether they are ‘clean’ or ‘dirty’. This paper critically examines the design and function of ‘clean beauty’ apps. Specifically, I question how scientific research is evaluated and then translated through the app design(ers) and outline how these apps mediate people’s everyday experiences with bodies, health and environments. Inspired by feminist political ecology, I analyze the embodied power dynamics inherent in app design and use focusing on the categorization of ‘clean’ and ‘toxic’ products, bodies and environments. Throughout, I critically engage with the narrative of ‘beauty’ that is inherent in these mobile apps and in the clean make-up industry as a whole.

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