restricted access Inventing Whiteness: Cosmetics, Race, and Women in Early Modern England
Abstract

This essay considers the ways in which women used cosmetics to create racial identities in early modern England, a nation that, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was increasingly defining itself through contact with foreign peoples. It argues that just as blackface performances by actors on early modern stages worked to fuse blackness with racial difference in the English imagination, so too did the whiteface cosmetic practices of women in daily life promote a notion of white English identity that would eventually be embraced by both sexes. Since a number of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century theories explicitly linked cosmetic practices to racial difference and since many of the products women applied to their skins were foreign products, women who used make-up also encoded anxieties about race-mingling and cross-cultural contact in their complexions. Thus, discourses about the cosmetic practices of both women and foreign peoples in plays, poems, anatomical texts, travelogues, conduct books, and pamphlet literature of the time exposed color as an unreliable (yet often still desirable) marker of race, class, and moral truth.


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