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The Managed Hand

The Managed Hand: Race, Gender, and the Body in Beauty Service Work

Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: 1
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    The Managed Hand
    Book Description:

    Two women, virtual strangers, sit hand-in-hand across a narrow table, both intent on the same thing-achieving the perfect manicure. Encounters like this occur thousands of times across the United States in nail salons increasingly owned and operated by Asian immigrants. This study looks closely for the first time at these intimate encounters, focusing on New York City, where such nail salons have become ubiquitous. Drawing from rich and compelling interviews, Miliann Kang takes us inside the nail industry, asking such questions as: Why have nail salons become so popular? Why do so many Asian women, and Korean women in particular, provide these services? Kang discovers multiple motivations for the manicure-from the pampering of white middle class women to the artistic self-expression of working class African American women to the mass consumption of body-related services. Contrary to notions of beauty service establishments as spaces for building community among women,The Managed Handfinds that while tentative and fragile solidarities can emerge across the manicure table, they generally give way to even more powerful divisions of race, class, and immigration.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94565-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction: MANICURING WORK
    (pp. 1-31)

    Two women, virtual strangers, sit hand in hand across a narrow table, both intent on the same thing—the achievement of a perfect manicure. From the touches to the smells, a manicure is a visceral experience. When the experience includes creamy hand massages, acupressure, and aromatherapy, the embodied dimensions of the manicure greatly enhance its appeal. The exchange shifts dramatically, however, when the touches result in misfiled nails, bleeding cuticles, and fungal infections, and the smells involve toxic chemicals, sweaty feet, and the exhalations of recently digested lunches across an eighteen-inch-wide table. The carnality of the manicure sets it up...

  6. One “There’s No Business Like the Nail Business”
    (pp. 32-56)

    A manicure is no longer a purely private ritual that a woman gives herself, her daughter, or a girlfriend in the quiet of her own bathroom. Instead, it is something she increasingly purchases in a nail salon and from an Asian manicurist. In the buying and selling of manicuring services, women both implicate their own bodies in intimate commercialized exchanges and expand the boundaries of the service economy to encompass regimens of hygiene and physical adornment that were once private. In so doing, they also encounter at close range women whom they would normally regard only from a safe social...

  7. Two “What Other Work Is There?”: MANICURISTS
    (pp. 57-95)

    Who are the women who work in nail salons, how do they get there, and how does this work affect their lives? Contrary to media pronouncements about Asian women in the nail salon industry as the ultimate immigrant success story, these women tell ambivalent stories of long hours, hard and at times degrading work, conflicts with spouses and children, and uneasy assimilation into their new country. Some, like Jackie Hong, feel that despite the hard work and long hours, nail salon work has helped them to assimilate into their new country and has made family relations more egalitarian. Others, like...

  8. Three Hooked on Nails: CUSTOMERS
    (pp. 96-132)

    What is the hunger that drives women to polish their nails? Is it hunger for beauty, power, and romantic love? Or are these cravings substitutes for a deeper hunger for meaning and recognition? What is it about manicured nails that simultaneously feeds and deprives women’s desires? How do different women hunger for different things, even in the common pursuit of beautiful nails? In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel the sight of polished nails stirs in the narrator a fierce longing for the freedoms she once possessed in a formerly democratic society. Forced by ruling Christian fundamentalists into a role based solely...

  9. Four “I Just Put Koreans and Nails Together”: NAIL SPAS AND THE MODEL MINORITY
    (pp. 133-164)

    Customer satisfaction in upscale nail spas depends not only on the attractive appearance of their nails but also the enjoyment derived from being pampered, and customers regard Korean women as particularly skillful in this enterprise. Body labor transforms a hygienic process, otherwise equated with washing hair or clothes, into a richly rewarding physical and emotional experience—that is, when it meets customers’ expectations. When it fails to do so, the physical and emotional intimacy of this exchange produces an equal and opposite negative reaction. Appropriate performance of this form of “pampering body labor” involves extensive physical care, along with attention...

  10. Five Black People “Have Not Been the Ones Who Get Pampered”: NAIL ART SALONS AND BLACK-KOREAN RELATIONS
    (pp. 165-200)

    After being refused a manicure at Bloomie’s Nails in Manhattan as the salon was about to close, rapper Foxy Brown, a regular customer, kicked and hit two nail salon workers on August 27, 2004. She eventually pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault charges. According to theNewYork Times,prosecutors charged the rapper, whose legal name is Inga Marchand, with assaulting the manager, Sun Ji Song, “causing ‘bruising and swelling to the face, as well as substantial pain.’ ” They said the salon’s employees ran out to Marchand’s car and stood in front of it to block her. At one point,...

    (pp. 201-238)

    Holly Bonello, the nail technician quoted by Suzette Hill inNailsmagazine, articulates perceptions of Asian discount nail salons as cutting corners on hygiene and spreading infections and other diseases. Although theNailsarticle itself presents a balanced look at public health concerns, this particular technician frames these concerns in terms of negative stereotypes of Asian immigrants. In addition to describing Asians as living in squalor and neglecting sanitation practices in the workplace, her comments reveal denigrating characterizations of Asians as unclean, unskilled, and untrustworthy.

    Rather than recognizing the multiple forces that collude in creating health risks, not just for...

  12. Conclusion: WHAT IS A MANICURE WORTH?
    (pp. 239-254)

    A half-dozen protesters stood in front of a Manhattan nail salon carrying crumpled cardboard signs emblazoned: “Hey Nail Plaza! Women workers should have the right to breaks”; “Sweatshops are not glamorous”; “No gloves, no masks, no pedicure!”

    They represented several different organizations and had gathered in support of a dismissed worker, Do Yea (Susan) Kim, who had filed a lawsuit accusing the salon of not giving breaks or paying overtime.1 Despite the protesters’ efforts, many customers crossed the picket line and entered the salon. Two well-dressed elderly white women left the salon, huddling together with nervous smiles. One protester yelled,...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 255-274)
  14. References
    (pp. 275-300)
  15. Index
    (pp. 301-309)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 310-310)