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This essay explores the ID issue in relation to cowboys and growing acceptance of beauty culture in women enterprising while paying close attention to Jacqueline Moore’s work on cowboys and Kathy Peiss’ book about Madam C.J. Walker.

In her work Cowboys and Cattlemen: Class and Masculinities on the Texas Frontier Jacqueline Moore depicts the people who became cowboys. She describes them as working class men who were not as free as many might think. These people were also restrained by the same reins that affected workers in the 19th century across the United States. The writer clarifies that cowboys were hired hands working around cattle and horses on a ranch (Moore, 2010, p. 43).Cowboys also did other duties within the ranch, for instance, fence repair. 

Cowboys expressed their masculinity in a clear way, according to Moore. The author defines cowboys’ masculinity as the ability to perform their duties and manage their lives. At the same time, the men paid attention to other cowboys or workers who did the same job. As a working class, cowboys showed their masculinity via the skills in the work, which they performed, and participation in public displays and open assemblies. However, what most cowboys took as masculine behavior was in conflict with that of their employers - business-minded cattlemen. The latter had “middle-class masculine ideals of restraint” (Moore, 2010, p. 150). Defining themselves as real men, cowboys had to be masters of their impulses and stay away from fighting, gambling, drinking and even dealing with disagreeable women.

Cowboys became “mythic” and remained that way as a result of the disappearing of Texas frontier and the increasing demands of people they interacted with to follow or explore the traits which a huge number of Americans considered masculine. Moore notes that the Frontier settlement turned a cowboy into a spectacle and did not correspond to the standards of an ideal workman. There is also another angle to the myth about cowboys. In the late 19th century, cowboys were seen as drifters who were morally suspect and socially inactive. However, what many did not know is that most of them were avid contestants in Wild West type of shows and read a good number of dime novels, while some even wrote their own memoirs (Moore, 2010, p. 225).

Thus, they had to embrace the heroics of the dime novel with its myths as well as that of the genteel cowboy. This is what they claimed as reality. However, cowboys became mythic as a result of people’s nostalgia and urge to reflect the frontier and the glory it possessed prior to being engulfed by civilization. These ideas were later reflected in artistic works, for example, those of Frederick Remington.  In the late 20th century, he showed nostalgic West and brought the image of a cowboy into the rising genre of western film, which made the cowboy myth immortal.

Kathy Peiss in Hope in a Jar illustrates the growing acceptance of beauty culture and the opportunities it gave to enterprising women. The best example is that of Madam C.J. Walker, an African-American woman who undertook commercial activities, developing her line of beauty products in post slavery era in America.

Madam C.J. Walker was very successful in promoting an original beauty culture in the daily lives of African-American women who were very poor. She consciously created job opportunities for these poor women, making a profit for her community. Madam C.J. Walker also addressed the “politics of appearance” (Peiss, 1998, p. 5) and helped to pioneer different direct sales methods known as multi-level marketing or pyramid organizations today. Acting as agents, poor women got a chance to earn money through product sales. She was actively traveling to teach women how to sell beauty products and treat their hair.

Madam C.J. Walker could transform the image of a poor black woman, who was thought to have unkempt hair, unhealthy skin and lacking beauty culture. She raised the acceptance of beauty culture by promoting it as much as her products. While African-Americans were not allowed to use mass-circulation magazines, Walker purchased adverts in a lot of newspapers for the black, religious periodicals and farm journals to popularize her products as well as possibilities for women to make money (Peiss, 1998, p. 69).

Peiss admits that Madam Walker used the potent images she had at her disposal, as few as they were, to advance her company. At the same time she united the psychological, political and historical interpretations of beauty roles in everyday affairs. Madam Walker did this through such adverts as “Look your best...you owe it to your race" and "Pride of race, applied industry and bettered appearance" (Peiss, 1998, p. 76).

Madam C.J. Walker showed that women were no longer victims and pawns. They created opportunities to use makeup, declare and showcase their identity, sexual allure and freedom and joined the foray into public life.


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