Sylvia Holla’s research project  explores the relation between corporeal aesthetics, labor and the self, by investigating the embodiment of beauty standards by male and female fashion models, employed as aesthetic laborers (Warhurst and Nickson 2001; Entwistle and Wissinger 2006).

The study is based on a ‘person-centered ethnography’ (Hollan 2011) in the European fashion modeling industry. The method consisted of in-depth interviews and (participant) observation enabled an experiential perspective, involving models’ subjective responses to various facets of their work.

The fieldwork was carried out from March 2011 to March 2013, in the cities of Paris – a very central node in the field of modeling – Amsterdam – which is seen as more commercial and peripheral, and Warsaw – a city that plays an important role in providing male and female fashion models on an international scale. Moving between these three places, the research focuses on fashion models’ experiences of aesthetic labor in relation to their selves.

The dissertation (which is currently inn the process of being written) demonstrates that the relation between work, body, and self is particularly fraught for fashion models. They work in a “greedy” industry that demands intensive forms of aesthetic labor. Models are never not models: every practice they engage in, be it eating, drinking or sleeping, is also for aesthetic, professional purposes.

Moreover, models are objectified and objectify themselves incessantly: they ultimately fulfill a primary role of ‘aesthetic objects on display’: to the world, and to professionals around them. Finally, their aesthetic labor is physically and emotionally demanding, and requires models to continuously reinvent and negotiate their selves in different contexts.

This project contributes to existing sociological perspectives on the body, showing how the body connects to morality and selfhood in European cultural and institutional contexts. It also contributes to feminist studies by considering objectification has varying forms, levels of intensity, and evokes different emotional and practical responses in people.