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Beauty in a Box

Detangling the Roots of Canada's Black Beauty Culture

By Cheryl Thompson
Subjects Social Science, Women’s Studies, Multiculturalism, Cultural Studies, Film & Media
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Paperback : 9781771123587, 318 pages, April 2019
Ebook (EPUB) : 9781771123600, 310 pages, April 2019
Audiobook : 9781771125253, April 2021
Ebook (PDF) : 9781771123594, 310 pages, April 2019

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Table of contents

Table of Contents
1. African Canadian Newspapers and Early Black Beauty Culture, 1914–1945
2. From Ebony’s “Brownskin” to “Black Is Beautiful” in the News Observer, 1946–1969
3. Black Beauty Culture in the Pages of Contrast and Share: Local Beauty Salons, Department Stores, and Drugstores in the 1970s and 80s
4. Global Conglomerates Take Over Black Beauty Culture: The Ethnically Ambiguous “Multicultural” 1990s
5. The Politics of Black Hair in the Twenty-first Century


One of the first transnational, feminist studies of Canada’s black beauty culture and the role that media, retail, and consumers have played in its development, Beauty in a Box widens our understanding of the politics of black hair.
The book analyzes advertisements and articles from media—newspapers, advertisements, television, and other sources—that focus on black communities in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, and Calgary. The author explains the role local black community media has played in the promotion of African American–owned beauty products; how the segmentation of beauty culture (i.e., the sale of black beauty products on store shelves labelled “ethnic hair care”) occurred in Canada; and how black beauty culture, which was generally seen as a small niche market before the 1970s, entered Canada’s mainstream by way of department stores, drugstores, and big-box retailers.
Beauty in a Box uses an interdisciplinary framework, engaging with African American history, critical race and cultural theory, consumer culture theory, media studies, diasporic art history, black feminism, visual culture, film studies, and political economy to explore the history of black beauty culture in both Canada and the United States.


Beauty in a Box is a magnificent body of work that centers the hidden history of black Canadian beauty culture in relationship to advertising, retail establishments, and women’s magazines. By including black Canadian women within the visual culture of modernity, Cheryl Thompson rejects the erasure of black female Canadian bodies from representations of beauty and consumerism in Canada. In addition, as a brilliantly pioneering examination of how African American beauty culture shaped black Canada, Thompson fills an important gap in research on global black beauty culture. Beauty in a Box stands as one of the most captivating and well-researched tomes to examine black beauty culture in Canada and transnationally. Read this book!

- Ingrid Banks, University of California Santa Barbara

Beauty in a Box makes a critical contribution to the history of beauty in Canada. One of the first studies to focus exclusively on Black women’s beauty in twentieth-century Canada, it is a wide-ranging, ambitious recuperative work that adds significantly to our knowledge of a Black beauty culture deeply rooted in Canada. …[The book] lays a firm foundation for future work on beauty, the body, and race.

- Jane Nicholas, Canadian Journal of History 56.1, 2021