Course Description:

We have all heard the saying "Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," but how do cultures condition our ideas of beauty? As we grew up, how did we become socialized into certain standards of feminine and masculine beauty? How do such ideals influence our personal and group identities? How does the rhetoric of beauty reflect a society's values and fears, particularly a society's gender norms, aesthetic tastes, and judgments of different racial and ethnic groups?

In this course, we will examine how the rhetoric of beauty is shaped by cultural values, and how the powerful concepts of "beauty" in turn shape our personal lives. Through a wide selection of texts across different cultures in different genres (investigative journalism, art, multimedia sources), we will delve into the problem of how the rhetoric of beauty reflects social norms and values, and how it commands social members to assume certain gender, racial, and cultural roles. We will also investigate how the conceptions of beauty play into scientific fields such as biology and quantum physics. Based on your own scholarly investigation, you will develop a research-based paper or project on how “beauty” shapes and transforms human social and scientific life. By the end of the course, you will have a fresh pair of eyes to look at the question of "beauty" in both your everyday life and a variety of socio-cultural contexts.


As a student in this Shared Passage class, you will:

• Learn to view “beauty” as a critical intersection of culture, gender, and race and analyze social phenomena based on the lens of beauty.
• Learn critical concepts about rhetoric, as well as the cultural and social function of rhetoric in meaning-making and in mobilizing social change.
• Develop critical skills for understanding and articulating ideas cross-culturally.
• Develop skills for interdisciplinary learning and research, as this class touches upon the topic of beauty from various cultural, aesthetic, and scientific perspectives.
• Learn library research, working with sources, and citation as integral steps in joining an academic conversation.
• Develop habits of mind and practice required recursively with each assignment in the sequence: Awareness of your own position within the rhetorical situation and writing habits that respond to the specific purposes and audiences you identify for each writing task, both for this class and in the world.


This Shared Passage class will be an interactive, discussion-based seminar. It requires maximum participation and investment from you as a student. Following the guidelines below will give you the best chance of growing as a writer and researcher as well as fulfilling the requirements for this class:

• Masking: Although it may be your choice to wear a mask outdoors or in common indoor spaces after week 1, the proper use of masks is required while in our classroom or while in my office. Students who are not masked will be asked to leave and be marked absent. Please keep a mask supply in you backpack/bookbag.”

• Attend every class session; actively participate in class discussions and writing exercises. (Note: If you have any COVID exposure or symptoms, please follow the Health Center’s recommendations for quarantine and getting tested. You will NOT receive any penalties for COVID-related or other emergency-related absences.)
• Come prepared to every class session, having completed all reading and writing assignments.
• Meet all due dates for written work, including drafts and revisions.
• Show up on time for all conferences with questions about how to improve your work.
• Participate in peer review with the intention of learning from your classmates and grow together as a class community.
• To approach the work of the course with the habits of mind critical for success at the university level: intellectual curiosity, openness to new ideas, critical engagement, and creativity.
• To conduct yourself in accordance with the College’s Honor Code.
• Accommodations: If you have any special needs for accommodations, please notify the College and the instructor. The instructor will strive to meet your needs for special accommodations.
Please maintain clear and timely communication with me in the case of any difficulty that arises during the quarter, such as learning challenges, sickness, and emergencies. I will make every effort to accommodate you for the challenges that you encounter, but I expect timely communication from you to solve the issues together and ensure that your learning is not compromised during such times.


• Consistent Presence and Active Class Participation (20% of final grade). This means showing up in class on time and actively participating in class discussions and raising questions in a consistent manner, completing all readings and assignments on time. You are expected to have read the assigned texts, watched assigned films and reviewed artworks before each class session. Unless you have a COVID-related situation or other emergencies, in which case you should notify the instructor immediately, more than one unexcused absence will negatively affect your grade (you will receive 0 points of your for the days of unexcused absences.) Excused absences include: health related situations; athletic situations; other unavoidable and emergency situations. 

• Writing Workshop (20%). For the Writing Workshop, you need to review your classmates’ writings in small-group settings and provide them with written feedback. The Writing Workshop will build your critical skills as writers and readers for academic papers. The instructor will provide you will a separate sheet of feedback so you can write out your feedback and share it with your partner. If you have an excused situation for the in which

• Two Cross-Week Critical Question Papers (10% each; 20% of final grade; you need to choose one of these two papers to do a thorough revision on after the peer review sessions in class). These short papers are not conventional reading summaries or reflection papers; rather, they encourage you to ask a critical question and integrate readings from different weeks to address that question. For each paper, you should identify one critical problem/issue/topic and examine how 3 different readings or course materials from at least two different weeks respond to that question. For example, you could write about how beauty is experienced and expressed differently based on communities with differing gender and sexuality identities; you could also write about how feminine beauty is articulated differently in diverse cultural communities. The goal of this assignment is to cultivate your critical abilities to engage with and articulate ideas from interdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. Each paper should be about 4 double-spaced pages, 12 font Times New Roman in Word documents.

• One Team-Presentation on Course Readings/Contents (10%) You will sign up to do a team oral presentation with one or two other people from the class on a given day's readings/contents. The presentation itself should last between 30 to 45 minutes, and you should also lead a Q & A session at the end of the presentation. You and your teammates should take up the entire class period on your presentation day.

• Final Research Project (30%)

This final project helps you summarize your learning for the whole quarter and requires a outside/library/internet research to find 3-5 sources related to beauty. This is a multiple-step project and requires your consistent participation spreading out through different weeks.

A. Around Week 5 Week 6, you will post a short project proposal (2-3 paragraphs) on Moodle, detailing the topic you want to cover and the materials you imagine would be helpful for your project. You will also provide comments to at least one other person’s proposal posted on Moodle. We will go over potential topics in class together. (5% of final grade)

B. Around Week 7 and Week 8, you will post a preliminary Annotated Bibliography on Moodle, listing and explaining 5-8 sources you plan to use for your project. We will work with the librarian to familiarize you with library research. At least 3 of your sources should be from outside of our class readings. These sources can be either Primary Sources (images, cinema, literature, interviews, documentary films, scientific data, etc and other creative expressions and or scientific data about beauty) or Secondary Sources (conceptual/theoretical/historical/academic writing). You will also comment on one other person’s post. (5% of final grade).

C. Orally present the major findings and discoveries and surprises of your project, including how it grew from your peers’ comments, library research, and your own research (6-8 minutes). These presentations are semi-formal, meaning you don’t need to present the full scope of your project, but just need to focus on 1-2 aspects that are particularly memorable to you. Be sure to showcase your findings, be them a new theory you discovered, a set of artistic works that are illuminating, or a surprising convergence of experience of two seemingly unrelated minority groups, or other discoveries (5% of final grade).

D. Submission of a final paper (7-10 pages) toward the end of the quarter that includes a full argument and discussion of the materials you used. More guidelines will be provided later this quarter (15%)

For every assignment and your final grade, I will adopt the following grading scale:

A: 94% and above      A-: 90%-92.99%      B+: 87%-89.99%  B: 83%-86.99% 
B-: 80%-82.99%        C: 76%-79.99%.      C-: 70%-75.99%    D: 64%-69.99%       
D-: 60%-63.99%        F: < 60%

Note: Any late submissions (submitted the day after due date) will receive a grade deduction of 5% per day, unless there is a documented emergency or you receive prior approval from the instructor. If you need help reaching the deadlines or think you might need more time to finish your drafts for any legitimate reason, please notify me ASAP.

Any incomplete submission that does not meet the length or content requirement of the assignment will receive a grade no greater than C-.


Most of the readings for this class are available on Moodle. Apart from them, there are a few books that you need to purchase from the Book Store. If you can find e-books for these, they are acceptable.

Women in the Picture: What Culture Does with Female Bodies by Catherine McCormack

A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design by Frank Wilczek

Thick and Other Essays by Tressie McMillan Cottom


In the spirit of making the class a safe and welcoming community that maximizes the learning experience for all, I would like to invite everyone to observe the following policies on the use of technology and the discussion of sensitive topics to ensure that we learn effectively and respectfully together:

• Please silence or turn off your cellphones and put them away during class time.
• If you like to take notes and do in-class writing exercises on your laptop, please strictly restrict your use of your laptop to in-class activities. No web-browsing, email-checking, and Facebook is allowed in class unless instructed by me. When we do all-class analysis and discussions, I may ask you to close your laptops to focus on class discussions.
• Some texts and topics in our class touch upon deeply personal issues, such as gender identities, cultural practices, and sexual orientations. When discussing such issues in class and in writing, please be aware of the personal effect of such topics and make comments respectfully. We strive to create a community that respects diverse identities and values. Making comments mindfully and learning from the diverse backgrounds of your classmates are important components of your education. If you feel vulnerable around certain topics, please communicate with me privately. Let us all take responsibility in creating a safe and welcoming community of learners where we exchange ideas respectfully and ethically.

Ancient Greek statues of females    “African Venus” (1851) Cover of GQ magazine, men’s
      by Charles Henri Joseph Cordier fashion and style magazine
            France (U.S.)

Class Schedule*

Week 1      Encountering Beauty: Introduction to Class Theme

Wednesday, Jan. 4
Introduction to class theme and the rhetorical situation
Analyzing images of beauty and understanding the rhetoric of beauty
In-class Writing: What are your perceptions of beauty? What social, cultural, and
familial factors shaped your perceptions of beauty?
What have your experiences as writers been? How does your role
  as a writer vary in different (rhetorical) situations? What kinds of writing are
            considered as beautiful in your culture, and why?

Friday, Jan. 6
Reading: Aristotle, selections of Rhetoric: Parts 1, 2 and 3

Small Digital Assignment Due: Find two very different images of beautiful people, landscapes, or bodies
            from Two sources. Identify the nature of the sources, briefly describe them, and
            upload images to Moodle; please also comment on at least one other person’s

Week 2 Foundational Understandings of Beauty in Western Philosophical and Cultural Discourses
Monday, Jan. 9 Catherine McCormack, Women in the Picture, Preface (p. 1-21)
Wednesday, Jan. 11 McCormack, Women in the Picture, Chapter 1, “Venus,” (p. 23-74)
Friday, Jan. 13       Emmanuel Kant, selections of Critique of Judgement: P. 22 of the PDF: Preface;
p. 40 "Of the Aesthetical Representation of the Purposiveness of Nature;" p. 74" Of the Ideal of beauty" (until p. 77)

Week 3      Constructing and Deconstructing Feminine Beauty Across Cultures
Monday, Jan. 16 MLK Day, no class 
Wednesday, Jan. 18 Reading Due: Kyo Cho, “The Search for the Beautiful Woman: Chinese and
Japanese Beauty”
Friday, Jan. 20          1. “Little Girls or Little Women? Disney Princess Effect”
                                      2. “The Culture of Thin Bites Fiji”

Week 4      Constructing and Deconstructing Feminine Beauty Across Cultures, continued
Monday, Jan. 23 Ping Wang, Selections from Aching for Beauty: Footbinding in China

                                  In-class Songs: Beyonce, “Pretty Hurts;” India Arie, “I’m Not My Hair”

Wednesday, Jan. 25
Reading Due: "Nennu and Shunu: Gender, Body Politics, and the Beauty Economy in China"

Friday, Jan. 27
First Critical Question Paper due; class time will be used entirely for peer review of first paper. Please submit your digital draft to Moodle before class and bring two hard copies of your paper to class for peer review.

Week 5      Constructing and Deconstructing Masculine Beauty Across Cultures

Monday, Jan. 30 Reading Due: 1. “American Masculinity After World War II”

                                                          2. “The State of Masculinity Now: A GQ Survey”

Wednesday, Feb. 1 Readings Due:  “How Rites of Passage Shape Masculinity”
“How Japan’s ‘Salaryman’ is Becoming Cool”

Friday, Feb. 3 Winter break, no class

Week 6      How Race, Culture, and Gender Intersect in “Beauty,” Part I

Monday, Feb. 6 Selections from Black Skin, White Masks

Wednesday, Feb. 8 Selections from Thick and Other Essays

Friday, Feb. 10 Midterm review and preparing for second Critical Question Paper; no
readings for today

Week 7      How Race, Culture, and Gender Intersect in “Beauty,” Part II
Monday,  Feb. 13 Reading Due:  “About Face: Why is South Korea the World’s
Plastic Surgery Capital?”  (If you can't access the online article, you can find a PDF under this week's section.)

Wednesday, Feb. 15  Reading Due: “This is What Gender Non-Binary People Look
                                                Like” (If you can't access the online article, you can find a PDF under this week's section.)

In-class Discussion: How do the authors utilize different rhetorical
strategies (ethos, pathos, logos, doxa, kairos) to make a case for the social,
racial, and gender implications of the pursuit of beauty in a variety of contexts 
(Africa, Korea, LGBTQ community)? How are standards of beauty constructed and challenged in a white-dominated, Western-centered, heterosexual global society? How do images make an argument by working hand-in-hand with texts?
Friday, Feb 17 Bring the draft of your Second Short Critical Paper to class for a peer review writing workshop. If you don't have a draft for your peers to work on, you will receive 0% for the first part of a two-part writing workshop, which together makes up 15% of your final grade.
Week 8    Queer Beauty and Preparations for Final Project
Monday, Feb. 20
Reading Due: Reading Due: “Queer Beauty: Winckelmann and Kant on  the Vicissitudes of the Ideal.” First half

Wednesday, Feb. 22  "Queer Beauty," Second Half

Friday, Feb. 24 Final Project workshop. Post your final research project topic to Moodle
and comment on at least one other person’s project BEFORE class.

Week 9    Daoist and Scientific Understanding of Beauty
Two short critical papers due this week.
Monday, Feb. 27 Library research workshop

Wednesday, Mar.  Reading Due: “Beauty (Mei 美) in the Zhuangzi and in Contemporary Theories
of Beauty”

Friday, Mar. 3 “How Beauty is Making Scientists Rethink Revolution”

Week 10 Scientific Understanding of Beauty and Final Project Presentations

Monday, Mar. 6 Reading Due: Selections from A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design

Wednesday, Mar. 8  Presentations on final projects

Friday, Mar. 10 Presentations on final projects and class evals