Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper explores the connections among Americanness, self-care, and neoliberal subjectivity through an analysis of Mexican and Central American women who engage in direct sales. Immigrant women take up direct sales in pursuit of their American Dreams, as part of their struggle for economic mobility, but through these companies, they also learn how to be American. In weekly sales meetings, individuals learn about particular products, how to use credit, how to spend, and how to care for their bodies. Designed to produce effective saleswomen, these strategies also, importantly, teach immigrant women to improve themselves, to become more American. This process entails integration into a neoliberal subjectivity, one in which individuals are accountable for their own well-being. Fully responsible for their own successes and failures in the US, immigrant women thus work to transform themselves, both morally and literally, acquiring both new attitudes and new bodies. This paper, then, hones in on the ways they achieve their new selves as they learn to take care of both their bodies and souls. It argues that despite a seeming acquiescence to neoliberal norms, their efforts also serve to assert their humanity, demand acknowledgment of their efforts, and lay claim on an American Dream that otherwise excludes them. In so doing, it centers self-care as a form of work, transformative labor that can both challenge and reproduce normative understandings of Americanness.