PLASTIC BODIES: WOMEN WORKERS AND EMERGING BODY RULES IN SERVICE WORK IN URBAN INDIA
Drawing upon the narratives of young lower middle class women employed in cafes, call centres, shopping malls, and offices in Delhi, this paper identifies malleability or ‘plasticity’ of the body as an important feature of contemporary service work. As neophyte service professionals, young women mould themselves to the middle/upper class milieu of their workplaces through clothes, makeup, and body language. Such body plasticity can be experienced as enabling – identifying with the image of the ‘New Indian Woman’, young women enter the bourgeoning service economy. However, they also experience this body plasticity as threatening – bodily changes to meet the requirements of work can, at times, feel inauthentic as well as be read as promiscuous by others. This paper draws attention to how women appraise plastic bodies as both generative of change and a site of labour discipline, thus offering insights into the relationship between bodies, social inequalities, and contemporary service work.