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“Making Over” Poor Women: Gender, Race, Class, and Body Size in a Welfare‐to‐Work Nonprofit Organization

Sociological Forum

Published online on


--- - |2 Drawing on 13 months of participant observation at a welfare‐to‐work nonprofit that provides unemployed poor women with used business attire, I assess the extent to which—and how—this “objectified cultural capital” is transmitted to clients. I advance prior theorizing in this area by considering whether clients’ “bodily capital” impacts the services they receive. I find that despite providing needed services to clients, the organization reifies many of the inequalities it seeks to remedy. When sorting clothing donations, staff and volunteers curate particularly classed embodiments by selecting garments that are work‐appropriate yet not luxurious. Also, well‐intentioned efforts to provide a luxurious shopping‐esque experience for clients ironically produces service scripts that facilitate control over clients’ behavior. Finally, service interactions reproduce inequities between different types of clients along the lines of race, class, and body size, such that clients with more privileged bodily capital fare better than those with stigmatized embodiments. I use these findings to caution against romanticized understandings of philanthropic efforts to remedy social inequality, while also underscoring the importance of taking embodiment—particularly the striking social disadvantages of larger body size—into account when examining the intersections of gender, race, and class. - 'Sociological Forum, EarlyView. '