Rochelle Rowe (PhD, SFHEA) is an author and historian.

Her first book Imagining Caribbean Womanhood: race, nation and beauty competitions 1929-1970 is published by Manchester University Press. Her latest work on black Victorian women and beauty will appear in a new volume, The Cultural History of Beauty (Bloomsbury, forthcoming 2021). 

Rochelle Rowe

Imagining Caribbean Womanhood


Over fifty years after Jamaican and Trinidadian independence, Imagining Caribbean womanhood examines the links between beauty and politics in the Anglophone Caribbean, providing a first cultural history of Caribbean beauty competitions, spanning from Kingston to London.


This book traces the origins and transformation of female beauty contests in the British Caribbean from 1929 to 1970, through the development of cultural nationalism, race-conscious politics and decolonisation.

The beauty contest, a seemingly marginal phenomenon, is used to illuminate the persistence of racial supremacy, the advance of consumer culture and the negotiation of race and nation through the idealised performance of cultured, modern beauty. Modern Caribbean femininity was intended to be politically functional but also commercially viable and subtly eroticised.


The lively discussion surrounding beauty competitions, examined in this book, reveals that femininity was used to shape ideas about Caribbean modernity, citizenship, and political and economic freedom.


This cultural history of Caribbean beauty competitions will be of value to scholarship on beauty, Caribbean studies, postcolonial studies, gender studies, 'race' and racism studies and studies of the body.



Rochelle Rowe (PhD, SFHEA) is a British writer of Barbadian heritage and a historian of gender, race and the body.  

She obtained a PhD in History from the University of Essex in 2010, where she helped pioneer interest in the history of beauty and beauty culture – now an established research area there. She has published in the Radical History Review, Gender & History and other journals. Rochelle’s career in higher education includes teaching history and leading major programmes of learning and development at Essex, Exeter, London universities and at UCL, where she now focuses on leadership development. 


Her first book, Imagining Caribbean Womanhood tells a feminist history of black beauty spanning the British West Indies, Harlem and postwar London and is published by Manchester University Press. Her next work, to be published in a multi-volume collection published by Bloomsbury - The Cultural History of Beauty - explores black Victorian women and beauty in the age of empire.  

Rochelle is a lively and engaging public speaker with more than 15 years’ experience of delivering talks and lectures on her various research and professional interests.


She has given talks at universities across the country and internationally, as well as at the Victoria & Albert Museum, the British Library and the Black Cultural Archives in Windrush Square, Brixton. Most recently she contributed to the ‘Black in Academia’ event series, sharing her reflections to inspire new black researchers into academia.  

Rochelle lives in London and the Kent coast with her husband Ben.  

Praise for Imagining Caribbean Womanhood...

"Imagining Caribbean Womanhood is a ground-breaking study that reveals the complex interweaving of beauty culture, gendered experience, and nationalism in a pivotal moment in Caribbean history.


Rowe tracks these developments through debates around a significant yet undervalued phenomenon: the beauty contest. In doing so, she skilfully demonstrates how beauty became a contested terrain for negotiating ideas about modern Caribbean identity.


For this reason—and many more—this fascinating book is a must-read for everyone interested in histories of decolonisation and colonialism, gender and race, and the politics of appearance." 

Jessica P. Clark, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of History, The Business of Beauty: Gender and the Body in Modern London

Historians often publish their first books by obligation... Second books are often the books that historians want to write. To her credit, Rochelle Rowe's first monograph reads like it is her second...Rowe's writing demonstrates both clarity of mind and expression and is free of foggy jargon. 


Rowe's work, grounded in the cosmopolitan colonialism and multiculturalism of the Caribbean, will be of note and interest to social and cultural historians of the United States, Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Great Britain, and the Atlantic world.

Michael Edward Stanfield,
American Historical Review

Imagining Caribbean Womanhood is an outstanding contribution to studies of creolization and hybridity for its rigorous attention to these concepts as value laden and embedded in performances of the body in West Indian popular culture and nationalisms. 

I highly recommend Imagining Caribbean Womanhood to popular and academic audiences interested in the politics of beauty and decolonization movements.

While the study focuses on Anglophone Caribbean nationhood, this text offers a

template for feminist historical scholarship that can be applied to other geo-political

contexts and eras as well.


Patricia van Leeuwaarde Moonsammy
Dickinson College 

This book offers a unique lens with which to understand the complex race and colour relations in the Anglophone Caribbean during the era of decolonisation.


Students on my twentieth-century Caribbean history course often struggle to understand how race and colour intersected with other markers of difference. This book succeeds, without using complex theory and language, in showing that race and colour relations were gendered.


It is also one of very few historical studies that focuses on colourism, a phenomenon which has its origins in slavery and has continued up to the present. 


Rowe's book then constitutes a major addition to the fields of Caribbean women's history and race history. 

Henrice Altink - Professor Modern History & author of 

Public Secrets: Race and Colour in Colonial and Independent Jamaica 



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© 2020 Rochelle Rowe