Experiments in Skin

Race and Beauty in the Shadows of Vietnam

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 10 illustrations Published: April 2021

American Studies, Asian American Studies, Asian Studies > Southeast Asia

In Experiments in Skin Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu examines the ongoing influence of the Vietnam War on contemporary ideas about race and beauty. Framing skin as the site around which these ideas have been formed, Tu foregrounds the histories of militarism in the production of US biomedical knowledge and commercial cosmetics. She uncovers the efforts of wartime scientists in the US Military Dermatology Research Program to alleviate the environmental and chemical risks to soldiers' skin. These dermatologists sought relief for white soldiers while denying that African American soldiers and Vietnamese civilians were also vulnerable to harm. Their experiments led to the development of pharmaceutical cosmetics, now used by women in Ho Chi Minh City to tend to their skin, and to grapple with the damage caused by the war's lingering toxicity. In showing how the US military laid the foundations for contemporary Vietnamese consumption of cosmetics and practices of beauty, Tu shows how the intersecting histories of militarism, biomedicine, race, and aesthetics become materially and metaphorically visible on skin.


Experiments in Skin is a fully dazzling treatment of the aftermaths of the Vietnam War. Working expertly at the intersection of military history, chemical warfare, modern medical research, race, dermatology, beauty, and skin, Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu tells a fascinating and important story about how contemporary Vietnamese beauty culture has arisen from an ugly history of US militarism—the afterlife of warfare in its enduring marks on Vietnamese skin as well as military efforts to heal and even perfect soldiers' skin. Tu renders extraordinary insight into the tightly entwined histories of militarized technology and a rising beauty culture, giving name to whole new territories for analysis.” — Matthew Frye Jacobson, William Robertson Coe Professor of American Studies and History, Yale University

“Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu advances a theory of aesthetics and politics that is urgently relevant to contemporary postcolonial theorizations of colonial modernity and the resistance to it. By historicizing the emergence of dermatology in the context of American empire and war, Experiments in Skin embodies the best of cultural studies methodology and analysis.” — Jennifer Terry, author of Attachments to War: Biomedical Logics and Violence in Twenty-First-Century America


Availability: Not in Stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Thuy Linh Nguyen Tu is Associate Professor of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University, and author of The Beautiful Generation: Asian Americans and the Cultural Economy of Fashion, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
Introduction. Mysteries of the Visible  1
1. Skin Stories: Making Beauty in the Culture of Renovation  23
2. The Beautiful Life of Agent Orange  49
3. An Armor of Skin: Pacific Threats and the Dreams of Infinite Security  76
4. A Laboratory of Skin: Making Race in the Mekong Delta  104
5. Weak Skin, Strong Skin: The Work of Making Livable  134
Epilogue  161
Notes  165
Bibliography  201
Index  219
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1177-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1066-1