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This work was borne out of a sense of activism, bewilderment, and uneasiness regarding (the marketing of) the current beauty and cosmetic surgery industries. From the outset, one of the main aims of this book was to explore the normalisation of cosmetic procedures - both surgical and non-surgical - and to contribute to governmental policies regulating the cosmetic surgery market. Over the past 30 years, several institutions have called for stricter regulations of the industry and have proposed a ban on the marketing of cosmetic procedures. In an effort to give substance to these recommendations, Labour MP Ann Clwyd proposed the Cosmetic Surgery (Minimum Standards) Bill in 2012. As this Bill did not pass its first reading, Labour MP Kevan Jones introduced a different Cosmetic Surgery (Standards of Practice) Bill in 2016 in an attempt to regulate the cosmetic surgery industry. Although this Bill was also unsuccessful, the debate regarding the regulation of the market is still ongoing (cf. Marsh 2018).
The aim of this book is twofold; firstly, I will provide an overview of the current cosmetic surgery market, particularly in the UK, and consider previous research on the body, (gendered) body projects, and the wider neoliberalist and consumerist context surrounding these projects. Secondly, by engaging with a large dataset of UK lifestyle magazines and the advertising within these publications, I will provide insight into the shifting representation and marketing of cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services1 to contribute to current debates and, most importantly, the conceptualisation of cosmetic procedures. Moreover, through (group) interviews with both men and women, I engage with different views of the beauty market and (the marketing of) cosmetic procedures in particular.
The first two chapters provide an overview of the concept of the body in sociology and discuss the practice and marketing of cosmetic procedures. Chapter 1 explores the wider societal context in which cosmetic procedures are embedded and, in light of this, considers the neoliberalist, consumerist climate of 20th and 21st century Britain (cf. Garnham 2013). This chapter also investigates different perspectives on the (construction of the) body and the popular notion of the body as both object and project. Because body projects are often gendered, Chapter 1 provides a discussion of ‘masculinities’ and ‘femininities’2. Whereas a wealth of literature has commented on femininities and female bodies in relation to beauty practices, masculinities and male bodies have - until recently - largely been overlooked. As men are increasingly part of the beauty industry, however, it is crucial to consider how men engage with beauty products and practices. Moreover, considering that the commercial sector explicitly distinguishes between hetero- and gay men, sexual orientation in relation to an interest in and consumption of beauty practices is explored in more detail.
As this book revolves around the representation of cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services, Chapter 2 explores the various terms - i.e. ‘reconstructive’, ‘cosmetic’, ‘plastic’, and ‘aesthetic’ - used to denote these procedures and presents a working definition. Moreover, this chapter provides a brief overview of the history of cosmetic surgery and examines the current state and status of the industry in the UK. As part of this exploration, previous research on the representation and normalisation of cosmetic procedures is presented. Interestingly, as Hennink- Kaminski and Reichert (2011: 43) have noted, only a handful of studies have provided an analysis of the marketing conducted by cosmetic surgery businesses.
The second part of this book starts by explaining the methodological considerations for this project and specifies the methods adopted. As will be explained in Chapter 3, the project, which forms the foundation for this book, comprised both qualitative and quantitative elements and was inspired by the triangle of communication model (cf. Cook 2004); as such, it includes an exploration of not only multimodal documents but also their production and reception.
The final six chapters present an analysis and discussion of both the magazine and interview data. As the first of the analytical chapters, Chapter 4 examines the broad changes discernible in the adverts for cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services published in the various lifestyle magazines. Moreover, this chapter describes several themes and trends in the magazine articles related to cosmetic procedures. Chapter 5 continues the exploration of the nature of the adverts and discusses themes established in previous literature on (cosmetics) advertising. For example, the widely discussed ‘look good/feel good’ trope and ‘problem/solution’ rhetoric are considered. Chapter 6 also focuses on the adverts found in the lifestyle magazines as it explores the medical aspects present not only in adverts for cosmetic procedures but also in beauty product advertising. Although cosmetic procedures and beauty products/services are increasingly grouped together conceptually, the strong relation between beauty products/services and the (cosmetic) medical industry has, to date, received little attention in academic research (cf. Elias, Gill & Scharff 2017: 30). In an attempt to initiate the discussion regarding this conceptual coalescence, Chapter 7 examines how - and to what extent - cosmetic procedures are aligned with beauty products/ser- vices in magazine discourse and how advertising for beauty products/ser- vices draws on themes and visuals prevalent in the discourse surrounding cosmetic procedures. Of particular importance for the debates on the regulation of the cosmetic surgery market, this chapter addresses the question whether a boundary between cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services can be distinguished or whether it would be more accurate to view both types of beautification practices and products as belonging to some form of continuum. The final part of Chapter 7 examines the reception of the editorial and advertising content related to cosmetic procedures published in women’s magazines by presenting an analysis of the female focus group data.
As mentioned above, this book includes a particular focus on how the beauty market addresses heterosexual and gay male audiences through advertising and editorial content in both men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines. Chapter 8 explores these issues and also discusses the various (group) interviews I conducted with men to discuss the men’s lifestyle magazine data and their relationship with and views of the beauty market more generally.
Preliminary 1. A Note Regarding Sources
In any analysis of advertising and the marketing world, researchers are faced with the issue of the different nature of academic and commercial literatures. In contrast to academic research, the majority of commercial literature on successful marketing is published with the clear aim to improve a company’s profit. Moreover, the authors of these works are often industry experts and can draw on their personal experience. For the purposes of this thesis, it was essential to look at publications by cosmetic businesses and market reports - such as Mintel and Passport by Euromonitor - in order to understand the market and the changes that have occurred over the past two decades.
Alongside published industry-led materials, I also include data I collected at the Facial Aesthetic Conference and Exhibition (FACE) held in London in June 2015. This annual conference is aimed at professionals within the cosmetic surgery industry and includes a two-day programme dedicated to the marketing of procedures. Inspired by the FACE conference, I read the books and reports recommended by speakers at the conference in order to gain an insight into what leading business consultants for aesthetic practices draw on when designing marketing campaigns. Tony Gedge, a ‘return on investment marketing strategist’ at Marketing Pirates of Dentistry, for example, recommended reading Words that Sell (Bayan 2006) and Inside Her Pretty Little Head (Cunningham & Roberts 2012). Although these books may lack academic rigour, it was important to include them as they inform some of the marketing professionals working for cosmetic providers.
Preliminary 2. Nature of Adverts
A second preliminary note relevant to all research on advertising concerns the nature of adverts. Because of my background as a (socio-)linguist, I have been trained to include and analyse all elements - both textual and visual - present in a document. However, by subjecting adverts to such a rigorous analysis and by placing them at the centre of attention, we run the risk of transforming them; as Cook (2001: 223) has noted, “an ad ceases to be itself when it is scrutinized, and it is impossible to study an ad as it is usually perceived”.
Moreover, a close analysis, such as the one presented in this thesis, evokes the question of how consumers of media documents engage with them since “texts acquire meaning only in the interaction between readers and texts”3 (Hermes 1995: 10). As Hermes (1995) has demonstrated, magazine reading is mostly a very mundane, unengaged activity and researchers must be careful when attributing meaningfulness to particular aspects or elements. Hermes’ findings are echoed in Jackson, Stevenson and Brooks’ (2001: 125) study of men’s engagement with lifestyle magazines, which highlighted the entertainment value of the magazines. What is more, the male participants in Jackson et al.’s study indicated that only “sad losers” - such as academics and feminists, both boxes I personally tick - engage with the magazines in a ‘serious’ manner. Interestingly, as will become clear throughout this book, within the magazines, especially those aimed at (heterosexual) men, humour abounds, which may discourage a ‘serious’ reading.
Like Jackson et al. (2001) and Hermes (1995), Glapka (2014: 186) found that female readers of bridal magazines displayed a “rather unabsorbed relationship with [the magazine’s] content”. However, Glapka questioned whether women are as unengaged as they claim to be; after all, saying and experiencing may be two very different things. As Glapka suggested, perhaps the women wanted to save face by downplaying the extent to which something affected them.
In an attempt to address the issue of audience engagement with, and interpretation of, the documents under analysis, I organised various (group) interviews with both men and women in which the participants were asked to interact with some of the magazine data.
Preliminary 3. Copyrights and Analysing Visuals
When I started this project, I came across various articles and books which, rather than showing the adverts under discussion, included a detailed description of the adverts (cf. Coupland 2007). Initially, this struck me as odd: surely arguments could be more convincing if results were supported by showing the relevant multimodal documents? Determined to illustrate the themes and findings of my project, I included an abundance of pictures of adverts, editorials, and other relevant content.
After several emails to the Intellectual Property Office in the UK, and advice from several (academic) legal advisors, however, it quickly became clear that I would have to obtain copyrights for each and every image of the adverts and/or editorial features that I wanted to use. This is perhaps unsurprising as even an academic book is commercial, but it meant that I would have to approach major beauty, media, and health conglomerates. An additional complicating factor here was that I would have to be open about the angle of this book and the context in which the brands’ content would be placed. In the end, I approached eight beauty brands, four fitness brands, one fashion brand, and 13 cosmetic surgery companies4. In addition, I reached out to the different magazines which I used for the data collection. Of the brands I contacted, only a handful replied, even after several follow-up emails; moreover, most of these responses indicated that the company would ‘unfortunately have to decline the opportunity’. Nevertheless, it must be noted here that these refusals were not necessarily because brands did not want me to use their materials; brands only hold copyrights for a particular period of time and, particularly for the 2001 and 2006 data, some were unable to help. Moreover, some brands indicated that the various licence holders for particular images could not be contacted.
In terms of the cosmetic surgery companies I approached, none replied to my request. However, I again have to point to circumstances beyond the companies’ control; as the production of this book partly took place during the COVID-19 crisis, many of the cosmetic surgery providers closed their doors and aided the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). Furthermore, a final complicating factor with regard to approaching cosmetic surgery companies relates to the fact that many of the businesses that advertised in 2001 or in 2006 no longer exist.
All in all, after a year and a half of chasing copyrights, I must say that I understand the overall lack of visual illustrations in academic work that discusses advertising. Nevertheless, due to some exceptions to copyright and the goodwill of some brands and organisations, I can show some of the data throughout this work. Here I would particularly like to thank Elgin Loane from the Color Company, Brendon Bester at Future Publishing, and Ashton Collins from Save Face.
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