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Masculine and Feminine Bodies in Lifestyle Magazines and the Beauty Market

Whereas a wealth of (feminist) literature focuses on the representation of the female body in lifestyle magazines (cf. Duffy 2013; Moeran 2010) and women’s discussions of cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/ services (cf. Davis 1994; Gimlin 2007; Polonijo & Carpiano 2008), fewer studies have focused on the beauty market for men. This relative lack of academic interest is unsurprising as it is widely believed that men spend less resources - both in terms of time and money - on beautification (Connell 2005: 248). However, as will be discussed in this section, although men’s participation in the beauty market may indeed be lower than women’s, it would be wrong to discard it altogether. Moreover, masculinity as a concept is changing “as many men re-evaluate their appearance, re-position themselves as consumers of fashion and style products, and ultimately re-construct their idea of what it is to be male” (Harrison 2008: 56).

From Ideal to Real and from Dude to Dud

As Robert Goldman points out in Reading Ads Socially (1992), the media have faced three major issues since the 1980s in the form of problems of sign saturation, issues of viewer scepticism, and having to respond to feminist (and other social) critiques. In an attempt to overcome the latter issue, marketing - and consequently also lifestyle magazines - has presented (commodified) femininity and feminism together in adverts to demonstrate that they need not be mutually exclusive (Gill 2008). In addition to this merge of concepts to (re)gain their audience, several marketers have responded to critiques of presenting photo-shopped female models of a similar body type; initiatives such as Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign, for example, emphasise the use of ‘real women’5 of all sizes to promote their brand and products. Despite these brands’ apparent concern with women’s body image, some scepticism is required as advertising is particularly sensitive to society’s ever-changing ‘pulse’ and draws on whatever is popular (and therefore profitable) at the time (cf. Lazar 2006).

Despite the alleged changes in the beauty advertising landscape, recent research on the representation of women in adverts indicates that women may still be portrayed in stereotypical roles or positions. Conley and Ramsey (2011: 470), for example, found that “advertisers suggest either through words or images (to a greater extent than men) [that women] should take up as little space as possible, reduce the amount of space they take up, or be as unnoticeable as possible”. Moreover, research by the Innovation Group and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media (2017) has pointed out that women still have systematically less screen- and speaking time in video adverts when compared to men.

It is not only advertising that has attracted criticism for the manner in which it represents women; magazines, especially women’s lifestyle magazines, have also been scrutinised for presenting a largely unattainable beauty ideal. In response to some of these critiques, Hearst Magazines UK, the producers of some of the UK’s most popular magazines (e.g. Cosmopolitan, Elle, Esquire, Good Housekeeping, Men’s Health, and Red), recently launched Hearst Empowering Women, a “brand celebrating the lives, aspirations and achievements of British women” (Jones 2014). Featuring inspirational stories around body confidence, careers, relationships, and health, the idea behind the campaign’s website is to contribute to help women “achieve their goals and break down the barriers that may prevent them from doing so” (ibid). Naturally this campaign is not isolated - increasingly the focus of women’s magazines has shifted to achieving (body) confidence through acceptance rather than rejection of certain features (cf. Elias, Gill & Scharff’s (2017) discussion of ‘love your body’ and ‘femvertizing’). The monthly editions of the UK version of Cosmopolitan, for example, advocate the idea that “every body’s a winner” (Louise Court, editor-in-chief, April 2015) and report on different beauty ideals across the world (April 2015: pp. 70-74), and under the tag “love your body” the reader is presented with various images and ideas of all the forms beauty may take. Moreover, as will be discussed in more depth in one of the following chapters, Cosmopolitan launched Cosmo Body, an offshoot that promoted a healthy body (image) which only had a very limited amount of advertising undermining the general discourse of body acceptance.

Contrary to the women’s magazine market’s alleged ‘break’ from rigid ideals and a widely advocated diversity in representations of women, men are increasingly faced with a single body standard that is presented across the media (Gianatasio 2013). However, as with developments in advertising targeted at women, there have been a few marketing initiatives that acknowledge male diversity; male grooming brand Lynx, for example, recently launched the “find your magic” campaign, which legitimises a plurality in attractive, individual masculinities (cf. Kemp 2017; Roderick 2015).

As indicated above, it has long been presumed that (heterosexual) men are not interested in beautifying or altering their body - in fact, they have been expected to be largely indifferent to their appearance (see Connell 2005; Davis 2002; Edwards 2003; and Ricciardelli, Clow & White 2010). However, in light of social and political changes, combined with increased urbanisation and industrialisation (cf. Kimmel 2010, 2013), masculinities are being re-defined and it is becoming increasingly acceptable and expected for men to engage in appearance-enhancing practices. Although, for reasons of space, I shall not be able to detail the various social and political developments that have led to the reconceptualisation - or even ‘crisis’ (cf. Mackinnon 2003; Whitehead 2002) - of masculinities, I will elaborate on recent (commodified) masculinities such as the ‘New Man’ and the ‘metrosexual’, particularly in relation to male lifestyle magazines. As Benwell (2003: 8) has commented, men’s magazines have played a pivotal role in redefinitions of masculinities as they form a site for discussion of male roles, expectations, and ideals whilst simultaneously offering representations of masculinities. Moreover, around the turn of the 21th century, magazines were able to offer “fixed answers for men feeling insecure about the changing and confusing gender roles in postmodern consumer society” (Alexander 2003: 546).

Even though men’s magazines have a long history, the male lifestyle magazine genre is relatively new and (re)entered the UK in the late 1980s (Crewe 2003). In contrast to previous magazines which provided information on men’s hobbies and activities, recent male lifestyle magazines have emphasised men’s appearance and promote a consumerist personality for the ‘New Man’ or ‘metrosexual’6 (cf. Edwards 1997: 73; Jackson et al. 2001). The concept of the ‘New Man’ was born out of various social movements and phenomena (e.g. gay liberation, feminism, and punk culture) and stipulates a sensitive, emotionally aware, egalitarian (albeit somewhat narcissistic) masculinity (Gill 2003: 37-45). In their study of portrayals of masculinity in Canadian lifestyle magazines targeting the New Man, Ricciardelli et al. (2010: 65-74) found that the overall message conveyed in these men’s lifestyle magazines promoted consumption as a means for men to alter their embodied selves to become more like the ideal they (should) strive for.

Despite being lauded by some, the New Man was soon condemned for being ‘too feminine’ and ambiguous in sexual orientation. Advanced by the launch of loaded magazine in 1994, a growing countermovement rejected the New Man and instead promoted the ‘New Lad’ - a hedonistic post-/antifeminist man concerned with ‘stereotypically masculine interests’ such as beer, football, and women (cf. Gill 2003; Ricciardelli et al. 2010). Related to the New Lad is the concept of hypermasculinity, which captures some of the exaggerated ideas of what it means to be a man such as the belief that certain forms of violence are manly and the conception that danger is exciting (cf. Vokey, Tefft & Tysiaczny 2013). In their study of hypermasculine portrayals in magazine adverts in the US, Vokey et al. (2013: 564) found hypermasculinity markers to be particularly prevalent in magazines targeting adolescents and young adults from a low socioeconomic background, as they are more likely to employ these markers in order to gain power and resources. This finding is echoed in several other studies that have concluded that men from a working-class background are more likely to “seek powerful bodies to compensate for a lack of occupational power” (Vigorito & Curry 1998: 138). Interestingly, as will be discussed in Chapter 8, advertising and editorial features in FHM - a magazine that targets men from a lower socioeconomic background - included various stereotypical (hyper)masculine markers.

Despite often being identified and presented as different categories, the New Man and New Lad ideologies present similarities and are often merged in contemporary men’s magazines. For example, despite a statement by original editor James Brown that “grooming is for horses”, loaded magazine, the prototype of laddish culture, adopted a section on ‘grooming’ (Gauntlett 2008: 160). Echoing Tan et al.’s (2013: 75) analysis of men’s lifestyle magazines from Taiwan, China, and the US, it seems to be the case that “the defining characteristic of global hegemonic masculinity is commodity consumption...”.

So far, the discussion of men’s magazines and changing masculinities has focused mainly on representations of men. However, there has been a growing interest in looking at audience responses to investigate how men consume, understand, and interact with the concept of masculinities as constructed in a variety of media (cf. Hall 2014). Wienke (1998) was one of the pioneers in looking at how a male audience interprets and potentially internalises body ideals presented in the media (especially mesomorphic, i.e. muscular, physiques). On the basis of in-depth interviews, Wienke (1998: 277) found that men negotiate the meaning of cultural ideals and adjust, reformulate, and sometimes even reject the ideals based on their own appearance and socioeconomic status. For example, people who conform to the muscular beauty ideal presented in the media were more likely to accept a mesomorphic physique as ideal.

Alongside research on the representation and experience of masculinities in male lifestyle magazines, other studies have focused on male discourses of the body and grooming practices more generally. Gill, Henwood and McLean (2005), for example, conducted interviews with 140 young British males to discover how these men discussed their bodies and bodily practices. Overall, the men displayed a sense of detachment and rejected the idea of vanity; those men who used skincare products “justified [this use] in instrumental terms, rather than in relation to their appearance” (ibid: 50). Gill et al.’s findings are reflected in research by

Coupland (2007), which has indicated that “consumerized male narcissism is enabled by ironic, ‘uncommitted’ discourses”. As will become clear in Chapter 8, the men participating in the (group) interviews for this project also employed various techniques to distance themselves from being seen as (too) invested in beauty practices.

Gay and Heterosexual Male Identities

Within an account of body- and/or appearance-related masculinities, a consideration of homo- and heterosexual identities is imperative as both marketing and academic literatures have long stipulated that gay men show greater involvement in the fashion and beauty industries. Before discussing homo- and heterosexual identities it must be acknowledged that these identities do not constitute a binary distinction but rather exist on a continuum; however, as many of the marketing agencies and lifestyle magazines adopt a binary understanding of hetero- and gay identities, I follow this example here.

Various early Key Note marketing reports have argued that gay men form a significant target audience for beauty brands as they are more interested in these products than heterosexual men and allegedly have a greater disposable income (Tambe 2003). Providing a possible explanation for this greater involvement, academic research conducted by Chi (2015), Jankowski et al. (2014), and Lanzieri and Cook (2013) has indicated that gay male culture puts greater emphasis on appearance and physical attractiveness than heterosexual male culture. Nevertheless, contrary to expectations, in an analysis of lifestyle magazines aimed at both hetero- and gay men, Jankowski et al. (2014) found no significant difference in the number of articles related to appearance; what is more, the gay men’s lifestyle magazines featured fewer adverts related to appearance than the straight men’s magazines. In line with comments in the previous section, it appears that men - regardless of sexual orientation - are being persuaded by a consumption ethos (Moss 2011).

 
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