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Look Good, Feel Good

As discussed in the first chapter, consumerism thrives on the idea of an inner and outer body which are both separate and intertwined. On the one hand, echoing Descartes’ mind/body dualism, the consumer is constructed as being in control of - and to some extent responsible for - the maintenance of the body. However, a person’s ‘self’1 and their body’s appearance are not presented as entirely separate but are also regarded as intertwined and mutually representative, thus enabling the association between looking and feeling good which is prevalent in advertising discourse.

As the link between looking and feeling good is firmly entrenched, body beautification products and services are regularly sold as ways to achieve happiness. Cosmetic surgery discourse in particular often “[suggests] that bodily modification does not only have physical benefits, but also psychological and emotional benefits, promoting inner well-being” (Moran & Lee 2013: 375). The emphasis on psychological healing is reflected in cosmetic surgeons’ motivations to treat patients; Dr Bryan Mendelson (2013: 94), former President of the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery (ISAPS), for example, claimed that a cosmetic surgeon’s aim is “to relieve [a patient’s] psychological distress through surgery”.

The alleged psychological benefits of cosmetic procedures were emphasised at the FACE conference (June 2015) in a discussion of “what people really buy” when they undergo cosmetic procedures. Pam Underdown, CEO at Aesthetic Business Transformations, argued that patients are buying hope for the future through cosmetic interventions, so this is what marketers need to sell. She compared the cosmetic surgery business to a travel agency, stating how “you sell the cocktails and the beaches, the final destination”. However, it is important to note here that not all physicians feel comfortable with this representation and marketing of cosmetic interventions. In the BBC documentary Inside Harley Street, plastic surgeon Michael Prager, for example, has argued firmly against the idea of selling something other than the actual procedure, emphasising how he sells Botox injections, not happiness (Engle 2015).

Considering the emphasis that is placed on the end result of cosmetic procedures, it is unsurprising that the process of the procedures often appears to be omitted in advertising discourse. Characteristic of a transformation discourse, as defined by Jones (2008: 56), the “labour [associated with the procedures] is hidden” as results appear to be “achieved by magic”; there is no pain, and time is “conflated and diminished”.

Although it may be difficult for a static image to present a process, a handful of adverts - predominantly in the men’s lifestyle magazines - present the actuality of the procedures. An advert for FUE Hair Clinics, for example, illustrates the stages of recovery and the picture accompanying the text “healing within 2-4 days” actually shows some of the surgical tape and the raw skin after the procedure.

Returning to the theme of looking and feeling good, several examples in the data draw a direct connection between looking and feeling good in the advert’s written body copy2. Overall, the explicit link between appearance and feeling confident can be found primarily in the 2001 and 2006 adverts for cosmetic procedures in the women’s magazines. An advert by Transform Medical Group, for example, features a woman who is lounging on her front and is smiling into the camera, accompanied by the text “Transform how you look, love the way you feel” (Marie Claire February 2006: 211).

Perhaps due to the increased scrutiny of advertising for cosmetic procedures by activists, political figures, and the beauty industry itself, the earlier popularity of representing a direct link between looking and feeling good has largely fallen out of fashion. Publications such as the Sir Bruce Keogh Review (2013) and the CAP Help Note on Cosmetic Surgery Marketing (2016: 7) - which includes the rule that “marketers should not play on consumers’ insecurities [and] should not irresponsibly imply that a cosmetic intervention will be able to solve a consumer’s personal or emotional problems ...” - may have impacted the way in which procedures are marketed. However, the implicit connection between buying a product or investing in a (non-) surgical intervention and feeling more confident can still be found in men’s and women’s lifestyle magazines, albeit less frequently than in earlier years3. Claims such as “Skalp changed my life forever” (Gay Times February 2015: 53), for example, do not explicitly draw on a discourse of confidence; rather it is implied that the patient has become more confident because of the procedure. Moreover, the pictorial elements in the adverts - which are more difficult to regulate - may also signal confidence without any direct statements.

Although most frequently found in adverts for cosmetic procedures, several of the (other) beauty adverts found in the lifestyle magazines also include the ‘look good, feel good’ rhetoric4. FHM, for example, includes several adverts for Circ shampoo, which is claimed to counter hair loss and, more importantly, the negative evaluations attached to it: “Worried about losing your hair in the future? The thing that most concerns men with thinning hair is losing control over the way others see them. Stay in control by using new Circ shampoo”. These discourses surrounding male (in)security are discussed in more detail in Chapter 8.

The women’s magazines also include several (other) beauty adverts that present the look good/feel good theme; an advert for Natra Health (Cosmo June 2001: 168), for example, promises that its cream “helps improve the appearance of your skin, making it visibly smoother and soft, leaving you more confident in the way you look and free to enjoy the summer wearing as little as you like”. Similarly, an advert for a new overnight lotion by Clearasil claims that the lotion “[partners] with your skin at night to visibly reduce the appearance of spots, so you wake up looking and feeling awesome” (Marie Claire October 2010: 172). More recently, an Estee Lauder campaign for Double Wear foundation calls on the reader to wear the product “for the confidence it gives you” and includes the hashtag “DoubleConfidence” as part of its promotion (Marie Claire June 2015: 6-7).

The assumption underlying some of the adverts discussed above is that the reader somehow lacks confidence because of a physical, appearance- based ‘issue’. Although rarely addressed explicitly, some of the adverts - particularly in the Gay Times - refer to the insecurity or worry that readers may be struggling with. Especially adverts for hair loss products and/or procedures frame consumers as insecure ‘sufferers’. Hairline pigmentation provider Skalp, for example, includes patient testimonials which highlight the distress that patients experienced before undergoing the procedure, which is presented as the solution to these feelings of insecurity and/or unhappiness:

I. I used to be so attached to my hat; it was the only thing I had to disguise my baldness. You really cannot put a price on the happiness and confidence that this has given me. It has given me back my confidence. I would recommend this to anyone. (Ollie Hughes in Gay Times, broad corpus, February 2014: 37)

II. Hair loss had ruined me. I was no longer my outgoing self but had become self conscious [sic], balding jokes took away my confidence and I felt old and unattractive... The confidence I have gained from having the treatment has changed my life for the better. (Gay Times, broad corpus, May 2016: 119)

The theme of representing products or services as offering solutions to (psychological) consumer woes and worries is explored further in the next section.

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