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Concluding Remarks

In this final chapter, I will reflect on the policy implications of how beauty products and cosmetic procedures are discussed and marketed within the pages of lifestyle magazines. Moreover, I will make recommendations for further research, particularly in light of contemporary shifts in advertising practices. Lastly, the limitations of the methodology adopted for this project need to be acknowledged.

Implications for Policy

This section engages with previous policy proposals to ban advertising for cosmetic procedures and, returning to discussions in the second chapter, the existing Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) Committee of Advertising (CAP) guidelines for beauty and cosmetic surgery marketing materials.

As was mentioned previously, the regulation provided by the ASA poses various problems; most importantly, the formulation and scope of the guidelines is often vague. For example, although the Code (2016) stipulates that “ads should not trivialise cosmetic interventions”, it is unclear what this ‘trivialisation’ entails; after all, are not all adverts for cosmetic procedures that do not mention the medical aspects and/or risks trivialising the practice to some extent? Moreover, the guideline specifying that “marketers must not suggest that a medicinal product is either a good or a cosmetic” is problematic. As has been discussed in Chapter 7, cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services are often conceptually grouped together in the advertising and editorial contents in lifestyle magazines. In addition to the obscurity of the guidelines, a different issue related to the CAP Code concerns the fact that the regulatory body is largely reactive to consumer complaints.

In light of the various issues that the ASA’s regulation presents, it is not surprising that various governmental attempts have been made to ban adverts for cosmetic surgery altogether. However, as none of the cosmetic surgery Bills passed their first reading, the intricacies and practicalities of such a ban have not been sufficiently deliberated and several questions must be addressed before drafting another ill.

Firstly, we need to explore the motivations for a ban on cosmetic surgery as a variety of arguments has been proposed. Whereas some proponents have drawn on the medical nature and risks of cosmetic surgery (cf. Clwyd 20121), others appear to criticise the wider normalisation of cosmetic procedures. In their call to “cut it out”, UK Feminista (2012), for example, suggested a ban on adverts for cosmetic procedures as these adverts “[fuel and exploit] poor body image”, trivialise invasive surgery, and “[normalise] medically unnecessary invasive surgery”. However, the question arises whether a ban on adverts would be able to curb the normalisation and/or trivialisation of cosmetic procedures, as the wider discourse surrounding the cosmetic surgery industry is largely positive. Moreover, as indicated in Chapter 7, adverts for beauty products may incorporate the discourse associated with cosmetic procedures. If the reasons for adopting a ban are indeed linked to issues of normalisation, perhaps it would be more appropriate to advance a ‘counterdiscourse’, reminiscent of the BAAPS 2008 campaign or more recent Save Face campaigns. Such a campaign could highlight the differences between cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products and may focus on the risks of cosmetic procedures and the - relatively unregulated - cosmetic surgery industry.

Nevertheless, if we accept that the rationale for a ban on adverts for cosmetic procedures is valid, the issue of what exactly the scope of this ban would be remains; as mentioned in Chapter 2, even in countries in which cosmetic surgery advertising has been banned, it has proved impossible to counter cosmetic surgery advertising on the Internet (cf. Tungate 2011: 208). As indicated previously, the unfeasibility of regulating Internet advertising poses an acute problem considering the e-migration of advertising. Although I have not engaged with advertising found on the Internet here, it must be acknowledged that (advertising on) social media plays a crucial role in shaping people’s beliefs around cosmetic procedures and may influence the decision to opt for cosmetic procedures (cf. Dorfman et al. 2018; Montemurro et al. 2015; Wen et al. 2015).

Secondly, the main problem related to the calls for a ban on advertising cosmetic procedures is the assumption that cosmetic procedures and beauty products/services constitute different categories. However, as demonstrated in the chapter on blurring boundaries, this assumption needs to be reassessed in light of the overlap between the nature and representation of cosmetic procedures and - at least some - (other) beauty products/services. An interesting question to explore here is whether it would be possible to conceptualise cosmetic procedures and beauty products/services on a continuum as well as distinguishing different categories; does a continuum view exclude the possibility for different categories? In order to engage with these questions, it is essential to address the issue of what exactly constitutes a ‘cosmetic procedure’ and whether, and if so how, this is different from (other) beauty products/services. As part of this exploration, it may be necessary to revisit the classification of ‘non-invasive’ and ‘invasive’ procedures, acknowledging that ‘non- invasive’ “does not mean ‘non-medical’” (BAAPS 2018).

Alongside a debate on the assumptions underlying the ban, a more complete, interdisciplinary view of the cosmetic procedures market is crucial for further explorations. Moreover, as has been recommended elsewhere (e.g. see Keogh et al. 2013), it would be valuable to establish an independent register which catalogues both surgical and non- surgical procedures. A register would also enable a closer look at the patient gender division; non-invasive procedures related to both hair removal and hair restoration, for example, may be more prevalent among men. Related to this point, it is essential to acknowledge that the beauty market is (increasingly) targeting men; the idea that beauty practices are restricted to women is outdated and may actually be detrimental2.

 
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