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Limitations and Recommendations for Further Research
Although I have already set out a few limitations intrinsic to the study of advertising (e.g. see the Introduction), this section identifies and explores several other issues related to the data selection and analysis. Moreover, related to these limitations, I present various recommendations for further research.
Firstly, in relation to the data selection for this project, the decision to include - magazines for - gay men but not lesbian women could be regarded as problematic, as the latter group has often been overlooked in studies of the beauty market. This disregard can be explained by marketers’ view that gay women are “second-rate consumers of the gay community due to the economic discrimination they face as women as well as lesbians” (Edwards 1997: 115). However, this idea has changed over the years and the status of lesbian women as consumers needs to be reassessed.
Alongside the exclusion of (media aimed at) gay women, I have not included a discussion of ethnicity in either the analysis of my multimodal data or the (group) interviews. However, it became apparent in the analysis of my broad corpus that the relation between ethnicity and cosmetic procedures warrants further investigation; similarly, in one of the group interviews, James highlighted the prevalence of ‘white’ models in the men’s magazines. In two relatively recent editions of Cosmo (i.e. March and April 2017), two editorial features on cosmetic procedures focused specifically on “ethnic beauty”; the April feature (2017: 78) argues that lasers and acid peels are not safe for people with “medium black to black” skin, and the March feature (2017: 69) addresses the question whether “ethnic plastic surgery” is “chiselling away our cultural identities”, which of course would be highly problematic.
An altogether different issue related to the data selection concerns the nature of lifestyle magazines. As Winship (1987: 149) has pointed out, the contents of magazines are very changeable and, like any “contemporary cultural form”, are “subject to the fluctuations of the marketplace in a period of social change”. Rather than viewing the changeability of lifestyle magazines as an issue, however, this project acknowledges the precariousness of the medium and has focused on these developments in magazine discourses.
In addition to limitations of the data selection and the nature of the data, the analysis of the multimodal data presented various problems. For example, there is no standardised method for the transcription or description of non-verbal modes (cf. Jewitt 2009), which means that each research project must specify its own methods relevant to the analysis at hand. Furthermore, one of the main issues associated with the analysis of multimodal corpora, as Thibault (2000: 366) has noted, is that “the methods adopted for collecting and coding texts isolate the linguistic semiotic from the other semiotic modalities with which this interacts”. Although I separated the linguistic semiotic from other modalities to a certain extent, I coded linguistic and image elements under the same categories in an attempt to respect the intermodal nature of multimodal documents.
A different issue related to the analysis of both mono- and multimodal documents relates to the “plurality of meanings which any image or phrase can carry” (Lumby 1997: xxiv). As I was concerned about the subjectivity of my coding, I coded all my data twice - whilst revising higher-order and lower-order themes - and allowed for visual and textual elements to be assigned to different categories. Moreover, I presented the magazine data to my male and female participants to see how they interpreted a subsection of the sample.
Alongside issues of plurality of meaning and the transcription/descrip- tion of the data, the richness of the data and the multitude of avenues for exploration posed an issue. Excited by the possibilities of a multimodal study and inspired by the literature, I initially included far too many (groups of) coding categories. In addition to coding the themes present in the data, I incorporated an analysis of social distance, gaze, colour, etc. Although a consideration of gaze, colour, and social distance may have warranted more attention as initial results appeared interesting, it would have been impossible to engage with all of the different results here. Instead, I decided to focus on the themes present in the marketing and editorial contents in the magazines. Nevertheless, future studies could expand on the exploratory analysis of social distance and gaze.
Several limitations of the (group) interviews I conducted need to be mentioned here. First of all, it must be noted that only a small number of men and women participated in the (group) interviews. For this reason, then, I cannot make any generalisations based on this data; however, this does not constitute a true limitation. As Edley and Litosseliti (2010: 163) have argued, within a constructivist paradigm, we can adopt focus groups “not to achieve a representative ‘sample’ of talk, but to create bodies of data that are indicative or illustrative of particular phenomena”.
Nevertheless, further research is necessary to understand people’s perception of the beauty and cosmetic surgery market and the reception of the industry’s advertising materials.
A Complex Field
Both the subject matter addressed and the methodologies for the analysis of multimodal documents have proved highly complex. Firstly, it has been illustrated that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to the analysis of multimodal documents; what is more, proposing such an approach may be misguided and misguiding. Rather, it may be more appropriate to combine various methodologies dependent on the aims and scope of a particular study.
Despite being borne out of a sense of activism and a desire to contribute to policy proposals regarding the regulation of the (marketing of the) cosmetic surgery industry, this project has demonstrated that the situation is far more complex than I had initially anticipated. Seemingly ‘basic’ questions related to the status and nature of both surgical and particularly non-invasive cosmetic procedures must be addressed before policy proposals can be made. More specifically, as has been discussed, it is necessary to explore the concept of a ‘boundary’ between cosmetic procedures and (other) beauty products/services.
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