Culture and Context: A lifespan perspective on beauty

This month’s blog is a provocation. It is an invitation to, perhaps, imagine a different narrative about appearance and beauty…….not one that emphasizes consumerism or declares that everyone is beautiful or that attention to, or a focus on, appearance is trivial and beauty work is oppressive – an aspect of a patriarchal society. Of course, beauty work exists within the norms of a patriarchal society that, along with a consumerist edict, negatively impact notions of appearance and beauty, but that is only a partial telling of the story of human appearance. I am certainly not the first person to put forth this narrative – there are notable exceptions – Ribeiro,Hollows, Brand, Cahill, Craig, Gibson, Peiss. What follows, this blog, is based on research, interviews conducted with a diverse group of women and men from both the UK and the US. Coordinated Management of Meaning or CMM informed the interview process and grounded theory was used to analyse the data. The focus of the interviews w…

Cosmetic Surgery Tourism: Self-Improvement in a Risky World

Why risk cosmetic surgery? Why risk infection, pain, possibility of life-long complications, just to look prettier? All surgery is dangerous but facelifts aren’t the same as (say) knee replacements that enhance our lives in obvious ways; with knee replacements we weigh up the risks versus the benefits and decide the risks are worth it. And choosing to have cosmetic surgery abroad, adding a foreign country into the mix, that’s just madness!
Contrary to popular opinion, ‘unnecessary’ cosmetic surgery may improve life as much as a ‘necessary’ knee replacement. Of the 100+ recipients of cosmetic surgery tourism that Ruth Holliday, David Bell and I interviewed, observed, and travelled with for our forthcoming book Beautyscapes: mapping cosmetic surgery tourism (MUP, 2019),  all had carefully weighed risk against benefit. They told us that they hoped cosmetic surgery would give them better opportunities at work, in romance, in day to day living. Further, they sought cosmetic surgery abroad,…

Hair Product Marketing, Online Beauty Communities, and Curly Hair

Shampoo labels are really, really frustrating. The label of a shampoo or conditioner tends to have the following structure: the label will list a desired effect for the product, or a problem with hair that the product aims to remedy, and then may also provide a special ingredient that causes the desired effect. Take a look at the below labels:

Each label follows the above structure. Respectively, each product claims to smooth hair, repair split ends, or protect hair colour, and then mentions an ingredient. The wording of the label is very interesting here. Each label presents the desired effect of the product, and presents the special ingredient right next to this. But what the label doesn’t do is use a construction such as ‘with argan oil FOR long-lasting colour’, or ‘with marula oil FOR smoother hair’.
This unusual wording persists across manufacturers. In each case, the product manufacturer is being very careful about making specific claims about the efficacy of these special ingre…

Beauty and the (Beast) Over-40s

‘I wanna look like I’m made of plastic’. So instructed my beautiful 40-year-old friend to a make-up artist in a well-known department store recently. Another 40-something friend tells me with pride that she spends £220 every month on painful laser facials. Yet another 40-something friend details her Botox and fillers regime to me. For myself, also in my 40s, I spend way too much on overpriced skincare creams and while I’m partial to a facial, I draw the line at needles and scalpels.

The media and academia abound with stories and reports about how susceptible young women are to the lure of beauty treatments and the negative effect social media are having on their self-confidence.  In my own research I have listened to a beautiful young 20-year-old woman share with me her desire for fat transfer using the more ‘holistic’ process of taking fat from the arse to use in the face (cosmetic surgery goes woke?). But by focusing almost exclusively on young women’s participation in beauty are we…

Young People’s Engagement with Social Media: The Case for Developing Adult Digital Literacy

It is well established that young people make extensive use of social media. In the UK, 83% of 12-15 year olds have a smartphone, 99% go online for over 20 hours per week, and 69% have a social media profile. It is certainly apparent that social media is a key resource in the lives of contemporary young people and is a central space for the development of identities and relationships, as well as emotional regulation, self-expression, learning and much more. At the same time, many adults find young people’s uses of social media concerning. The dominant narratives that surround young people and social media tend to be associated with risk, and the potential for negative impacts, in areas including body image and body dissatisfaction.

The key challenge is that the contemporary digital world differs greatly to the childhood experiences of most adults, and this has inevitably created difficulties for the ways in which policy makers, schools, health and education professionals/practitioners,…

Here Come the Boys: Make-up and Masculinity

I’ve become more and more interested in the advertisements that appear on my Facebook feed and what this seems to indicate about who Facebook think I am, what my interests and aspirations are. This has shifted recently from amusement at the back shavers, ear-hair clippers and baldness cures that it might be imagined would appeal to a bald middle aged man to (as the ads have become more specialized and targeted) a more critical thinking about the gendered and sexualized subject that the ad algorithm constructs and presents back to me, anchored very much around ideas of male beauty.

I’m discussing this in this blog because my targeted ads are currently overwhelmingly about male grooming and beauty products. This includes a number of advertisements for men’s cosmetics such as the brands Altr for Men and War Paint.  I find myself thinking about this after reading a BBC online article that asks us if men’s make-up is going ‘mainstream’. The picture that Bel Jacobs’ rather excitable article …

“But Mom, I Have to Wear a Skirt to Look Pretty!”: Reflections on the Contradictions of Being a Feminist Mother

I had a down-to-earth feminist professor in college who was childless and when I asked her if she wanted children she replied, “not really, but it would be great to raise a girl the way girls should be raised.”
That line set a kind of ideal benchmark for me as a young woman who earnestly believed that my feminism and my motherhood would get along like peanut butter and jelly. Unlike my professor, I’d always wanted children – daughters, in fact – and years after I finished college, that’s exactly what I got.
At first, feminist mothering came naturally. I walked into children’s clothing stores and gasped self-righteously at the shamelessly polarized layout: on one side, frilly mini-skirts and sparkly t-shirts with suggestive slogans; on the other side, practical, comfortable clothing adorned with trucks and dinosaurs.I glared pointedly at anyone who sought to draw logical conclusions about the colour of the walls in the baby’s room from my answer to the “Boy or Girl?” question.I clucked …