Dissertation: Chapter 1 (Context of my Practice) – Draft 1

Below shows the first chapter of my dissertation as a draft, in line with the structure and plans made prior. These can be found on separate blog posts. This chapter outlines my professional practice and the surrounding theories falling in line with my research and practical work to date.

Any feedback given from my supervisor will be implemented, recorded and documented.

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Chapter 1 – Context of My Practice (Theoretical, Professional)

In relation to social media and beauty publications in the fashion industry, there are many theories which have been derived. Each highlights different perspectives that encompass the topic of self-perception, and allow for cross-cultural analysis, in particular focusing on the UK and Japan as comparatives.

Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory allows for a multitude of theoretical perspectives to be considered in context. In particular, ‘The Mirror Stage’ theory (Lacan, 1936, Hesse-Biber, 1996), the ‘Social Identity’ theory (Turner and Tajfel, 1986) and ‘The Self-Surveying Gaze’ theory (Shields and Heineken, 2002) allows for a foundation to be built upon, opening up discussion of different theoretical perspectives.

These theoretical approaches allow for a deeper understanding of a modern ideology that social media and beauty publications can affect our self-perceptions, whilst understanding the issues behind which they were once derived.

1.1. The Self-Perception Theory

Rumsey (2012) states that “[the] media help us to shape beauty ideas by showing certain body sizes [as] beautiful and desirable”, summarising how both the beauty and fashion industries alike can affect our self-perception due to a pre-determined ‘ideal’ that is embedded in our subconscious. Furthermore, Rumsey insinuates that the media in particular is responsible for choosing who and what is seen as the ‘ideal’, shaping and creating unattainable and unmaintainable aspirations for women causing body dissatisfaction and poor self-perceptions.

In regard to this, social media and magazines opens doors for self-perceptions to be distorted, being formed by the views of others, opposed to ourselves. (Bem, 1972) notes this, stating that both our actions and appearances are ‘socially informed’, opposed to being self-led.

“Self-perception theory is counterintuitive … In simple terms, it illustrates that ‘we are what we do.’ According to self-perception theory, we interpret our own actions the way we interpret others’ actions, and our actions are often socially influenced and not produced out of our own free will, as we might expect.” (Self Perception Theory, Online, 2016)

This reinforces that we may change our appearances for positive appraisal, based on the views, or perceptions of others, consciously or unconsciously in a bid to feel accepted within specific social, or digital circles, i.e. Instagram communities.

In context of the beauty and fashion industries, this is further supported by claims from Wong (2012), whom notes that we only present ourselves in a way in which we want to be seen – “self-presentation among people tended to lean towards their desired selves and away from their undesired selves” hinting at an increasingly self-aware and narcissistic digital culture, particularly in relation to Instagram whereby one has complete control over their projected image – “presenting oneself on the internet sites was aimed to convey desired images to the others”. In support of this, Kraut et al., (1998) noted that a world of self-curated galleries on Instagram for example will allow the above to happen autonomously, naturally and distinctively in a world where “internet usage in particular, will continue to transform social life on a global scale” allowing for perceptions, critiques and judgements to take place.

This is demonstrated with Figure 1, an image of Kim Kardashian, and Figure 2, one of Makeup Artist/Instagram Icon, Amreezy – both of which show that they are holding similar poses in similar attire, with similar postures and facial features. This example alone represents how social media can affect ones self-perception, whereby it is okay to perceive ourselves, or see ourselves in a similar light to others in order to attain positive appraisal and acceptance. The public can use various aspirations, and socio-culturally accepted ‘ideals’ formed around cultural icons to shape our own identities and egos, opposed to forming our own.

1.2. Social Identity

In support of Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory, Tajfel and Turner state that, “individuals strive to achieve or to maintain positive social identity” (1986, P.16), alluding to the idea that we may change our appearance for positive praise and acceptance within our different social circles, opposed to self-gratifying reasoning.

Tajfel and Turner (1986) stated that;

“Part of a person’s concept of self comes from the groups to which that person belongs. An individual does not just have a personal selfhood, but multiple selves and identities associated with their affiliated groups. A person might act differently in varying social contexts according to the groups they belong to, which might include a sports team they follow, their family, their country of nationality, and the neighbourhood they live in, among many other possibilities”

This ideology can also be applied cross-culturally to that of magazines and social media, along with that of individuals. This reflects the possibilities of changing ones’ social identity intentionally to appeal to a particular social group; digitally or in person.

The Social Identity model (Figure 3) shows how personal identity and a sense of self can be formed through either acceptance or non-acceptance into a chosen social group, with retrospective intergroup comparisons. Once accepted within a particular group, one will be classified as ‘in-group’, allowing for comparative behaviours to arise with those who do not identify with such groups, classified, ‘out-group’. This denotes the concept of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in retrospect, causing competitive behaviours, altered perceptions and self-perceptions in turn. Social comparison can however, cause poor self-perception and negative behaviours via the comparison of ‘in-group’ and ‘out-group’ members.

In relation to the modern day beauty and fashion industries, Mary F Rogers (1999) notes that ‘cultural icons’, such as celebrities and models, form the standardised ‘in-group’ of today’s societies, whereby followers and admirers form the ‘out-group’. This encourages said ‘out-group’ individuals to feel the need to be constantly striving and working towards such standardisation and acceptance of a particular group or community. In support, Rogers (1999) states that, “[people have] the desire to avoid punishment and accrue rewards”, whilst Turner and Tajfel (1986), state evidently that, “social status … is the outcome of intergroup comparison”.

However, on the contrary, Campbell (1987), argues that in regards to beauty and fashion, “[social] identity in the modern world takes the form of ‘discovering their true identity by a process of monitoring their responses to the various styles that are brought to their attention … as a part of a process of coming to realise ‘who they really are’” (Crane, 2012) opposed to shaping personal identity through intergroup comparisons. In contrast Bovone (2012) claims that beauty and fashion “[provide] aesthetic choices that enable the consumer either to conform or to rebel” to the pre-described ideals and standards which society sets out for the masses. This argument denotes that an individual seeks to find their ‘social identity’ through external responses to chosen aesthetic choices and the opinions of others, opposed to adhering to intergroup comparisons as noted by Tajfel and Turner (1986).

1.3. The Mirror Stage

Self-perceptions are developed from an early age, allowing for a conscious sense of self-awareness and selfhood to be derived, whilst allowing for change overtime. The Oxford Dictionary, describes ‘selfhood’ as “the quality that constitutes one’s individuality; the state of having an individual identity”.

Lacan’s (1936) mirror stage theory, notes a child at 18 months, first recognises oneself in a mirror and becomes conscious of selfhood, recognising that he or she is an individual and is separate to others; “it begins the process of developing an identity distinct from others and yet, at the same time, dependant on the images of others to determine itself”.

Hesse-Biber (1996, P.13) re-enforced the mirror stage, theory noting that a reflection of oneself can affect our thoughts, actions and behaviours, whilst affecting a sense of self-perception. However, Hesse-Biber (1996, P.31) claims that this is a result of comparing oneself to the societal ideals portrayed in the media such as magazines and social media, whereby “the concept of a mirror gives us an analogy for how society fosters women’s obsession [with their] body image”, in turn seeing the mirror as a symbol of commercialisation and standardisation opposed to individualisation as Lacan (1936) discusses.

Freud argues that, “the mirror itself is a ‘double’, where the person is oneself and the image the person sees is another self … since this produces a double image, what is visible may actually be invisible or altered through our own perceptions” (Lind, 2009), whereby we make solitary decisions in regards to our sense of self-hood. This contradicts Tajfel and Turner’s (1986) social identity theory by claiming that there is a constant battle between conscious and unconscious thought in regard to our appearance, opposed to being constructed through intergroup comparison.

Furthermore, Stratton (1996) claimed that, “[with enough work] people can construct the appearance that they want. Such understanding emphasises the visual, pointing towards a world of gazes, mirrors and spectacles where they eye is the central sense and the body is its major focus”.  This is particularly resonant in regard to social media and magazines surrounding the beauty and fashion industries, whereby the camera, or public eye becomes a mirror, allowing for distorted self-perceptions and self-analysis, with one therefore being unable to recognise what is real, or not, adding pressure to look a certain way.

1.4. The Male Gaze and The Self-Surveying Gaze/Gratification Theory

In regard to seeking social acceptance and approval of ones ‘image’, the male gaze theory is prevalent.

Shields and Heinecken (2002) states that this theory “transforms women into objects of the heterosexual man’s eye … advertisements and other images of women are shot in such ways that encourage female audiences to adopt a certain perspective when looking at other women and themselves”, internalizing the male gaze and the pre-set ideals of the media triggering, ‘the self-surveying gaze’, or the gratification theory, which in turn can dampen self-perceptions.

The male gaze theory allows women to be seen as objects, and has been used within beauty and fashion marketing strategies for decades. However, the self-surveying or gratification theory allows women to adopt different perspectives in order to see themselves through the eye of the third person, opposed to how they actually perceive themselves. This then allows for women to judge other women in the same vein – through a male lens. By doing so one is put under continuous pressure, feeling the ‘gaze’ consciously from different angles.

This is reflected in Figure 4 and Figure 5. Figure 4 shows 1950’s Playboy Bunnies in Chicago, whereby they were objects of both male attention and the male gaze, wearing their bunny-suits proudly, in turn becoming the ‘ideal’ and ‘sex symbols’ of the era, whilst figure 5, shows how self-perception can become distorted through the self-surveying gaze. Shields and Heinecken (2002) state that this can be “overwhelming, and in turn, distorted”. One becomes unable to recognise the ‘ideal’, nor reality, adding additional pressure to look a certain way.

The self-surveying gaze, or gratification theory, unlike the male gaze theory, does not pin the blame on the media for altering self-perceptions and thoughts. Instead it focuses on how one use of media, emphasising the importance of individual choices, and the choices of the brands creating the visual content initially (Raccke, 2008). This is evident with the Playboy brand for example, as noted above, as well as in various Japanese Shisedio advertisements (Figure 6 and 7).

Figures 6 and 7 show how this theory has been used within marketing strategies. Shiseido often used a woman’s gaze in a mirror, hinting at both self-analysis and self-awareness. Rather than being exposed to external gazes, internalised gazes become prevalent and at the forefront of ones self-perception.

Klein (2013) states that this strategy builds on comparison through recognising “the susceptibilities in [women]”, whilst Hesse-Biber (2006) notes “girls already vulnerable to self-esteem or body image issues are most negatively impacted”. By choosing to engage with such comparisons and internalised gazes, body dissatisfaction is more likely to occur. This is evident in modern day with social media and magazines, whereby a camera lens, a selfie or a celebrity become the comparative.

Bibliography (Not in Alphabetical Order)

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Wong, W. K. (2012). FACES on FACEBOOK: A Study of Self-presentation and Social Support on Facebook. Discovery–SS Student E-Journal, 1, 184-214. Retrieved from http://ssweb.cityu.edu.hk/download/RS/E-Journal/journal9.pdf

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