Dissertation: Chapter 1 (Context of my Practice) – Draft 2

Following my first draft of Chapter 1, this was reviewed by my tutor and feedback was given in order to strengthen triangulation and particular theoretical arguments, adding in elements of Foucault’s Panopticism theory and Bauman’s perspective on the ‘Universal Elite’.
Changes have been made applying this feedback and utilising additional research which has been carried out in response.
A revised draft of this chapter can be found below.
Chapter 1 – Context of My Practice
As a graphic designer working within the beauty and fashion industries, on a National and International scale, ethical, social and cross-cultural issues such as, working with photography of objectified and emaciated female models are often encountered. Such issues led me to investigate the ways in which messages being communicated may be perceived and internalised by the viewer, shaping my research question.
The Fashion and Beauty Industries are becoming more digitised through advanced technologies of Social Media and Beauty Applications, adding a different dimension to the media in comparison to magazines, allowing for the end-user to be in curational control of their appearance and ‘live feed’ opposed to being dictated to by publishing editors. Therefore, an interest in investigating how such platforms are affecting the self-perceptions of young females Internationally (18-24) has been developed.
In relation to social media and beauty publications surrounding 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 extreme cross-cultural analysis, in particular focusing on the UK and Japan as major comparatives.
Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory allows for a multitude of theoretical perspectives to be considered in context. In particular, ‘Panopticism’ (Foucault, 1977), ‘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) allow for a foundation to be built upon, opening up discussion of different cross-cultural perspectives.
These theoretical approaches allow for a deeper understanding of various modern ideologies, contemplating how social media and beauty publications can affect ones self-perception and the perceptions of others, whilst understanding the issues behind which they were once derived.
1.1. The Self-Perception Theory and Panopticism
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, allows 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 celebrity culture, for example. Figure 1, shows a photograph of Kim Kardashian taken from her Instagram account, whilst Figure 2, shows a comparative image of Makeup Artist/Instagram Icon, Amreezy, taken from her account – 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 and replicated images 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.
Furthermore, the idea of ‘celebrity culture’ as discussed by Rogers (1999) having a negative impact upon ones self-perception, and the self perception theory (Bem, 1972) is further supported through Foucaults (1977, P.210) panopticism theory, whereby the idea of power constitutes the idea of never being ‘invisible’ to the public eye. This introduces the ideology of ‘self surveillance’, relating particularly to modern day social media and status. This is evident with the examples of both Kim Kardashian, and Amreezy (Figure 1 and Figure 2) as discussed above, whereby approval and ‘likes’ via Instagram communities constitutes positive self-perception and “a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault, 1977, P.200). Utilising power in a modern day, cross-cultural society enables one to easily gain ‘acceptance’ via photography, be it a recognised icon or not – reflected by the ‘blogger boom’ surrounding both the beauty and fashion industries.
Whether photography is shared, or seen via social media or in magazines, supports the panopticism theory, especially in regard to the production of an image and the various technologies and processes behind it. Foucault (1977, P.26) claims that, “[photographs are] rarely formulated in continuous, systematic discourse … often made up of bits and pieces … a disparate set of tools and methods”, highlighting a conscious, yet highly staged process to modern day photography, (photo shoots and ‘selfies’ for example) which comes with power from either a particular brand, or person. Tagg (1988) supports this theoretical perspective stating that, “status [within] technology varies with the power relations that invest [in] it”, such as celebrities and bloggers, allowing for viewers to believe that all photography is real and truthful in all aspects, and not set up and digitally manipulated through technological power and skill (Rose, 2007). Furthermore, Rose (2012), states that; “photography is often thought of as picturing reality”, implies that fabricated realities may impact on the self-perception, confidence and self-esteem of the viewer, be it an Instagram photo, or an editorial shoot for Vogue magazine.
Rose’s ideology on visual semiology (2012) supports the theoretical approach of panopticism (Foucault, 1977 and Tagg, 1988), and Bem’s (1972) self perception theory, claiming that;
“Unlike any other visual technology, there is a sense in which the camera is an instrument that records what was in front of its lens when the shutter snapped; and although photographic images can be framed and filtered and cropped, and can subsequently be manipulated in all sorts of ways and put to all sorts of uses.”
This further reinforces that visual, photographic references, either in the form of print or digital mediums, can cause negative self perceptions, and cause false perceptions of those around us, perhaps due to the naivety of the viewer.
1.2. Social Identity Theory
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 … 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”. This is often seen in digital circles, whereby images are posted on Instagram, in order to gain ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ gaining confirmation of acceptance via intergroup comparisons.
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).
Bovone’s (2012) theory on social identity rings true in Japanese culture, for example, particularly in relation to sub-cultures of ‘decora fashion’, known to be derived in the district of Harajuku, Tokyo, whereby ‘identity’ is formed through a rebellious nature of conformity. The Japanese proverb ‘the nail that sticks out must get hammered down’ (出る釘は打たれる), is well known in regard to differentiation being met by resistance (Hashi, 2012). Baumen (2000) notes that, “it is such patterns, codes and rules to which one could conform, which one could select as stable orientation points and by which one could subsequently let oneself be guided” showing how a change in attitude could be adhered to, moving on from “universal comparison” and the “blueprints” of the expectations of a particular society.
1.3. The Mirror Stage Theory
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) also claims that this is a result of comparing oneself to the societal ideals portrayed in the media such as magazines and social platforms, 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 unrecognisable through the self-surveying gaze. Shields and Heinecken (2002) state that this can be “overwhelming, and in turn, distorted”, whereby, one becomes unable to recognise the ‘ideal’, nor reality, adding additional pressure to look a certain way and conform to a socio-culturally pre-set ‘norm’. In support, Johnson (2008, P.207), pins this on the ideology of a brand marketing strategy noting that; “’product [or brand] ambassadors’ … [are not] aimed at selling anything specific, but instead work to give a brand a certain set of values or a certain emotional association”, in turn aiming to change one’s sense of self through reflected and standardised ideals, advertising, and in addition, both the internal and external gazes.
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 uses and perceives the 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 subside at the forefront of ones self-perception. In relation to brand-led advertising, Arvidsson (2005, P.244) states that, “the brand, or ‘brand image’, began to refer instead to the significance that commodities acquired in the minds of consumers”, implying that individuals are almost taught ‘self hood’, opposed to it being self derived.
Klein (2013) states that this strategy builds on comparison of the self, through recognising “the susceptibilities in [women]” and utilising this within advertising ideologies allowing for the following of an ‘ideal’, whilst Hesse-Biber (2006) notes “girls already vulnerable to self-esteem or body image issues are most negatively impacted” by such methods. 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.

You may also like