Final Dissertation

Abstract

Charles and Kerr (1986, P.49) state that one “constantly tries to [change their body] so that it will conform to the ideal conception [of beauty]”, encompassing issues that surround 18 to 24 year olds. My dissertation questions on a cross-cultural scale, why one feels the need to “conform” with prescribed ‘ideals’, in turn impacting on ones natural sense of self-hood, self-perception and body image. Using visual rhetoric’s, theoretical perspectives, and collated quantitative and qualitative data, I argue that cybernetic and transmissive communication methods, such as social media and magazines, allow for such perceptions to be altered, whilst also defending the need for policies within media to control and diversify the fashion and beauty industries. My dissertation concludes exploring this on a Eastern and Western scale, encompassing socio-cultural, historical and economic factors, whilst accounting for different perspectives, and new trends, such as that of blogger culture and modern day advertising.

Introduction

Self-perception and body image issues in females aged 18 to 24 in the 21st century, are complex issues stimulated by both the beauty and fashion industries in both Western and Eastern contexts. Why one develops such issues is multifaceted, and often includes a range of technological, social and cultural influences, whilst accounting for the ‘ideals’ portrayed in mass media shaping norms and expectations. In an era where streams of photographs of ‘ideals’ are instantly accessible, along with photo editing apps and filters alike, magazines are no longer the only outlet for images of women to be seen and aspired to.

The ‘ideal’ has been shaped over time with brand standardisation and internationalisation, along with advances in technology and ‘blogger culture’. Marketing strategies and theoretical approaches teach a fabricated sense of self, in order to conform and feel accepted within a particular society. This ideology is noted, discussed and supported by various theorists and philosophers, many of which predate and surpass such recent technological advances. In particular; Bem (1972), Foucault (1977), Lacan (1936), Hesse-Biber (1996), Turner and Tajfel (1986) and Shields and Heineken (2002) take focus analysing the ‘Self-Perception theory’, ‘Panopticism’, ‘The Mirror Stage’, the ‘Social Identity’ theory and the ‘Self-Surveying Gaze’ theory. These approaches are also underpinned by a wealth of supporting theorists.

This study focusing on both the UK and Japan, aims to question and understand the theory, context and ideologies behind self-perception and body image on a cross-cultural scale in relation to social media and magazines. Different countries face different sets of underlying socio-cultural conventions, perspectives and opinions, shaping ‘ideals’ and perceptions. Used are a range of methodologies and research methods embodying pragmatic, interpretivist and critical-design led approaches.

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.

Such industries are becoming digitised through advanced technologies of social media and ‘Beauty Applications’; for example, filters and facial editing features. This adds a different dimension to the media in comparison to magazines, allowing for the end-user to be in curational control of their appearance opposed to being dictated to by publishing editors. Social media and apps allow for a cybernetic approach to communication to be interacted with, editing a personal visual for instance, translating ourselves and pushing this back to an audience with a personal approach to media (McCann, 2009). This is the opposite to the transmission communication model (Shannon and Weaver, 1949) often utilised in mass media, i.e. magazines, whereby, a particular message is sent to a particular audience without modification, and instead can be distorted through interpretation.

In relation to social media and beauty publications surrounding the fashion industry, many cross-cultural theoretical perspectives encompassing self-perception have been derived.

Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory allows for a multitude of theoretical approaches to be considered. In particular, ‘Panopticism’ (Foucault, 1977), ‘The Mirror Stage’ (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.

1.1. The Self-Perception Theory and Panopticism

Rumsey (2012) states that “[the] media help us to shape beauty ideals 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. This definition allows for a narrow perspective focusing on the majority of the public, disregarding that the media could be rewarding for a small minority of people, i.e. models, whom have built careers from maintaining ‘ideal’ figures.

Social media and magazines opens doors for self-perceptions to be distorted, being formed by the views of others. Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory continues to support this perspective in modern day, stating that both our actions and appearances are ‘socially informed’, opposed to being self-led.

“‘We are what we do.’ 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 change our appearances for positive appraisal, based on the views, or perceptions of others, in order to feel accepted. In context of the noted 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 digital culture, particularly in relation to Instagram whereby one has complete control over their image – “presenting oneself on the internet sites was aimed to convey desired images to the others”. In continuing support, Kraut et al., (1998) notes a world of self-curated galleries on Instagram for example, allows the above to happen autonomously, in a world where “internet usage in particular, will continue to transform social life on a global scale” allowing for perceptions, and judgments to take place.

This is demonstrated with celebrity culture, for example. Figure 1, shows a photograph of Kim Kardashian, whilst Figure 2, shows a comparative image 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, echoing mimickery. This represents how social media can affect ones self-perception, deeming it okay to perceive ourselves as others in order to attain appraisal and acceptance and the formation of ‘egos’.

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) are further supported through Foucaults (1977, P.210) panopticism theory, whereby power constitutes the idea of never being ‘invisible’ to the public eye, which can be translated back to modern day cybernetic communication. This introduces the ideology of ‘self-surveillance’ and self-evaluation, relating particularly to modern day social media and status. This is evident with Fig 1 and Fig 2, whereby Instagram ‘likes’ via digital 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 gain ‘acceptance’ via photography, be it a recognised icon or not – reflected also by the ‘blogger boom’.

Whether photography is shared, or seen, this continues to support the panopticism theory, especially in regard to the production of an image. 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 which further relates to modern day photography, (i.e. ‘selfies’) which comes with power from either a brand, or person. Tagg (1988, P.118) supports this stating, “status [within] technology varies with the power relations that invest [in] it”, making a connection to modern day 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, P.173). Furthermore, Rose (2012, P.121.), states that; “photography is often thought of as picturing reality”, implying that fabricated realities may impact on the self-perception, confidence and self-esteem of the viewer.

Rose’s ideology on visual semiology (2012) further 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” (P.121).

This 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. In contrast, it can also be said that there is a sense of pleasure and gratification that is gained through ‘looking’ at what we cannot have or achieve, allowing one to still feel in tune with such lifestyles.

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;

“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 … their family, their country of nationality … among other possibilities” (P.N/A.)

This ideology can also be applied cross-culturally to that of magazines and the later advent of 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. Bauman (2004, P.36) classes this ideology of ‘social group’ as the ‘Universal Elite”, whereby “present-day society holds up to its members the role of the consumer, and the members of our society are likewise judged by their ability and willingness to play that role” and whether they ‘fit in’ or not.

The Social Identity model (Fig 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 don’t conform, classified, ‘out-group’. This denotes the ‘us’ and ‘them’ concept, causing competitive behaviours, altered perceptions and self-perceptions in turn; (figures 6 and 7).

In relation to the modern day beauty and fashion industries, 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 ‘out-group’ individuals to feel the need to be constantly striving towards such standardisation and acceptance of a particular group or community. In support, Rogers (1999, P.6) states that, “[people have] the desire to avoid punishment and accrue rewards”, whilst Turner and Tajfel (1986, P.N/A.), state evidently that, “social status … is the outcome of intergroup comparison”. This theory can be applied to group behavior in digital circles, whereby images are posted on Instagram, in order to gain ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ gaining confirmation of acceptance via intergroup comparisons.

However, Campbell (1987, P.5), 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, P.1) opposed to shaping personal identity through intergroup comparisons. This perspective offers a positive choice in regard to how one dictates their sense of self-hood and identity. In contrast Bovone (2012, P.5) 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. 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 (Tajfel and Turner, 1986).

Bovone’s (2012) theory on social identity rings true in Japanese culture, particularly in relation to sub-cultures of ‘decora fashion’ in 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). Bauman (2000) notes that, “it is such patterns, codes and rules to which one could conform, which one could select … and subsequently let oneself be guided” showing how a change in attitude could be adhered to, moving on from the expectations within a particular society.

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 (1936) derived the mirror stage theory in order to discuss ones self-development. The 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, dependent on the images of others to determine itself”. This perspective paints a picture that oneself is more appealing as an ‘ideal’ when seen whole, relating to Freudian approaches of self-perception and self-analysis.

Hesse-Biber (1996, P.13) re-enforced this 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 comparison with societal ideals portrayed in the 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 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 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 resonant with social media and magazines, whereby the camera, or public eye becomes a mirror, allowing for distorted self-perceptions, with one being unable to recognise what is real, or not, adding aesthetic pressure (figure 5).

1.4. The Male Gaze and The Self-Surveying Gaze

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, dampening self-perceptions.

The male gaze allows for women to be seen as objects, and has been used within beauty and fashion marketing strategies for decades. However, the self-surveying 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 allows for women to judge others through a male lens and feel continuous pressure, feeling the ‘gaze’ consciously from different angles.

This is reflected in figures 4 and 5. Fig 4 shows 1950’s Playboy Bunnies in Chicago, whereby they were objects of both male attention and the male gaze due to their ‘uniforms’, in turn becoming the ‘ideal’ and ‘sex symbols’ of the era, whilst fig 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’. Johnson (2008, P.207), pins this on the ideology of a brand marketing strategies 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/advertised ideals, and gazes.

The self-surveying gaze 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 (fig 4), as well as in Japanese Shisedio advertisements (Figures 6 and 7).

Figures 6 and 7 show how this theory has been applied 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 have a fabricated ‘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 choosing to engage with such comparisons and internalised gazes, body dissatisfaction is more likely to occur, being evident in modern day with social media and magazines, whereby a camera lens, a selfie or a celebrity become the comparative.

In retrospect, in 2015, ‘& Other Stories’ were the first fashion brand and retailer, to release an advertising campaign challenging the male gaze ideology, utilising a range of transgender models, and ‘crew’ (fig 15). This challenged the ‘norm’ in a non-conventional way, allowing for diversity and identity to be considered, opposed to focusing on a male gaze versus female model precedent which has been used in the industry for over a century, whilst suggesting that in modern day, there is not only ‘one’ dominant gaze, or standard.

The theoretical approaches discussed allow for a deeper understanding of various ideologies, contemplating how social media and beauty publications can affect perceptions. In particular, these show how ones identity is fabricated (Arvidsson) via external brand-led influences and technological advances.

Chapter 2 – Method of Practice

This chapter introduces the methodologies and ethical practices used throughout this cross-cultural study, in order to attain a body of information to understand the ways in which self-perception and body image of young women, are currently affected through the rise of digital social media culture and the publishing industries alike.

2.1. Methodology

Two main research philosophies have been utilised throughout this study taking a pragmatic and an interpretivist approach, allowing for primary and secondary data to be collated and analysed. A practical approach of critical-design was also carried out, allowing for satirical work to be produced in order for the recipient to think, question and trigger debate surrounding the research topic at hand. Easterby-Smith et al (2008) claims that researchers should collect both primary or secondary data in order to build a viable body of research to support methodologies and working research questions.

A pragmatic approach enables multiple research methods to source both quantitative and qualitative findings, understanding that “there are many different ways of interpreting [and undertaking] research [and that], no single point of view can ever give the entire picture” accepting that there may be different viewpoints or realities to consider (Saunders, 2012), whilst an interpretivist approach allows for in-depth, specific investigations to be carried out. An interpretivist approach, appreciates that “different people of different cultural backgrounds, under different circumstances and at different times make different meanings, and so create and experience different social realities” (Saunders, 2012), taking into consideration different perspectives. This research philosophy was particularly important whilst analysing and researching Japanese cultures and ideologies.

2.2. Structured and Semi Structured Interviews

A range of qualitative structured and semi-structured interviews have been conducted in an aim to understand different cross-cultural perspectives of how the beauty and fashion industries may affect ones self-perception, whilst further exploring surrounding issues and sub-cultures. An interpretivist approach has been carried out with interviews in both the UK and in Tokyo, Japan, appreciating and emphasising “the importance of language, culture and history” (Crotty 1998).

Interviews aim to provide a range of in-depth findings (Collis and Hussey, 2003). Semi-structured interviews aimed to provide findings through open questions with participants, whilst structured and formal interviews were carried out to ensure that specific information was collated to support or negate theoretical and cultural cross-perspectives, relative to secondary literary research and research methods explored to date. Questions and/or audio recordings, can be found in the appendix, along with posed questions/answers and summaries of findings relative to interview where necessary.

Collecting comparative primary research during this study was reliant on accessing and visiting appropriate candidates in both the UK and Tokyo, Japan, using industry contacts.

8 specific participants were chosen to interview, in order to gain diverse perspectives in relation to understanding the different ways in which social media and beauty publications in the fashion industry cross-culturally may affect the self-perception of women aged 18 to 24, whilst linking findings with the literature and theories noted in Chapter 1.

Participants were chosen due to working in the beauty and/or fashion industries, or having an interest in the nature of the posed subject-matter at hand. Interviewees who were unable to attend meetings completed digital interviews, as an alternative means of gathering in-depth data. In regard to interviews in Tokyo, Japan, an international research trip was undertaken.

The study adopted the Leeds College of Art Ethics Policy consistently, ensuring fair practice and confidentiality to all participants and their responses. Blumberg, et al (2005) describes ethics as the appropriateness of the researcher’s behaviour in relation to the personal rights of those who become the subject matter of an interview. All questions were signed-off prior to interviews. Each participant was provided with an information sheet disclosing their selection, the nature of the interview and how the findings would be used, along with a consent form whereby each could choose whether they want to share their name, remain anonymous or disclose a pseudonym if data was selected to be cited.

A range of themes were chosen to be discussed with different participants, allowing for a range of specific, tailored and cross-cultural perspectives to be considered in context.

Interview themes included:

  • The Japanese beauty and fashion industries, focusing on Western models within advertising and editorials of Vogue magazines.
  • Japanese beauty products and trends.
  • Historical and socio-cultural influences of the Japanese beauty industry and the subsequent ‘ideal’ in comparison to Western beauty and ‘ideals’.
  • Social Media and Blogger culture in both the UK and Japan.
  • Policies within Fashion brands, in order to understand how industry are approaching positive body-image and self-perception.
  • Modelling on an International and UK scale, and how this may affect self-perception and body image when working, opposed to a consumer, user or reader perspective.
  • The ‘fitness’/body building culture and male MUAs surrounding Instagram in the West, gaining a different perspective on self-perception and body image.

Interview participants included:

  • Robert Crest at ASOS (Appendix 2, 17/02/17)
  • Jessica Andrews at ASOS (Appendix 3, 17/02/17)
  • Tam Dexter (Appendix 4, 28/11/16)
  • Anon (Appendix 5, 08/01/17)
  • Kyoko Muramatsu at Vogue Japan (Appendix 6, 21/01/17)
  • Toni Hollowood (Appendix 7, 07/01/17)
  • Brittany Rhodes (Appendix 8, 12/02/17)
  • Nicole Takahashi (Appendix 9, 19/01/17)

2.3. Anonymous Participant Questionnaire

A questionnaire consisting of both qualitative and quantitative questions was designed in order to collate data regarding how ones self-perception and body image may be affected through social media and magazines. This research method embodied both pragmatic and interpretivist research philosophies. In total, 25 anonymous respondents participated in this study (appendix 1).

The questionnaire was targeted at males and females between the ages of 18 and 24, in order to gain comparative data in regard to different genders and the effects of the media. By including male participants also, this allowed for a different perspective to be considered. By using both a qualitative and quantitative approach for this study, this enabled trends, thought processes, opinions and motivations to be uncovered and analysed in depth.

Collecting primary research during this study was dependent upon sharing the questionnaire via Instagram and Facebook by myself, and a contact in Tokyo, Japan, in order to reach a cross-cultural and international audience of participants. Social media platforms were used to access both males and females whom have active online presences, and therefore may be interested in, or actively involved in the beauty and fashion industries. In addition, the questionnaire was also shared with the BA(Hons) Fashion Degree at Leeds College of Art to broaden the mix of respondents and perspectives.

The questionnaire consisted of a broad mix of question types to generate a wide range of responses for analysis. This included; open, closed, multiple choice and scaled questions, which could be analysed and compared with findings from literature, theory and other research methods carried out.

2.4. Visual

Dunne and Raby (2007), define critical-design as “a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies, [trends or products]”.

A range of satirical and theory-based design work was produced and shared on social media in Semester 1, surrounding the modern, digital world of the beauty and fashion industries (see, fig 16). This approach allowed for initial practical work to be designed and shared via Instagram, using hashtags to reach the relevant target audience. Using this research philosophy allowed for a range of design work to be created “[challenging] narrow assumptions, preconceptions and givens” (Dunne and Raby, 2007) of the noted industries.

Feedback given directed future aesthetics and covered ‘topics’, due to a high reaction towards Kylie Cosmetics (Kylie Jenner) related posts (fig 8). However, it was found that when questions were posed, more ‘likes’ were received than answers given, and found that this may not be the best approach to gaining quantifiable data, therefore utilising pragmatic and interpretivist philosophies and visual research.

2.5. Object Based Research

A pragmatic approach was undertaken in regard to object based research, appreciating cultural differences between the UK and Japanese beauty industries, focusing in particular on the range of beauty products that are available in two contrasting countries. Chatterjee (2007) states that, “objects are employed in a variety of ways to enhance and disseminate subject specific knowledge, to facilitate the acquisition of practical, [whilst being used] for inspiration.”

Pragmatism “aims to contribute practical solutions that inform future practice” (Saunders, 2012), thereby undertaking this philosophical approach to research enabled for a contextual understanding as to why each culture has contrasting ideologies of women and self-perception, in relation to theory and literature.

In regard to object-based analysis, following visual topics were covered – packaging design, copywriting, photography, art direction, product use and product promotion – in an aim to understand cross-cultural and socio-cultural differences/perspectives from the view point of both consumers, and brands. Along with visual research collated and discussed in chapter 2.4., object based research dictated the direction of practical work undertaken in semester 2 in regard to subject matter, visual direction and tone.

The research methods discussed have enabled for research findings to be analysed and critiqued alike, on both a National and International scale, in order to determine the effects of social media and magazines upon ones self-perception and body image. 

Chapter 3 – Research Findings

3.1. Fashion Magazines, Advertisements and Beauty Products

 Research states that “fashion magazines are considered a main source of information regarding the attractive ideal” (Warchocki, 2007), in regard to body image and beauty trends, posing as a sourcebook of unattainable, nor maintainable physiques and ‘looks’. This is due to an influx of advertisements and product endorsements “presenting [such looks and products] in a way that evokes consumers to buy them” (Gonzalez, 2012). This enforces the ideology that with such products, garments or diets, one may also look this way and achieve such image in return, therefore affecting ones self-perception.

Through this research study, it became apparent that Western and Japanese socio-cultural ideals and aspirations are different. The West have an emphasis on a “pursuit to perfection” (Hollowood, 2017, appendix 7), replicating celebrity, icons, or model looks, whilst Japan maintains a focus on Western culture and socio-cultural traditions. Japanese women strive to be ‘white’ in order to negate from a “us and them” dichotomy (Ashikari, 2005, P.73). The dichotomy regards class and social status; those whom worked outside gained a tan, and were therefore deemed to be ‘poor’, whilst those who worked inside, kept their light skin, exuding a more affluent status (Takahashi, 2017, appendix 8). This correlates with Tajfel and Turner’s (1986) social identity, whereby in-group and out-group comparisons are prevalent, contrasting with how Western cultures implies this theory through a more digital and icon led trend.

Wagatsuma (1967, P.407) argues that “white/beautiful versus black/ugly” originates from a “preference of whiteness [being] rooted in Japanese people’s own history” combined with a huge Westernised consumer culture (Ashikari, 2005). In modern day Japanese culture, Western models will feature in highbrow magazines such as Vogue Japan, mimicking this socio-cultural ideal. Muramatsu at Vogue Japan (2017, appendix 6) noted during interview that if not, “Western-looking Japanese models will be used” giving the Japanese a ‘symbol’ of aspiration and affluence whilst also claiming that like brands such as Chanel, Vogue must maintain a sign of internationalisation, by using Western icons and celebrities, enabling International readership. Since Vogue Japan was derived (1999), 9 Japanese models have graced the cover (Wiki, 2017). The first issue (fig. 9) features Kate Moss and Miki, exploring cultural confulence of both two cultures, representing an International publication, whilst hinting at the Japanese ideal of fair skin through the use of Moss as a symbol. National Japanese beauty and fashion magazines such as Ginza (fig. 10) however, represent purely Japanese women. Muramatsu claims that by introducing International ‘cultural icons’ (Rogers, 1999), this allows for ‘brand distinction’ on the shelves. This showcases how ones self-perception and ‘ideal’ look is tailored by which magazine is read.

Cash et al (1988), claims that “applying facial cosmetics affects women’s self-image positively”, a trait often seen in Western culture and daily lives. Japanese beauty, however, appears to have a focus on youthful, natural skin, even with makeup on (Takahashi, 2017, appendix 9), opposed to focusing on heavy makeup trends of the West. In support, a study carried out by Shiseido in 2016 found that, “attractiveness [of Japanese women] was rated the highest for light makeup faces” (Tagal et al, 2016), opposed to “heavy makeup faces”. This is reflected through the range of beauty products available in Japan, most of which embody; skin-lightening, and anti-aging. Kikuchi et al (2015), states that, “aging has a negative effect on the skin that is important for aesthetic evaluation of the face … revealing that aging increases colour heterogenity”, therefore a wide range of beauty products are available to counteract this natural change, whilst also conforming with the ‘ideal’ look of white, Western skin.

The range of beauty-led products in Japan reinforces this through the use of copywriting and model selection. Anti-aging products in Japan claim to give “babyish” skin (fig 11 and fig 14), hinting at youthfulness in a perverted manner, using photos of babies to endorse product traits. This shows an extreme cultural obsession with youthfulness, whereby Japanese child pornography was only made illegal in 2014 (Umeda, 2014). Many products in Japan are promoted using fair skinned Japanese models with blonde hair and blue eyes, (fig 12) being featured on point of sales; promoting and embodying a well-known Western ‘ideal’.

It is evident that even though the Japanese ‘ideal’ stems back to a historical, socio-cultural background, there is an influx of Westernised consumer culture which influences the self-perceptions of many, in order to achieve a desired look which is not natural for ones race nor ethnicity. Cosmetic surgery adverts in Japan also use white Western models with blonde hair and blue eyes, showcasing how one could look with ‘corrective’ surgery (fig 13). This itself can dampen the perceptions of Japanese women along with their natural self-hood.

3.2. Social Media and Blogger Culture

How young females (aged 18 to 24) are both represented and perceived through social media and magazines is changing, particularly in relation to Western culture. The first fashion blog launched online in 2003 (Gibson, 2012, P.135) and over the past 14 years, blogging surrounding the beauty and fashion industries has soared. A National Blogger Survey (2016) was conducted, working with over 534 UK bloggers, in order to explore this new culture, purpose and reception in detail (Vuelio, 2016, p.17). In response to the rise of bloggers, it is noted that 77% of bloggers are female, and 27% of those, run fashion and maintain beauty-led blogs, whilst 11% are aimed at parenting/family. In contrast, male led blogs are primarily made up of food (11%), travel (10%) and technology/gaming (10%) categories (Vuelio, 2016, P. 3, 5), showcasing a stereotypical gender divide and a possible distortion of the male gaze.

The increase in blogger culture, particularly in relation to Instagram and YouTube, has allowed for many to reach ‘celebrity’ status themselves; and in return the media has “adapted to [this] reflecting the world of celebrity dominance” (Gibson, 2012, P.126), allowing individuals to reach an elevated social status, increased self-confidence and improved self-perception, through the acceptance of social and intergroup comparison (Tajfel and Turner, 1986).

Berger 1972, Mulvey 1975 and Doane 1982 (P.126) state the following, showcasing a mass media shift to cybernetic communication methods, which is resonant to modern day social media outlets;

“In an era of endlessly circulating images of young women, largely presented directly to and looked at by other young women, the traditional theoretical arguments of the ‘the gaze’ are no longer relevant; they depend upon the presented dominance of the male gaze behind a camera”.

This suggests that the one in charge of critique and judgment has become broader; “Mulvey’s original argument that men and women are looked at – while battered by barrage of critique … still stands, albeit with a few bullet holes through it, in the world of fashion [and beauty]” (Edwards, 2010, P.156). In 2017, Edwards’ notion rings in tune with modern blogger culture, whereby bloggers and users within communities and social media circles become the “bullet holes” and gaze which affects self perception and self-hood negatively.

Exploring the impacts of those who post photos on Instagram from a reversed perspective, Ravndahl (2016), a Canadian beauty blogger/vlogger stated that this particular career choice has caused “cheapened experiences” by constantly needing to be “photo-ready”, being fed by competitive behaviours between social groups, in order to find social identity and confidence. Ravndahl (2016) claims that blogger culture, was initially a positive experience, whereby ‘blogging’ originally had an emphasis on makeup artistry skillset, opposed to a present day ideology of being classed as an ‘influencer’; “as an influencer, you are paid to be beautiful and look a certain way”. It appears that ‘blogger culture’ in Western society has become about who’s the most glamorous, and has taken away ‘the craft’, posing as a self-perception game. As much as this digital culture can affect followers, it can also be damaging to the blogger, due to the pressures of looking ‘as they do online’, in ‘real life’.

UK based model, Tam Dexter (appendix 4, 2016) stated that ‘blogger culture’ is dangerous;

“Sometimes I look at myself and I don’t even look like me in the mirror … so young girls wanting to look like someone because they contour and then wanting to look like the model/blogger [is] a massive self-perception issue”.

In the anonymous questionnaire carried out (appendix 1), 11 of 25 participants stated that they watch online beauty tutorials, whilst 11 of 25 also claimed that they do not read or buy magazines, highlighting a split media consumption. This shows a prominently rising digital culture through ease of accessibility. One participant stated that, “bloggers use [Instagram] as a platform to sell themselves. I look at these amazing looking people and feel so self conscious that I don’t look like them”, whilst an anonymous male recipient raised awareness of the technological input changing images of ‘ideals’; “social media presents and represents an impossible ideal look, the average person cannot achieve this. If only Instagram made real life filters… you can’t edit real life”. Whilst introducing a male perspective of how blogger culture, this itself relates back to perspectives of Foucault’s (1977) panopticism theory, whereby one is under a constant surveillance of others, and Rose’s (2012) ideology that what is photographed is perceived as ‘real’, rather than being artificially constructed.

Bem’s (1972) self-perception theory and Shields and Heinecken’s (2002) self-surveying gaze theory is resonant, in relation to judging our self-perception based on third-party views and ‘blogger culture’. This relates to further notions noted by Gibson (2012) whereby instant access to the internet and social media allows for one to be a part of a community, opposed to only ‘viewing it’, as in magazines (Gibson, 2012, P.135). This relates back to Bauman’s (2004, P.36) ‘Universal Elite’ ideology, highlighting the function and power of social media; moving from a “consumer society” to a “producer society”. This allows for the majority to ‘feel’ included in the lifestyles of the ‘Universal Elite’ even if it cannot be attained; therefore, social media fills a ‘gap’.

Influencers and bloggers are becoming for successful marketing ‘tools’ in the West. MAC Cosmetics (2017) have launched an international ‘influencer’ campaign with 10 ‘famous’ bloggers from different countries. Whilst, Maybelline (2017), have launched their first collaboration with a male influencer, Manny Gutierrez. This showcases how influencers have an impact on brands within the beauty industry. Even though proving a positive strategy in the West, Japanese culture is still opposed to ‘blogger culture’ and the use of influencers, and holds on to celebrity endorsements. Takahashi (2017, appendix 9) claims that in Japan, ‘blogger culture’ is not yet recognised as a validated marketing tool, with brands feeling that they their opinions are not trusted or viable unlike that of internationally recognised celebrities, even though some, including herself, are trying to challenge this. Takahashi of beauty Instagram blog ‘@nicintokyo’ admits that her blogging practice remains undisclosed due to the withstanding opinions of cosmetics companies in Japan. Therefore, no exposing images of her face are shown on her digital channels. This is relevant to social identity in Japan, whereby unconformity is frowned upon in a standardised culture (Hashi, 2012), whereby there are too many socio-conventional rules to be accepted as oneself (Takahashi, 2017).

3.3. An Alternate Perspective: The Fitness Industry

Social media in Western culture, not only impacts on the beauty and fashion industries in relation to self perception; it also has proven recently to have a big impact on the fitness industry.

Lowen (1997, P.25), describes narcissism as “an investment in one’s image as opposed to ones self … their activities are directed toward the enhancement of their image”, which can directly relate to that of vanity/beauty and the fitness and body building industries. Virgin Active (2017), support this stating, “[women] under 25 claimed that ‘looking good’ was the main reason that they worked out”, showing that activities are self-led and dictated for self-gratification (Shields and Heinecken, 2002) reasons, opposed to health. It can be said that Virgin Active could have a biased and consumer-led view, promoting their brand knowingly in such ways to reach particular demographics and trend-led ‘needs’.

Twenge and Campbell (2009, P.5) pins blame on narcissistic traits catapulted through increased internet use, stating “the internet allows people to present an inflated and self-focused view of themselves to the world”, echoing that of the self surveying gaze as noted by Shields and Heinecken (2002), whereby a lens or photograph becomes the comparative, or competition.

In the anonymous questionnaire (appendix 1), 15 of 25 participants stated that they are active gym members, with 15 of 25 participants also claiming that social media has impacted upon their self-perception and body image. Participants stated that;

“It has affected me by feeling that I have to have a small and a toned body in order to look great. I’m naturally a curvier female … it makes me feel like I really need to concentrate on improving my body”.

“There are a lot of memes/videos about certain girls that [bring] down other people. I am a petite fit person, but there are posts saying that’s not cute and they talk about thick girls with big butts. I love my body … but I did get upset seeing those things. Everyone should just be happy with who they are and not put others down.”

In support, Hesse-Biber (2006, P.217) notes that those already vulnerable to self-esteem or body image issues are most impacted by social media and intergroup comparison in a negative manner, supporting theoretical perspectives on the ideology of ‘the gaze’; internal or external (Lacan, 1936, Hesse-Biber, 1996, Shields and Heineken, 2002) and the social identity theory (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). However, in contrast, Brittany Rhodes (2017, appendix 8), Miss Nabba UK, a professional/competitive body builder, expressed the following, encompassing how social media, spurred a positive change, and therefore positive body image and self-perception;

“I started training after actually seeing a few ‘fitspo’ accounts on Instagram and it really inspired me to want to be happy [and confident] with my body! I was sick of wanting to look like these fitness girls and decided I could achieve what I wanted.“

Different gazes and social intergroup comparison can affect self perception in a negative manner. When considering this in relation to the body building industry, Rhodes (2017) also stated that, “I do often see girls in the gym in full hair and make up, and I think social media has a lot to do with it”, showcasing how even though fitness may not be ‘glamourous’, digital platforms such as Instagram, encompass a sense of self-gratification (Shields and Heineken, 2002) bringing an element of beauty into a completely different field.

3.4. Policies

With social media and magazines consciously or unconsciously affecting self perception and the perceptions of others, various policies have been set by various organisations, charities and establishments, that encourage fair practice, social responsibility, model welfare and mental health within the media. B-EAT (UK) for example, can support, advise, promote and encourage positive body image in the media however there is not, a binding set of guidelines that enforces ‘all’ to do so. This allows for different ‘ideals’ to be portrayed, causing mixed messages and perceptions for the viewer whilst giving a ‘choice’; which in a world where magazines and social media strive for standardisation, can be a positive influence, ensuring that you can be individual; without needing to change your identity for acceptance (Crane, 2012).

B-EAT (2011) express in their ‘Media Guidelines’, that the media influences slim ideals, and potentially can trigger eating disorders as a result with 1.6m suffers in the UK alone, whilst in Japan, Hotta et al (2015) states that, figures have reached comparable levels;

“Media reflects and amplifies body image, perfectionism and control over appetite. The growth of a celebrity culture where (mostly) young women are either idolised for their perfect bodies or else criticised for their physical failings creates a powerful influence that is unhealthy for many and toxic for a vulnerable few” (B-EAT, 2011).

Respecting the viewpoint of B-EAT, ASOS and Vogue, as major influencers and responsibility holders, have released initiatives in support. ASOS founded the ‘Model Welfare Policy’, ensuring that models have a healthy BMI, and no mental health issues. This promotes positive body image, protects the wellbeing of the models and ensures that only complying model agencies are used. In addition, the policy encourages a range of approaches are taken in order to deliver a positive message; including garment ranges and digital outlets. Robert Crest (2017, appendix 2) at ASOS explains;

“We have a responsibility to ensure any imagery posted on social media is positive and this is monitored and addressed constantly. We use Social media as a resource to gain an understanding of what our customer needs … We have strict rules about what we can post and address how things may be perceived before being posted. We have 4 Womenswear ‘Own Brand’ departments – Curve, Tall, Petites and Maternity.”

Vogue, have created ‘The Health Initiative’; “a pact between the 19 international editors of Vogue to encourage a healthier approach to body image within the industry” (Milligan, 2012). Vogue (2012) stated that, “[we] work with models who, in our view, are healthy and help to promote a healthy body image” and who can “be ambassadors for the message of healthy body image”. In support, Muramatsu (2017, appendix 6) at Vogue Japan expressed during interview that the word “diet” is not used; “the term ‘healthy’ is used instead”. On the contrary, this still could encourage negative self perception, deeming only slim, model ‘figures’ shown to be ‘healthy’, and may give one the impression that this is a ‘healthy’ image to work towards, which could also be dangerous.

In regard to future direction of positive body image and policies, Crest (2017, appendix 2) claims that industry attitudes are slowly changing, projecting diverse ranges of body image, building on the & Other Stories (2015, fig.15) campaign;

“There should be a level of general awareness and boundaries which industries should adhere to [in regard to positive body image]. I think boundaries are now blurring and with recent catwalk shows, [many are] using plus size, older generations and androgynous models – positive body image awareness is now out there, [and is to be] celebrated”.

It is apparent that even though some fashion brands such as ASOS and & Other Stories are challenging the ‘ideals’ put out via social media and magazines, there is still work to be done on an International scale.

Conclusion

This study focused on both the UK and Japan aimed to question and understand self-perception and body image issues on a cross-cultural scale in relation to social media and magazines. It was found that self-perception and body image issues within 18 to 24 year olds, cross-culturally are derived from a range of socio-cultural, historical and trend-led influences. In addition, blogger and consumer cultures allow for fabricated identities and perspectives to be portrayed and idolised.

The theory in chapter 1, showcased two main ideologies underpinning why one strives to change and/or maintain a sense of self in order to be accepted as a result of external influences. Rumsey (2012), and Bem (1972) in particular denote that the media helps shapes modern ‘ideals’ and in turn can affect ones sense of self hood through self-curated, cybernetic galleries on social media, allowing one to shape their own identity and perceived image (Wong, 2012, Stratton, 1996 and Kraut et al., 1998). This is supported via Foucault (1977), Lacan, Rose (2007, 2012) and Tagg (1988), whom note that a sense of surveillance is more prominent than ever due to the accessibility and the editing of photographs, distorting what is ‘real’ or not. In contrast, Campbell (1987) and Bovone (2012) echo a tutored sense of self, providing a choice for one in regard to identity and belonging in regard to a particular social group and acceptance (Tajfel and Turner, 1986). It is found that this approach is more so the case in Japanese culture, than in Western culture.

Chapter 2 discussed a range of pragmatic, interpretivist and critical-design led research methodologies and methods. This allowed for Chapter 3 to find that in Western culture, self-perception issues are derived from an influx of blogger culture, celebrity icons and consumer led culture (Gonzalez, 2012), whilst in Japan, issues are mainly derived from constrictions and conformity of socio-cultural and historical traits (Hashi, 2012), combined with Western brand standardisation and internationalisation (Muramatsu, 2017, appendix 6).

Self-perception and body image issues also come into play with males (appendix 1), and within the fitness industry (Virgin Active, 2017 and Rhodes, 2017, appendix 8), stemming back to a modern day social media obsession. It is apparent that policies set in place, can strive to have a positive impact, however due to overwhelming mixed messages of cross-cultural ‘ideals’, it is impossible to standardize/enforce good practice internationally. This is due to dichotomies between Western and Eastern cultures; each of which dictate their own set of guidelines and design ethos’.

It appears that in the 21st century, women and men alike, are heavily judged on their appearance; in person, on social media or in magazines, and feel the need to comply with ‘trends’ and various influencers or icons alike in order to feel socially accepted. Charles and Kerr (1986, P.49) state that one is “constantly trying to [change their body] so that it will conform to the ideal conception [of beauty] which dominates our culture”, concluding and encompassing the issues that 18 to 24 year olds are surrounded with today.

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