This book deals with the impact of the sociocultural environment on body-image in Western consumer culture. Based on McCracken’s (1986) meaning-transfer model, the author has created a body-image meaning-transfer (BIMT) model. It suggests how cultural discourse and interactions can shape individual consumers’ understanding of socially ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bodies. It emphasizes the notable impact of mainstream advertising, media, and celebrity culture that commonly promote a thin-and-muscular beauty-ideal, and the process of normalization which implies feelings of guilt, anxiety, public observation, and failure. Both can ultimately lead to negative body-images and body-dissatisfaction among individuals. In contrast, alternative campaigns against the current beauty-ideal and towards healthier body-images are introduced. Two focus group discussions among young adults from the UK and Germany provide insight into the timeliness of the topic concerned.
Chapter 2.1.5, THIRD LOCATION OF CULTURAL MEANING: THE INDIVIDUAL CONSUMER:
The adoption of shared cultural meaning to the context of an individual consumer’s life depends on the individual’s degree of compliance to his/her sociocultural environment and tendency to social comparison with the thin-idealized models in AMCC (Thompson et al. 1994; Yu et al. 2011).
Researchers face two challenges here: Firstly, the process of normalization can greatly differ among individuals. Secondly, body-image is invisibly manifested in individual consumers’ minds and thus difficult to be measured. To facilitate this process, the author argues with scholars such as Jones (2004) and Engeln-Maddox (2005) that consumers who are satisfied with their bodies will not internalize culturally constituted body-images as their individual standards. Behavioural adaption is unlikely here. Consequently, research must focus on those consumers. Owing to the aforementioned statement by Sarwer et al. (2005) that dissatisfaction was more the rule than the exception, one can justify, however, that most ordinary people likely constitute suitable research objects in this realm.
As McCracken (1986) acknowledges, meaning transfer with goods can go wrong to the cost of individual and society. Likewise, the adoption of a culturally constituted thin-idealized body-image can cause a state of tension among individual consumers resulting from a discrepancy between the actual self, and the culturally constituted ideal self that stems from social comparison. Thereby, consumers with a greater discrepancy are more likely to develop negative body-images and body-dissatisfaction that can, in extreme cases, result in disorders or dysfunctions (Cash et al. 2002; Blood 2005; Yu et al. 2011). Consequently, the more consumers internalize realistically unattainable body-images as their personal standard, the more likely they are to feel dissatisfied about their own bodies and reach for products or services to modify their looks.
Research in consumer behaviour, anthropology, sociology, and psychology has dealt with individual consumers’ reactions and behaviour when being exposed to thin-idealized body-images presented by AMCC. Some of those will be described below in order to illuminate the possible negative side-effects of these images on the body images of the audience.
BEHAVIOURAL RESPONSES TO THE EXPOSURE OF BODY-IDEALS AMONG WOMEN:
It is agreed that women are especially vulnerable and cutting-edges to react on culturally constructed thin-idealized body-images, and there are notably more studies on women than on men. Indeed few women are positively influenced by thin-ideal images whereas a third of women have been found to be dissatisfied with their body weight, and feel a strong pressure to try and achieve the ‘ideal’ picture of beauty assuming that society expects them to enhance their physical attractiveness for being socially more valued (McKie et al. 1993; Mussweiler et al. 2000; Dove 2004). This may stem from past decades when women used to be publicly defined by means of their bodies in order to achieve social status (Orbach 1988; Wolf 1990; Bordo 1993; Kilbourne 1999).
One significant contribution is provided by Halliwell and Dittmar (2004, p. 114) revealing that ‘body-focused anxiety was strongly correlated with internalization of sociocultural attitudes […] particularly in the exposure conditions that showed an attractive model.” Images of attractive, thin-idealized models activated bad feelings especially among women with greater self-discrepancy. Likewise, Fallon et al. (2005) found that the exposure to models with an ideal physique can cause body-image disturbance, enhanced body-dissatisfaction, anger, depression, and anxiety. Thereby, an individual’s body-image state can already be negatively affected by a five minutes exposure to thin-and-beautiful media imagery (Yamamiya et al. 2005). Also, the greater the awareness of discrepancy is, the more likely it is that women react selectively and critically towards those images, and finally towards the brand promoting them (Festinger 1954; Grogan 2008; Yu et al. 2011).
BEHAVIOURAL RESPONSES TO THE EXPOSURE OF BODY-IDEALS AMONG MEN:
Increasing vulnerabilities towards body-image and tendencies to body-control have recently been found among men (Flament et al. 2011; Daily Mail Reporter 2012). Male consumers have become inevitable components of accurate and current body-image research. However the internalization of ideal body-images amongst men has not been subject to many research studies yet, so that there are few findings.
Nonetheless it is found that, similar to women, male stereotypes normally do not fit the vast majority of men and therefore evoke feelings of discomfort and failure (Daily Mail Reporter 2012). Flament et al. (2011) propose that muscularity and thinness are often wished to be pursued simultaneously among boys. This is supported by the results of another recent study revealing that 10% of boys aged 11-16 are willing to abuse anabolic steroids to look more muscular (Watts 2012a).
Also, a remarkable impact on men’s body-image was found by images in male magazines. Particularly single men are found to react vulnerable to pictures of flawless muscular bodies. By striving to attain that, numerous young men tend to exercise and work-out excessively, which is referred to as ‘athletica nervosa’ (Giles cited in Mail Online 2008, Featherstone 2010). Although the known cases of eating disorders amongst men is said to be on increase (Flament et al. 2011), Watts (2012b) claims that statistics are not accurate since numerous cases are misguided. Another interesting research on aesthetic surgery among men is provided by Holliday and Cairnie (2007).
Clearly, male body-images as shown in AMCC exert much pressure on stereotypical gender-roles and behavioural attributes. This affects especially in men who cannot respond adequately to gender-specific social norms such as power, strength, and masculinity owing to their natural physical state, and can lead to similar consequences as with women.
These findings show that the proliferation of thin-idealized body-images by the majority of contemporary AMCC will likely transfer negative body-images to both women and men that can ultimately trigger a number of dangerous side-effects. In contrast, alternative approaches will be illuminated in the following chapter.
Anke Jobsky pursued her bachelor studies in Retail Management at the European University of Applied Sciences (EUFH) in Brühl, Germany. She completed her postgraduate studies in Management and Marketing at Aberystwyth University in Wales, U.K. where she has developed her interest in body-image and consumer behaviour. The experience of living in Germany and the UK inspired her to conduct research on both countries. By writing her book on body-image, the author aims to raise awareness onto this sensible and increasingly relevant topic.
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- Artikel-Nr.: SW9783954896202
- Artikelnummer SW9783954896202
- Wasserzeichen ja
- Verlag Anchor Academic Publishing
- Seitenzahl 109
- Veröffentlichung 01.02.2014
- ISBN 9783954896202