Academic journal article Social Alternatives

A Feminine Double-Bind? towards Understanding the Commercialisation of Beauty through Examining Anti-Ageing Culture

Academic journal article Social Alternatives

A Feminine Double-Bind? towards Understanding the Commercialisation of Beauty through Examining Anti-Ageing Culture

Article excerpt

Recent global statistics (<10 years) reveal a steady climb in consumption of cosmetic goods. This is an outcome of the globalisation of capitalism and furthered by the international homogenisation of advertising ideological standards. Embedded within this cultural spread is the individualised skin-care project and objects of beauty consumerism.

The 2013 qualitative study discussed in this paper reveals beauty culture's narrative of self-care through display. Australian women (18-60) display complex attitudes of both pleasure and anxiety towards the corporate ideal of what they call 'flawless perfection' in the media imagery.

To critically analyse these results, the Critical Theory of Frankfurt School, in particular Marxist Herbert Marcuse is utilised as a means to discuss how women may experience conflicting emotions towards dependencies on skincare products and the associated symbolism of ideal Western beauty. Technological media advances also sees consumers confronted by impossible beauty standards, which further problematises ageing in a globalised universal culture.

Introduction: Does Beauty Culture Personify Contemporary Social Constructions of Femininity?

In contemporary times, mass capitalism and its advertising have become a socially embedded institutional figurehead in the ways that moderns live. Within the visual and textual narratives of advertisements, the passerby or viewer is actively hailed via a dose of recognition. To illustrate this point, French Structuralists such as Louis Althusser (1970) and Roland Barthes (2009 [1972]) discuss the notion of a modern 'mythology' circulating within current media and explore how it may approach the social actor confronting the image. For these theorists, myth is socially accepted via the conditioning processes of society via statemandated institutions. Althusser (1970) uses the concept of 'interpellation' to illustrate this point. He describes a scenario wherein individuals are continually socialised to recognise themselves within the dichotomy of labour power relations as the objectified. This is accomplished via the instruction of state social institutions, such as school and church, and is an ongoing social condition that the individual lives within, thus slowly learning how to 'master' the social practice (or praxis) of being a worker or citizen. Speaking or acting in the correct manner - as either a capitalist or a worker - requires social practice, as does the way in which a contemporary individual seeks to find themselves within the consumption of a mass commodity as a 'consumer'. Here, Althusser (1970) argues that 'ideology' - or the institutionalisation of an idea - can be seen as an important actor in social practices. This theory envisions society as a recipient of instruction and the social individual as primed and expectant; for orders, suggestions and socially recognisable action.

Barthes (2009 [1972]) explored similar conceptual ground when he argued that myth was not an old-fashioned idea confined to historical periods such as the Middle Ages; rather, it was 'a type of speech' which operates symbolically within image-driven communications. He uses the idea of analysing an image of a French-African saluting a French flag to expound on this. In this example, he argues that common photographs can support nationalism when underpinned by socially agreed narratives such as French imperialism, race, social order and dominant history. This challenges the matter-of-fact acceptance of an ideological image, deconstructing it into artificial fragments to be thoughtfully sorted. The man in the photograph has been 'signified' to operate as an image - or to further signify him and others like him - which leads to 'natural' social segmentation and the widespread acceptance of what appears to be (Barthes 2009 [1972]: 142-143).

This paper intends to approach 'beauty culture', an important sociocultural apparatus of the image-saturated and advertising-driven beauty goods industry, in a similar manner. …

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