My PhD Research Project

My thesis engages with contemporary body and gender theory and investigates current media and consumer practice within Makeover Culture to contribute to new and appropriate ways of theorising the female body and body image in the twenty-first century.

This research project was designed to investigate women’s experience of and response to Makeover Culture and makeover media in contemporary western society. I propose that the last two decades have seen a paradigm shift from the dominance of Beauty Culture to an era of Makeover Culture: that is a move away from the male dominated beauty standards increasingly imposed on women since the industrial revolution and patriarchal control of women’s bodies, as written about by feminist authors such as Naomi Wolf (Wolf 1990) and Sandra Bartky (Bartky 1990), to an era of self-control and constant, self-imposed, body projects with no specific end goal, described by Meredith Jones as “a state where becoming is more desirable than being” (Jones, 2008).
Whereas a lot of attention was paid to body theory in the 1980s and 1990s (Turner; Featherstone; Schilling etc.), the early twenty-first century offers the opportunity to further investigate the practical implications of a number of significant changes that have taken place in the last thirty years including the extensive ideological shift from second wave to contemporary feminism/postfeminism; the dramatic increase in the volume of media and advertising aimed specifically at women including magazines, television, internet and advertising materials; and the increasing neoliberal emphasis on the individual (Elliot).
The research fits into a growing body of work being published on the female body in contemporary culture within Feminist Media Studies, Gender Studies and Cultural Studies. Late twentieth and early twenty-first century body theories abound in sociological and cultural studies covering issues from women’s health and reproduction (Martin 2001), beauty and fashion (Entwistle 2000) and weight (Bordo 1993; Orbach; Gilman 2008) to questions around the control (Bartky 1997; Bordo 1999) and technologisation of women’s bodies (Balsamo 1996) (Haraway?). More recently authors have considered topics more specific to my research such as the body and makeover from a theoretical point of view (Jones 2008; MgGee 2005) and considered specific areas within Makeover Culture including makeover television (Weber2009) and cosmetic surgery (Davis 1995; Heyes 2007; Elliot 2008). Relevant background literature will be explored in detail in later chapters.
Largely theoretical in nature, previous writing forms an excellent background to my research, however my research responds to a significant gap in terms of the primary research needed to explore the way in which women experience and respond to Makeover Culture through in-depth qualitative research interviews paired with media analysis.
The research analyses women’s magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Elle and makeover television programs Ten Years Younger[1], The Swan[2] and The Biggest Loser[3] to illustrate ways in which contemporary popular media creates and sustains Makeover Culture presenting the body as a constant project, malleable and perfectible through both overt makeover content and analysis of fashion and celebrity trends. A series of face-to-face interviews provides an informative review of how women consume and interact with makeover media, their reflections on the bodies that are presented to them through this media and how they experience Makeover Culture through their own body projects.
Through talking directly to women about their experience of Makeover Culture, and bringing this together with analysis of makeover media, the project differentiates itself from previous studies and makes a unique contribution to research on contemporary womanhood and women’s experience in a society that makes very different demands of them compared to only thirty years ago.

[1] [dress, presentation and minor cosmetic procedures, targeting an older audience, emphasis on retaining/regaining youth]
[2] [cosmetic surgery, mainly women]
[3] Ref to TV shows, [weightloss, diet, fitness and lifestyle – wide variety of ages, both male and female equally represented?]

No comments: