Is Beauty in the Eye of the Beholder? Media, Social Networks and the Body.
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"Summary (Stephanie and Iris) This thesis contains four chapters: a theoretical framework, two chapters with empirical data of women and men that are gathered during three months of fieldwork in Liverpool, United Kingdom and a concluding chapter where theory and empirical data come together in the findings of this research. We chose a Western country as a location to conduct our research, because mostly Western beauty ideals are spread throughout the world. The United Kingdom is a fitting location because gender roles and stereotypes take a prominent place in society and (non-) surgical procedures are used a lot to fortify these. Liverpool as city of choice is based upon multiple documentaries, the fact that Liverpool has a large lower social class and more beauty salons per head of the population than any other city in England. Within this research we aimed to show how perceptions of beauty are constructed in the society of Liverpool. Hereby we focussed on how media and networks of family, friends and peers exert influence and how these perceptions are reflected on the body. Therefore, we formulated the following research question: How do media and social networks influence the perceptions of beauty of young men and women in Liverpool and how are these perceptions reflected on the body? There is an on-going debate weather media or social networks have a big influence and self-images of people. Several academics as Brown and Dittmar (2005) and Tiggemann & McGill (2004) argue that exposure to certain beauty ideals in the media can lead for women to create a negative self-image and a low self-esteem. Other academics as Ferguson, Winegard & Winegard (2011) argue that social networks, family, friends and peers have the biggest influence toward beauty ideals and self-images of people. We use the concept of social networks as social capital from Bourdieu (1986). Although he leaves gender out his reasoning, we will show how it has a place in the analysis of the body. In this research we use the theory of Ferguson et al. (2014) on social comparison. In this theory, Fergusson et al (2014) argues that people feel the intrinsic need to compare themselves with other people. People are looking for normative images to compare themselves with, but when these are absent, they compare themselves with the available subjective images. In the analysis of the body, we will make use of the division of the three bodies, which are described by Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1987): the lived , the social and political body. We will make a subdivision of the inner, outer and online body to discuss our empirical data. Globalisation, social networks, media, gender and class are processes that shape the human body in the context in which it is situated. Interconnectedness and technological innovations have as a result that media transports visual images of certain beauty ideals in society and create beauty ideals that are not reachable for both men and women. Mass media and social media are platforms on which these images and ideals are exchanged. Ideals that are adored locally are reflected back into the media, thereby feeding beauty ideals. Within this debate we aim to prove that there is not one concept that can be hold accountable in the formation of beauty ideals. These processes cannot be seen separately, but should be seen as interacting agents in forming a person s beauty ideals. Beauty ideals are constructed within social networks and by images in the media. In the media women that are seen by society as beautiful are overrepresented, instead of normative images that represent the diversity of the population. Hereby creating low self-esteem and a negative self-image toward women s own appearance. Our empirical data shows that for our research population, strong ties with family are less important in the formation of beauty ideals. Bonds with friends (strong ties) and bonds with peers (with whom people have a weak connection or no connection at all) are very important, but it depends per person how important. These findings correspond for men and women. For both men and women there is a tendency to rate people, they find beautiful, as more successful in life. Difference can be found to which extent men and women alter their bodies to achieve their beauty ideals. The amount of time, money and effort people put into their appearance is gender based. Overall, men find it more import to take care of their inner body and to gain skill, which includes healthy nutrition and practicing sports. The women in our research did not take care of their inner body, but where more concerned with their outer body. Men and women enhance their appearance through different methods. Expressions such as clothing, grooming and styling of hair, are used by both sexes. Females most often make use of make-up, fake nails, plastic surgery and non-surgical procedures. Major differences between the sexes are also visible when looking at the online body. Women tend to present their online body the best way possible, even if that means to alter images and make a hundred selfies to find the perfect one. Men admit being more interested in what people do instead of how they look when they are on social media. In the analysis of the body through the bodies of Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1987) the media, socially and politically controls the body through the creation of beauty ideals in Liverpool s society. According to the stereotypical gender-roles that are created by the media and maintained in Liverpool s society one must put time, effort and money in their appearance in order to reach certain standards. Media emphasizes the collective attractiveness stereotype through which the connection between beauty stereotypes and positive personality traits can become stronger (Wheeler and Kim 1997). This strengthens the pursuit of these stereotypical beauty ideas. It can therefore be described as social control over the political body (Scheper-Hughes and Lock 1987). The actual expression that participants give to their beauty ideals falls under the individual body in this analysis scheme and can be seen among women as hyper feminine clothing and make-up and as a very buff/ muscular and groomed look for men. More research concerning why beauty is such an important part in the daily life of people in Liverpool and the grey areas in the division between men and women should be conducted."