Representation of Cosmetic Procedures in Magazine Features
Any study of features published in (lifestyle) magazines must include a consideration of advertising pressures, as these publications greatly depend on advertising revenue (see Belch & Belch 2015; Gill 2007). As Jackson et al. (2001: 53) have pointed out, editors are engaged in a balancing act, searching for “an appropriate voice in which to address their readers without antagonizing advertisers”. What is more, magazines must include editorial content that attracts and retains advertisers; this has led to concerns over the influence that advertisers exert over the media (cf. Belch & Belch 2015: 754). Interestingly, this tension between advertiser demands and editorial freedom is openly discussed by Gay Times editor Darren Scott who addresses the occasionally conflicting content in relation to ‘ideal’ bodies and body shaming:
[T[here’s no right and wrong with bodies. There is, unfortunately, a difference between what sells a product and what doesn’t and that’s a whole other can of worms, so please don’t @ me about the types of people that feature in ads and mags.
(broad corpus, May 2016: 11)
When considering the influence of advertising on a magazine’s editorial content, it is not surprising that the features on cosmetic procedures found in both the broad and core corpus are largely ambivalent towards the practice. As Baxter and Cosslett (2014: 71) have pointed out, “magazines are always cautious when it comes to encouraging plastic surgery... Perhaps because the back pages feature no less than five advertisements for plastic surgery practices, we see the writer treading a somewhat disingenuous line between condemnation and endorsements”.
Articles which discuss cosmetic procedures are more prevalent in Cosmo and Marie Claire than in the men’s magazines; ten features are published in the core corpus in the women’s magazines3, compared to just one feature in the core corpus in the men’s magazines4*5. There is a noticeable difference between how cosmetic procedures are depicted in the two women’s magazines; whereas Cosmo appears quite critical of cosmetic procedures, the features in Marie Claire are more celebratory, as will become clear in the following sections. A possible explanation for this discrepancy lies in the magazines’ respective target audiences. As discussed in the Methodology (Chapter 3), Marie Claire readers are, on average, slightly older and more affluent than Cosmo readers. As many cosmetic procedures are targeted at women between 30 and 50 with “sufficient funds” (ASAPS, 2018), it may be that the Marie Claire reader is (expected to be) more interested in cosmetic procedures.
Cancel the Botox
This section considers the (elements of) features that posit cosmetic procedures as a serious, possibly dangerous, often unnecessary or even misinformed undertaking. As mentioned above, most of the content in Cosmo condemns cosmetic procedures and attempts to highlight “the true cost of going under the knife” (Cosmo, broad corpus, May 2006: 163). In the May 2006 issue of Cosmo, for example, two articles encourage readers to (re)consider their motivations to undergo cosmetic surgery carefully. The first article, ‘Don’t nip/tuck before you read this’, illustrates how cosmetic procedures are often undertaken to address psychological issues and insecurities and argues that procedures “are seldom anything more than panicky first aid when you’re feeling low and don’t often make you feel better in the long run” (ibid). This argument is further exemplified in the second article, ‘It took me 17 operations to realise surgery isn’t the answer’, in which a woman explains how she has finally realised that “feeling safe and whole has to come from within” (ibid: 170).
In addition to emphasising the psychological aspect that often plays a role in the decision to opt for a cosmetic procedure, Cosmo also includes several articles which highlight the unregulated, ‘dangerous’ side of the cosmetic surgery industry. In its June 2006 issue, for example, Cosmo presents an article about “cowboy cosmetic surgeons”, which includes several horror stories by former patients of unscrupulous practitioners. These personal stories are characterised by accentuating the blood, gore, and drama as surgeons “are leaving women disfigured” (Cosmo
June 2006: 97). Anna, one of rhe patients interviewed for the article, recounts her experience of a breast enlargement procedure in which she foregrounds the “terrible pain”, “incredibly swollen” breasts, and the “purple, seven-inch scar” that she was left with. Confirming Anna’s horror story, the NHS surgeon Anna saw after her breast enlargement states that she has been made into “a pig’s breakfast”. This sensationalist phrase is repeated in a large, central crosshead to emphasise the damage that these ‘cowboy’ surgeons are wreaking. A different crosshead - “the surgeon made me look like a car-crash victim” (ibid: 100) - introduces Tania’s story of ‘botched’ liposuction. Throughout the article, the female patients are constructed as ‘victims’ in need of protection from the unregulated cosmetic industry. This theme of a lack of regulation is also present in later features in both the women’s and men’s magazines. In ‘Confessions of a beauty editor’ [Cosmo, broad corpus, July 2016: 70), for example, readers are warned that they are “at risk” as “the beauty treatment arena is notoriously unregulated (to the point where BAAPS refers to it as ‘The Wild West’)”. Expressing a similar concern, a Marie Claire article on ‘Botox for beginners’ urges women to “research the person who will be carrying out [the procedure]” before they “hop in the chair” as not all practitioners are registered with the Care Quality Commission (broad corpus, November 2015: 292). Furthermore, in its March 2010 article on cosmetic surgery, the Gay Times cites Nigel Mercer, former president of BAAPS, stating how “the entire cosmetic surgery industry [is] an unregulated mess” (p.66).
One way to avoid the dangers associated with cosmetic surgery that is offered by the features is to avoid cosmetic procedures altogether and ‘cancel the Botox’ [Cosmo October 2010: front cover; Cosmo, broad corpus, May 2015: 174). In an article on ‘skin sculptors’, Marie Claire, for example, urges readers to “avoid scary scalpels” as it explains that “there’s a lot you can do to sculpt your face without getting drastic” (October 2015: 293). Although features explicitly disavowing cosmetic procedures are quite rare - perhaps due to advertising pressures - Glamour publicly discouraged readers from going under the knife in its April 2012 article ‘Not so fantastic plastic? The truth about cosmetic surgery’. In accordance with the ‘love your body’ discourse, the magazine emphasises how it values its readers for who they are: “let’s get one thing straight: at GLAMOUR we don’t want you to have cosmetic surgery. We love you (and ourselves, thanks) just the way you are”. This reassurance provided by magazines, and the wider theme of the value of the ‘real’, is prevalent in both the features and advertising discourse in the (women’s) magazine data.
Reminiscent of Duffy’s (2013) qualitative textual analysis of the American versions of Glamour and Cosmo, several celebrations of the ‘authentic’ or ‘real’ can be found across the lifestyle magazines included here. Discussions of the ‘real’ often relate to (women’s) bodies and aim to praise real-looking women as “readers are encouraged to reject unrealistic standards of feminine perfection while embracing their natural curves, unruly hair, freckles, crooked teeth, and other physical ‘flaws’” (Duffy 2013: 143). Cosmo in particular has published several features - including editor’s letters - and even launched Cosmo Body, which all emphasise the idea that “your body is amazing” (broad corpus, November 2014: 15) and encourage the idea that diversity is beautiful. Features such as ‘every body’s a winner’ (broad corpus, April 2015: 15) and ‘what is the “body beautiful” anyway’ (broad corpus, February 2016: 17) underline this. Moreover, #Iambeauty, a recent campaign set up by Cosmo in association with several cosmetic brands, was designed to “celebrate and explore the changing face of beauty in the UK” as it invited readers to show their “most kickass, beautiful [selves]” (broad corpus, February 2016: 94-95).
Whereas magazines claim to emphasise the ‘real’ in order to promote diversity and boost readers’ self-esteem, Duffy (2013: 151) has suggested that “authenticity is deployed in response to what cultural producers see as an increasingly savvy, reflexive consumer”. Moreover, it is important to note here that the magazines’ construction of ‘real women’ still operates “ within the boundaries of normative femininity (e.g. sexy, glam, and chic)” (emphasis in the original, Duffy 2013: 144), which is heavily dependent on consumption - after all, lifestyle magazines must align their content with advertisers’ wishes. This conflict is nicely illustrated in a feature on ‘the heart of beauty’ (Bazaar, broad corpus, January 2016: 146). First, the Bazaar editorial team claims to have “made a New Year’s resolution - to be kinder in our approach to beauty and fitness”; moreover, the feature continues by stating “there is no such thing as an anti-ageing miracle, and attempting to turn back the clock is likely to result in a sense of failure and futility”. Flowever, this statement is immediately followed by specifying how this does not mean “that Bazaar will be giving up on expert skincare, beauty products and fitness; rather, we will continue to explore the most effective solutions and celebrate the associated delights, instead of advocating an overly negative approach” (ibid).
Although the ‘love your body’ discourse is generally considered in relation to women, there is a growing awareness and discussion of (body) insecurities among men and several initiatives have been established to promote confidence amongst men. Male grooming brand Lynx6, for example, radically changed its brand image a few years ago to “encourage consumers to celebrate their individuality” (Roderick 2016) and focuses on men’s mental health issues (Roderick 2017). Unlike the editorial content in women’s magazines, no explicit calls for confidence were found in FHM and the Gay Times; however, the question of what it means to be a man, and body issues amongst (gay) men are addressed. In the April 2015 issue of FHM, for example, the editor’s letter focuses on the question of ‘how to be a man’ and includes “nuggets of wisdom and advice that’ll help you become an even better bloke than you already are, and make you realise you weren’t doing such a bad job in the first place”. Likewise, the Gay Times includes an article on body issues (broad corpus, January 2011: 74-77) - particularly eating disorders and body dysmorphia - and a discussion of a report on a body survey that the magazine conducted amongst its readers (broad corpus, May 2015: 46-48). The discussion and representation of (body) insecurities experienced by men is explored further in Chapter 8.