Operation beauty: discourses of cosmetic surgery in popular women's magazines in Australia, Germany and Japan

Weinmann, M 2010, Operation beauty: discourses of cosmetic surgery in popular women's magazines in Australia, Germany and Japan, Education, RMIT University.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Operation beauty: discourses of cosmetic surgery in popular women's magazines in Australia, Germany and Japan
Author(s) Weinmann, M
Year 2010
Abstract This thesis analyses representations of cosmetic surgery in the syndicated women’s magazines Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire across three cultural contexts: Australia, Germany and Japan. Through a discourse analysis of these texts, my research focuses on how representations of cosmetic surgery influence the ways identity is constructed and how the narratives of cosmetic surgery invite or distance the reader to engage in identity construction processes. By exploring magazines in their different cultural contexts, this study also investigates how discourses of cosmetic surgery are shaped by the homogenising influences of globalisation within a ‘localising’ context of syndicated magazines. In doing so, this study aims to explore the increasing complexities of body modification and identity construction in our ‘liquid’ society (Bauman 2000, 2005).

The theoretical framework of this study draws upon three fields. The first adopts aspects of feminist theory to research the connections between body, identity and cosmetic surgery. Second, I use the theoretical framework of sociology of the body, drawing from embodiment theory and Bauman’s (2000, 2005) theory of ‘liquid life’, to analyse the complexity of body modification procedures. In conjunction with feminist and sociology frameworks, I also draw upon both Hall’s (1992, 1997) and Said’s (2003) theories of ‘otherness’, which identify the aligning of one cultural identity against another as a significant part of identity construction.

Methodologically, I utilise critical discourse analysis to analyse print texts, as well as visual and narrative elements. Although traditionally critical discourse analysis has largely focused on written texts (Talbot, 1992; Fairclough, 2003; Keller, 2004), I argue that this approach does not adequately represent the multimodality of contemporary texts (Kress & van Leeuwen, 2006). Expanding my research focus to include analysis of visual literacy components has been acknowledged as an indispensable part of critical literacy in a multimodal environment (Kress, 2003). My approach complements a further sociolinguistic research tool, narrative analysis, which enables my research to establish connections between concepts of critical discourse and narrative analysis.

Within the context of a nine year data collection, I analyse six selected articles on cosmetic surgery. My analysis highlights how discourses used in circular arguments and narratives without a conclusive ‘resolution’ might reflect the fluid identities of our times. Further, this study focuses on the opportunities afforded to readers to construct and negotiate available cosmetic surgery discourses, which highlight the versatile and often contradictory approaches of identity construction.

Through this thesis, I argue that a deeper understanding of the interconnected relationship between text, context, visuals, symbols and argument in culturally and contextually appropriate ways will afford greater power to read critically. Through critical reading, agency can be exercised in a more informed way in a complex and multicultural world, which requires identity negotiation across a plethora of culture and lifestyle choices. Cosmetic surgery is a highly invasive procedure of body modification and magazine representations argue its contingent relationship to identity construction. A deeper understanding of the discourses of cosmetic surgery will contribute to a more reflexive negotiation of the ways that women are positioned by popular texts.
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Education
Keyword(s) Cosmetic surgery
women’s magazines
liquid society
critical discourse analysis
multimodal analysis
narrative analysis
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Created: Fri, 10 Dec 2010, 15:32:50 EST
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