Ph.D. Spotlight: Elyse Claxton on Feminine Body Ideals in Teen Girl and Women Fashion Magazines and Instagram

Dr. Claxton’s dissertation analyzes whether (and how) Internet Communication Technologies (ICTs) diversify the kinds of images of women in fashion magazines.

Media are important agents of socialization. Accordingly, media images reflect as well as inform what characteristics symbolize feminine beauty. In the field of female beauty and fashion magazines in the U.S., visual portrayals of women with characteristics such as a thin body shape, Caucasian skin color, blue eye color, and blonde hair color are so frequent that these characteristics are viewed as symbols of ideal feminine beauty. However, recent changes in the fashion magazine field indicate a potential for newer, more diverse representations.Body positivity advocates utilize Internet Communication Technologies (ICTs) to organize and engage in body politics as they petition magazines to take ‘body oaths,’ a promise to incorporate more inclusive portrayals of feminine beauty.

Dr. Claxton’s dissertation research utilizes field theory to explore magazine readers and activist groups use of social media to engage, praise, and critique the fashion magazine field in an effort to change the field and its content. A quantitative content analysis is used to compare the body portrayals found in the pictorial content of four different teen girls’ and women’s print magazines and their Instagram accounts (Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, and Teen Vogue during the summer and fall editions/months of 2016 and 2017) and a qualitative analysis looks at user engagement on the magazines’ Instagram accounts. This data addresses the question: Are the changes in the female fashion magazine field enough to challenge field practices that subjugate female beauty to narrow definitions where thin bodies are constructed as the embodiment of ideal femininity? Considering body ideals as social constructions, meaning they are created, maintained, and also re-created, by a particular society and particular fields embedded within a society.

Dr. Claxton also considers how factors inside and outside the magazine field act upon the magazine outlet’s constructed ideals of femininity specifically as it relates to bodies. The current research provides three key contributions to the field. First, the study asks whether sociological understanding of contemporary pictorial representations of bodies in popular media is changing within the field of female fashion magazines. Second, the research furthers understanding of the interactions between movement activists and readers and technological changes in light of the dynamics of the media field. Finally, the study helps us more thoroughly understand the way body ideals are constructed and reconstructed.

Elyse Claxton earned her Ph.D. in Sociology in Fall 2019. This post is based on the abstract of Elyse’s dissertation, which is available on DigiNole.

The feature image is from Glamour magazine.

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