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“He wouldn’t be seen using it…” a critical examination of the influence of men’s facial skincare on male identity

Byrne, Angela Dianne (2017) “He wouldn’t be seen using it…” a critical examination of the influence of men’s facial skincare on male identity. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis presents the results of an empirical study investigating the use of facial skincare products by men in the UK. It examines the under-researched area of how men negotiate facial skincare usage in terms of masculine identities. Men’s facial skincare remains a ‘culturally sensitive’ area (Hall, 2015). The existing literature on various types of ‘capital’ (Bourdieu, 1979) does not adequately describe the cultural and social benefits for men using facial skincare products to improve their appearance. Furthermore, ‘gender capital’ (Bridges, 2009) fails to explain sufficiently how men protect their sense of masculine identity whilst using a potentially feminising product. The research explores the consumption of a diverse range of products within this growing sector of consumption that supposes men should seek to improve their overall body image (Cornwall et al., 2016). The study offers an insight into how modern men relate to products that were previously positioned in relation to women’s beauty. The research adopts a social constructionist approach. Firstly, a framework based on the approaches of Williamson (2002) and Van Leeuwen (2005) for semiotic analysis is developed and used to illustrate the various signifiers of masculinity applied by advertisers for audiences. The second stage of the research is focussed on qualitative interviews and the first of two focus groups with men about their responses to advertisements for male skincare products and their feelings about male skincare and masculine identities in the 21st Century. Final stage data collection explores how pressures on appearance informs identity ideals involved interviews with younger males supplemented by a focus group. In addition, industry representatives express their views in a series of interviews in order to provide a means by which to understand current trends and issues surrounding men’s facial skincare products. Key findings from this study highlight how men escape accusations of being vain or effeminate whilst using a product that retains a feminine inference. The reliance on women to guide decision-making provides a context that enables men to preserve their male identity by distancing themselves from seeming to be overtly interested in a ‘beautifying’ product. The contested concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ (Connell, 1995) and Cooley’s (1902) ‘looking glass’ analogy are brought together through the concept of ‘looking glass capital’ to illustrate how men who use facial skincare products benefit from an improved appearance and how they go about protecting gender ideals.

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