On gender, size and consumption

Digital culture, Gender, identity, Media, Research

Routledge recently (Dec 2016) published a book on gender in the field of consumption and marketing, edited by Z. Arsel, K. Eräranta and J. Moisander. The edited volume, Gendering Theory in Marketing and Consumer Research, brings together social sciences and consumer studies to examine gendered practices of consumer behaviour and marketplace activities, as well as the gendered nature of the current marketplace. The research featured in the book, originally published as a special issue on gender in the Journal of Marketing Management, draws on various theoretical approaches to gender from intersectional, material-discursive to practice-oriented theories to explore gender as a lived experience and a socially controlled performance in the realm of consumption.

jmm_harju-huovinen

Chapter three, Fashionably voluptuous: normative femininity and resistant performative tactics in fatshion blogs, features an empirical study on gender, size and identity in the context of plus-sized fashion blogging, co-authored by Annamari Huovinen and myself; you can read a short synopsis of the article on the Journal of Marketing Management blog.

Our article deals with issues of gender normativity, size and identity, and consumer resistance of marginalised consumers. The empirical material illustrates how normative understandings of gender identity work in complex ways in marginalized consumers’ identity construction, particularly as enabling resistance: while normativity is regularly considered to be constraining regarding identity performance, we show how normativity can also offer resources for resistance by providing an interpretative framework open to subversive performative acts.

 

However, such self-disciplining can be seen as part of a wider trend in the contemporary society where individuals are expected not only to manage their self and their body (e.g. the quantified self movement), but also, in the process, to attach exchange value to the managed self in the market where it is not okay “to come as you are” and where the self that is continuously undergoing improvement is a hotter commodity than a self that is ‘stagnant’.

 

Not only does blogging about plus-sized fashion and the everyday experiences as a plus-sized consumer allow the bloggers to actively contribute to the creation of alternative subject positions for themselves and thereby become empowered, but the collective and visible act of blogging also serves to widen the culturally predominant and traditionally constricting notion of femininity and thus promote size equality.

In addition, however, our findings show that resistant acts emerging from normative frameworks function rather like a double-edged sword: while increasing size awareness and promoting equality (in terms of ‘size neutrality’ or ‘fat acceptance’) and diversity, the performative acts of the plus-sized bloggers nevertheless draw heavily on mainstream representations of women as unflawed and stylish, beautifully packaged and pleasing to the eye, submissive and pleasing: that is, as controlled subjects who engage in self-management techniques and submit themselves (perhaps unwittingly) to a position where they become the object of somebody else’s gaze.

Such self-disciplining can be seen as part of a wider trend in the contemporary society where individuals are expected not only to manage their self and their body (e.g. the quantified self movement), but also, in the process, to attach exchange value to the managed self in the market where it is not okay “to come as you are” and where the self that is continuously undergoing improvement is a hotter commodity than a self that is ‘stagnant’. While this trend feeds dissatisfaction, fortunately counter-voices and counter-discourses are emerging, plus-sized fashion bloggers being one example of such counter-movement in the arena of consumption.

 

Keywords: gender, identity, size, consumption, consumer resistance

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