(De)Constructing 'Body Love' Discourses in Young Women's Magazines
This thesis is about the recent emergence of ‘love your body’ messages and discourse in mainstream women’s magazines available to New Zealand audiences. It is situated culturally and historically, in a time when media discourses about women and their bodies are dominated by post-feminist and neo-liberal conceptualisations of bodies as commodity objects of production, representative of successful femininity and an inflexible natural order. This thesis contributes to the existing feminist research literature about magazines by investigating an apparently ‘new’ textual feature of young women’s magazines, and through adding to an emerging literature about the production of magazine content. Methodologically, the thesis draws upon critical, feminist, and post-structuralist approaches as the basis of its own understanding of bodies and the undertaking of research. The research upon which this thesis is based has two parts. First, an in-depth investigation of the text and image content of magazine ’body love messages’ in two different titles – Cleo (New Zealand) and Cosmopolitan (Australia) – employed thematic and discourse analysis to explore the kinds of discursive ideas made available through the magazine’s communication of positive body messages to their readers. The analyses presented illustrate how ‘body love’ magazine content i) is framed within heavily dualistic discourses of the woman and her body, using obsessively repetitive images to illustrate its point, ii) constructs women’s bodies as essentially difficult to love, and then in turn constructs love itself as a visually evidential practice, and finally iii) introduces a heterosexual (male) partner as an accomplice / audience for this visual practice. The second study involved a discursive analysis of interviews undertaken with magazine editorial staff based in New Zealand and Australia, asking participants about the production of positive body messages in the title(s) they work for. Drawing upon this work, the latter analytical chapters of my thesis address i) how various discourses are used by magazine employees to simultaneously legitimate the limits around positive body content in their magazines, and at the same time construct their practices as those of a ‘good magazine’, and ii) the centrality of ‘images’ as a carefully managed topic in these interviews, and what this implies about how ‘love your body’ content is conceptualised within the industry which produces it. In undertaking this work, my intention was to provide a basis upon which feminist questions about the use and purpose of magazines as cultural-discursive spaces might be revisited in light of the new ‘body love’ content. The concluding chapter to the thesis comprises a dialogue in response to these questions about contemporary magazine body messages; weighing arguments of hope and promise against more conservative concerns about misrepresentation and appropriation. It also reconsiders the implications of the analyses with a view towards evaluating what, if anything, has changed about the way young women’s magazines address their readers’ bodies through the production of body love discourse.