Constructing Feminine Form for Masculine Sake.
Does it make sense to say that sex is at the heart of identity today? The answer is surely yes, and more so than ever before. (Gauntlett, 2008). Introduction. Consider the cover of the December 2011 edition of FHM (Fig. 1). It portrays a constructed ideal of female attractiveness. Aimed at the male market it conveys the attributes of female form deemed attractive to men. Has this identity been constructed by women or imposed upon by men? Butler (1999) suggests ‘the female body is marked within masculinist discourse’ , and women have not had the freedom to create their own identity, ‘women with the ostensibly sexualized features of their bodies and, hence, a refusal to grant freedom and autonomy to women as it is purportedly enjoyed by men’ (Butler, 1999). Macdonald (1995) notes that this enforced construction is neither a new concept nor just present in magazines aimed at a male audience: The body has historically been much more integral to the formation of identity for women than for men. If women had defined for themselves the ideals of their bodily shape or decoration, this would not be problematic. It is the denial of this right in the western cultural representation, in medical practice and in the multi-billion dollar pornography, fashion and cosmetic industries, that has granted women only squatter’s rights to their own bodies. However for the purpose of this essay we will concentrate on the feminine identity constructed in men’s lifestyle magazines and identify from where this was created.
Why we enjoy beauty. ‘It is suggested that what makes one thing beautiful and another less so is our psychological attraction, probably unconscious, to some quality in the former that is absent from the latter, combined of course with equally-implicit cultural biases.’ (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Considering this, it is hard to determine how a particular portrayal of the female form is universally attractive. However studying the following passage from Sigmund Freud’s study Civilization and its Discontents we can note the possibility that the images constructed of women in men’s magazines are not to portray beauty, but to invoke sexual feeling through lack of clothing and provocative poses: Psychoanalysis, unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. The love of beauty seems a perfect example of an impulse inhibited in its aim. ‘Beauty’ and ‘attraction’ are originally attributes of the sexual object. (Lakoff and Scherr, 1984) Another psychotherapist Lacan puts forward the idea ‘women are objects for men: men are objects for women: men are objects for men, and women are objects for women. Each of us can only ever be objects for another subject, however much we try. (Hill, 1997) With this in mind it can be said that all identity is constructed to receive the admiration of others, regardless of gender. (Gauntlett, 2008) states ‘sex as being at the core of identity’ further suggesting that male identity is constructed with the same intentions the female. Although ‘it has been women in particular who have been defined primarily in terms of their physical appearance’ (Negrin, 2008). The emergence of new men’s lifestyle magazines. It is interesting to note that men’s lifestyle magazines are not a new concept, neither has their content changed over time. The earliest attempt to launch a men’s lifestyle magazine in the UK was in 1935, it consisted of ‘heroic masculinity with style features and pictures of female nudes’. (Gill, 2007).
The 1950’s saw the launch of Playboy, a lifestyle magazine aimed at an emerging class of men who enjoyed consumption as much as their female counterparts. The magazine ‘became the ‘bible’ for the men who dominated...