Clothing And Female Self Image Cultural Studies Essay

3198 words (13 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 Cultural Studies Reference this


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A woman’s physical appearance, size and shape form part of her body image. Body image is a very important aspect of physical appearance. A woman is intimately linked to her sense of self so much so that her body attitude spills over into self attitude. A large factor in the way we perceive the female body is that of clothing. Through clothing we create an image that grounds the initial impression you form in society. The study also states that a woman’s physical appearance, size and shape are part of her body image. Body image is an extremely important aspect of physiological and interpersonal development of the person (Farinah 2005:19). Kaiser (1999: 97) states that one fact of human beings is that they have bodies and they are bodies, the body is similar to a vehicle for carrying around one’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Clothing makes up for a substantial part of a woman’s self image, and can very easily be misjudged seeing as some clothing has the potential to enhance flaws on one’s body.



Kaiser (1997:97). states that the way females perceive their bodies are related to social, cultural and historical contexts and influenced by gender as well as other aspects. We can alter the appearances of our bodies through diet, exercise and clothing choices (Li M: 2003 pg). How can women change their appearance without drastic interference with their bodies?

Research done by the National Textile Centre(1999:2) stated that according to Labat and Delong, female consumers feel personally inadequate when clothing do not fit appropriately, they tend to blame themselves and feel negatively towards their bodies more willingly than the ill-fitted clothing. According to Simmons, Istook and Devarajan (2002:2) despite of standard sizing systems used, they are almost all based on a myth that we as humans all have mathematically proportional bodies that grow in proportional ways. Body Shapes are classified in 5 groups, the Hourglass body shape, Rectangle body shape, Pear body shape and Apple body Shape. According to McCormack () the fashion industry is ignoring the changing shapes of women’s bodies. To get the most out of your image, it is good to know what to wear for your specific body type. This allows one to choose more flattering clothing for your figure and avoid clothing that does not enhance the way you look (What to Wear for Your Body Shape – LoveToKnow Womens Fashion.mht)

The National Textile Centre Annual Report (1999: 3) informs us that clothing is a very important aspect of our body image, the clothes that we wear reflects our character and personality and helps to constitute our image.

Grose (2009:8) reveals that, a cultural ideal body image is an idea created by society through relationships, public figures and media. Kaiser (1999: 98) states that clothing may be perceived differently by individuals in relation to body image. For instance a female may buy a large jacket to wear over dresses with the purpose of hiding parts that she sees as flawed.

“The fashion industry is ignoring the changing of shape’s of women’s bodies, designers manufacturers insist on making clothes that fit the traditional hourglass figure, when women’s shapes are more likely to be top-heavy, rectangular or pear shaped.” Helen McCormack.


What’s the historical perspective on women’s body shape?

What are the factors that influence women’s knowledge on their body shapes and choice of clothing?

How does clothing and body affect consumer’s choices about purchasing and wearing?

How can women change their appearance without drastic interference with their bodies?

Through these questions asked, the researcher will be able to examine SA woman in terms of understanding varied body shape in relation to clothing and its characteristics.


The research aims to:

Identify the historical perspective on women’s body shape.

Investigate the factors that influence women’s knowledge on their body shape and choice of clothing.

Discover how clothing and body affect consumer’s choices about purchasing and wearing.

Determine how women can change their appearance without drastic interference with their bodies.

This research will establish if SA women have the knowledge on their body types and educate them on how to determine their shape and how to dress accordingly.



The quantitative research methodology will be used.

Quantitative research is the systematic scientific investigation of quantitative quantities and phenomena and their relationships. The objective of quantitative research is to develop and employ mathematical methods, theories and/or hypotheses pertaining to natural phenomena. The process of measurement is central to quantitative research because it provides the fundamental connection between observation and mathematical expression of quantitative relationships. ( )

A quantitative research method is chosen for the reason that the study requires more statistical answers than personal experiences. The study tends to find out if SA woman understand varied body shapes, their own shape and other related enquires. Through a quantitative study the researcher can determine the quantity of women that is in need of advice and knowledge on the mattered subject.


The population for the research will focus on South African Females from Pretoria. The researcher will select three groups of individual women with different body shapes, ethnicity and fashion style.

This sample will be divided into three groups as follows:

Group one: aged between 18 – 25, students from TUT Arts campus and The University of Pretoria.

Group two: aged between 25-40, women in a working environment office?

Group three: aged between 41-50 women in a working environment or retired?

By creating a sample group that consists of female candidates no more than fifteen.


These groups were chosen as it is imperative stages in a woman’s career and life as she starts studying at 18, her career takes flight at 25 and she looks into retirement at age 50.


These three groups will be asked several questions in connection with the research questions previously mentioned. This process will occur by the use of answering questionnaires as research instrument. These questionnaires will consists of a list of questions that enquires information on ideal body shapes personal body complexions, clothing in terms of body image and knowledge of clothing sought.

Structured questions will be used on the target group to compile a diversity of answers. The questions will be coded and analyzed.


Firstly classify academic information, then arrange the data and lastly describe information.

(, 2006)


Only South African woman living in (suburb) and city can partake in the study. No male’s can take part.

South Africa is multi-cultural. This factor will be ignored. Culture has an impact on women’s lifestyle, spending habits and fashion.

Although religion has a impact on fashion, but for the researcher chose to ignore it in this study.

Culture (race) also has an impact on fashion but it will also be ignored in this study.

Woman’s income will have an impact on the amount they spend on clothing. This will have an impact on the study.

Age. Woman’s age will be considered in this study; because it has an impact on the way they dress and where they buy clothing as well as the amount spend monthly.

Location. Women that stay inner city dress differently from women that stays in a small town or on a farm.

Interests. Women with an interest in fashion will spend more on clothing than those women that has other priorities.

Career. The environment women work in has a deciding factor to the way they dress. Business women will dress differently from a house wife or a cleaner.


Women complain about not looking at their best for the reason that clothes do not fit correctly or enhances flaws. Not all women were born with the ideal body shape or have the time or patience to achieve it. As the researcher my aim and objective is to alert women of the illusions that can be created with clothing to make believe that one has the ideal body shape and that through clothing flaws can be minimized instead of enhanced with the correct knowledge of body analysis and characteristics.

In the previous chapter, the introduction and background was discussed. In chapter two the literature review will be discussed,

2.1 Literature Study

2.1.1 Introduction

The human race is relentlessly yearning for modifications, from facelifts to haircuts, to slimming pantyhose to liposuction. Everybody seeks improvement for what they are. At one time or another, is there one part of the body that has not, been improved through artifice?(Gross & Stone,1994:23

“What size should I be?”(Farinah 2005:1) A common individual question asked. A person’s self image is frequently developed from what people say about her. De Villiers researched, that 60% of the ‘value judgement’ is completed within the first 60 seconds. You almost never obtain a second option to create a first impression (Farinah 2009:16). Farinah(2009:19) mentioned that body image is a extremely significant aspect of psychological and interpersonal growth of the person, numerous women believe the more attractive they are, the more society will accept them.

Throughout history societies have focused on beauty and body shape (Grose 2009:3). Several ancient cultures embellished body parts we’ve long ignored; Gross and Stone refers to aristocratic Egyptian woman, who would delineate, with a bright blue plant dye, the veins on their breast.

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty” (Keats as quoted by Gross and Stone2009:23), nevertheless, a great deal of what creates physical beauty in civilization engages bending the truth modestly.

2.1.2 Historic Perspective

According to Ensler (2006: 14) women are since the beginning of time obsessed about how they look. As a consequence there are historical disparities in the “ideal” body, (Kaiser 1997: 110) and the shape and size of the mentioned body has been varying for decades (National textile annual report1999: 2).Kaiser explains that during the fifteenth-century European women attempted a pregnant like facade, seeing that fertility was of social importance, subsequent to the plague that desolated Europe.

The Arnolfi Wedding 1434, Jan van Eyck.

The fruitful image was attained by the use of stuffing e.g. a pillow underneath a very full gown, to creating the appearance of a rounded stomach (Kaiser; 1997: 110). It is noted in the National textile report (1999:2) that women in the eighteenth century were traditionally pear shaped. Throughout the early nineteenth century, women in art and fashion were portrayed with tapered arms and drawn waists (Kaiser 1997: 110). In addition the American paradigm for the female body had progressed from a rectangular shape, to a bell form, to an hourglass figure in the late nineteenth century( National textile report 1999:2).From the twentieth century

the ideal female body became rectangular and very slender national textile report (1999:2) The 1920’s depicted the boy like figure as an ideal and in order to achieve this look, a “teddy” was worn underneath sheath like dresses to flatten the breasts (Kaiser 1997:115). Whilst the 1920s fashions reduced the maternal bosom, by the 1950s voluptuous and curvaceous bodies were desired and achieved by the invention of the padded bra (Kaiser 1997:115). The hourglass shape revisited as ideal and was exemplify by Marilyn Monroe, (National textile REPORT 1999:2). At the end of the sixties era, the ideal became a very slim body. (Kaiser 1997:115). The “thin is in” concept appears to have triumphed since the sixties; but it did not suffice just to accommodate a thin body. In the eighties a new ideal came to light when muscle toned bodies highlighted a thin physique. The nineties conveyed a “thin waif like” appearance and the latter of the nineties portrayed an ideal figure as slim with body tone. (National textile 1999:2). The Corseted Women 1880’s-1909


2.1.3Factors influencing women’s knowledge on body

Seeing that the body ideal revolutionize over time, civilization changes how it is evaluating its individual image to the developing media representations of perfection (Grose, 2009:9).The National Textile Report (1999:3) researched that Labat and DeLong (1990) established that external factors that has affect on fit consists of “societal messages concerning the ideal body, the fashion industry’s portrayal of an “idealized figure” and industry sizing systems.” On a more intimate level, individuals employ their bodies as an indicator for self assessment. Bodies recline at the core of many social and political brawls (Kaiser 1997:98). Frustration with fit can also be attributed to numerous of issues that have changed the average body types: watching one’s weight, exercising and performance, inconsistent growth rates in alternative sections, dormant daily life and modifications in principles of masculinity and femininity.(Simmons, Istook and Devarajan 2004: 3)

A study done by Grose indicates that research has been done in social and cultural aspects that add to the structure of an ideal body image. A lot of these researchers concur that western society prefers a thin body image. Mass media then corresponds this image. “The thin ideal body image is found in beauty and fashion magazines, television programming and Internet sites.” (Grose, 2009:3)

It is unlikely to browse through a magazine without being infiltrated by images of the ideal body type (Grose, 2009: 3) Female Magazines are generally entirely dominated by pictures of faultless idealised bodies (Blood, 65). Rarely it is found that “real” bodies “i.e. non model and/or non-made-up bodies” are flaunted in these magazines, apart from makeover articles, which usually indicates exactly how products is the solution to difficulties females have with flawed body parts. (Blood, 65)

An ideal body type in cultures is said to be propagated by the media, through displays of thin models and celebrities in photos and script on ways to acquire the perfect look.(Grose 2009: 8) . The most popular subject on television, in female magazines and advertising, is beauty. Research that has been done in this category, propose that from 400 to 600 to more than 3000 advertisements is seen per day. This also implies that at least 56 percent of commercials focused on women, articulate about beauty. Magazine readers are offered with tips from major fashion and women’s magazines on “how to look great by swimsuit season, how to get tighter thighs in one week, how to use makeup to camouflage wrinkles and how to look like a favourite star.” (Lagnado as said by grose, 2004:3)

New types of media surface in today’s constantly changing technological world, discovering the latest techniques on to convoy messages of the thin ideal body image. (Grose 2009:4) Investigations imply an optimistic relationship between media utilization and the intensity of body image approval. (Grose, 2009:4) girls are urged to analyse their appearance in order to turn into a revelation of true femininity, by fashion and beauty magazines (Grose, 2009:6).

Another way body image is calculated is the approach a person measures themselves to her peers and by the steps

Body image is also calculated by the way a person compares herself to others and by the steps taken to manipulate one’s body to achieve a standard set forth by a force in society, such as eating and exercise habits. (Grose 2009:8, 9)

An accepted social ideal body image is an initiative fashioned through media, community people and relationships, by society. Nevertheless, a subject’s own body image is instituted internally. (Grose 2009:9)

Body image is not only the manner in which we are prejudiced by the constructive and unconstructive criticism of others but also the way we ourselves have professed our own bodies to fit or not fit the cultural ideal(Farinah2005:2). It is also calculated by the steps taken to engineer one’s body to attain a paradigm set forth by vigour in society, such as eating and exercise behaviour, and the way an individual matches herself to others. (Grose 2009:8, 9) The theory on social comparison deliberates that individuals ascertain their individuality and body image through constructing judgment between themselves and others.(Grose 2009:12). The looks of other people is deflect through women’s recollections of exacting occasions and their fictional projections of how others may see them. (Woodward 2007:3) Our self image symbolizes a very important constituent of the physical self and influences our judgments about ourselves. (Kaiser 1997:98)

Many consumers, predominantly female, consider themselves somewhat personally insufficient when clothes do not fit appropriately, as a consequence of sizing discrepancy.(national textile report 1999:2) Rather than blaming poorly fitted clothing consumers guilt themselves and have unenthusiastic feelings toward their own bodies (Labat and Delong 1990) (national textile report,1999:2)

A familiar subject in print media is that body image is intimately associated to self admiration, psychological wellbeing, eating behaviour and exercise routines; it is both illustrated in photographs or as displayed measure in articles. (Grose 2009:8)

When gazing in the mirror it is an alliance of the personal and the generic, as women judge their own clothed bodies in light of wider social principles and expectations.(Woodward 2007:83). One of the most familiar medical disorders amongst females is weight fixation, the problem commences from a divergence between the cultural supreme and the actuality of being a woman (Kaiser 1997:124). stages of body discontent are calculated in studies interested about the result of the media on body image, while overestimation of body image is more closely related to studies primarily dealing with eating disorders. (Holmstrom 2004) (9)

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