Monash University

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Beauty, Identity and Consumption: A Malay Muslim Perspective

posted on 2017-07-11, 22:52 authored by Juliana Angeline French
This thesis takes an interactionist perspective in understanding beauty. Beauty starts on the global stage with international beauty pageants, models on runways, magazines, music and entertainment that travel the global circuit and subsequently exert influence over beauty discourses in individual nation states. At the local nation state, beauty discourses are formed as a result of the nation’s own socio-historical past which then intersect with global discourses and are often propagated by the media. Women’s magazines are an excellent vehicle to capture local nuances in beauty discourses that may otherwise be overlooked. This provides a background to the symbolic and ideological appeals influencing consumers in the localised construction of beauty.

The literature discusses the interplay between the global and the local but in addition to global beauty discourses from the west, a new global Muslim rhetoric has emerged. This study is, therefore, needed in order to better understand the new Muslim rhetoric and how all these complex global messages intersect and influence the media in Muslim societies within the local nation state. If magazines are social tools then discourses and meanings of beauty will be formed, negotiated, contested and renegotiated on so many levels. The individual’s physical appearance and decorum will be to a large extent dependent on the market offerings as well as the cultural meanings embodied in and negotiated within her environment.

The research seeks to contribute towards enhancing the body of literature in consumer culture theory in two overlapping ways. Firstly, it seeks to explore nuances of religious ideologies perpetuated by the media in Study 1. The findings in Study 1 reveal an overarching theme of the exclusivity of being Muslim demonstrated in the text and visuals allowing for identity spaces to be created where individuals can engage in constructing the meaning of being Malay Muslim. There are countervailing meanings within the discourses surrounding this exclusivity.

Secondly, findings from beauty discourses in the media are explored at the individual consumer level. This is done in Study 2 to understand how the female gender identity is constructed through consumption. Thompson and Haytko’s (1997) model is extended to include the interplay between the global and the local. This extended model asserts that global beauty discourses as well as the new global Muslim rhetoric intersect and influence local media. The findings from Study 2 discuss countervailing meanings of how these women experience and negotiate self. Beauty products play different roles in protecting, defending, transforming, stabilising, securing, healing, completing and reconciling self in the negotiation of these countervailing meanings. Meanings of beauty are elusive and fluid, constantly changing, flowing, conditional and flexible according to content and context for these women.

This research contributes to an understanding of the negotiation between participating in and rebelling against the internalised colonial gaze (Mears, 2010) within the context of beauty. Thompson and Hatyko’s (1997) discussion of the tension between modernist values of meritocracy versus socially recognised gender or race-based barriers does not apply in the context of Malaysia. The findings show alternative explanations and assumptions compared to Western contexts owing to the dominant political party whose political ideology is disguised as religious ideology. The tension of moralizing narratives criticising dressing up and standing out as a means of exaggeration and public display versus dressing up a means of symbolic self-worth and social status does not resonate in Malaysia. Instead my findings reveal the tension between standing out and blending in with regard to physical appearance as a means of spirituality displayed. The natural look is often seen as an act of rebelling against make-up and the feminine aesthetic while my findings suggest that blending in is a means of displaying a pious disposition, downplaying physical beauty because inner beauty is prioritised.

Finally, this research makes a contribution to Wilk’s (1995; 1995a) structure of common difference of celebrating certain kinds of differences while suppressing others. Just as beauty pageants are justified as helping contestants be poised and cosmopolitan, veiled models are publicly justified as more feminine and modestly stylish narrowing our gaze and promoting particular kinds of uniformity.


Campus location


Principal supervisor

Christina Kwai Choi Lee

Additional supervisor 1

Jan Brace-Govan

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

Business and Economics (Monash University Malaysia)


Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Business and Economics

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