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Perceptions of beauty and perfect physical attributes: a cross cultural study drawing on press artefacts over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
This project seeks to discover perceptions of beauty and ideas of perfect physical attributes, as evident in press data across three cultures: Malaysia, Croatia and English-speaking Australia. The study is based on advertisements for beauty products and services, including weight loss promotions – taking its timeline from the 1880s to the 1980s. To contextually inform the data evaluation, the analysis is moderated by consideration of topic-related news reporting, letters to the Editor and opinion pieces Given the Malay– and Croatian–language datasets, a translation phase (into English) is factored to preface the comparative analysis: however, the incidence of English borrowings into the promotional copy is retained verbatim as relevant to the discussion.
The investigation studies how words and pictures are deployed to relay advertiser propositions, and it documents compositional shifts over the 100-year research timeframe. The analysis – in discovery of the potential intended meanings – rests on identifying the discourse elements of presupposition, implicature and theme. These three elements lead to the advertiser propositions, which reveal the social constructs of what is beauty and what is desirable body shape and ideal physical attributes. Preliminary evaluation points to projections of a body-shape utopia as available from commercially available items; and of therapies and treatment plans that offer unverifiable benefits and yet are embraced by diverse populations. Given the reality of health-related and social issues around body shape and personal attractiveness – such as bulimia, depression, overweight, suicide and bullying – this study makes a contribution to better understand how beauty-related ideas developed over time in the public domain.