From the clothing theory, it is evident that the mass media as generalised “other”, dictates the opinion of what is acceptable and not acceptable regarding fashion. The role that the mass media play in the clothing consumer’s purchases, and more specifically the decision-making process surrounding fashion products, cannot be underestimated. From a social-cultural and aesthetic point of view, it can be argued that culture or sub-culture can play an important role in the aesthetic ideal of beauty of consumers. It is suggested that consumers of different cultural backgrounds have varying beliefs about what is defined as “beautiful” in each of their cultures. Fashion magazines in South Africa largely convey a global appearance ideal, but individuals often tend to also evaluate their appearances against the cultural or sub-cultural beauty ideal in which they reside. Cultural appearance standards in the form of skin colour, hairstyles, body, style, dress, and cultural artefacts (such as accessories) may differ among different cultures and sub-cultures (Craig, 1991). Magazine marketers should thus aim to provide a specific targeted consumer group with a fashion magazine that contains content that satisfies their particular sub-cultural aesthetic needs, personal appearances and standards. People across cultures have the need to compare themselves to others, and with the focus on fashion, appearance is evaluated and compared by the targeted consumers on the basis of either cultural factors or personal factors (Lennon, Rudd, Sloan&Kim, 1999). Fashion serves as a generalised “other” against whom a person can compare him- or herself with. The targeted consumers may not engage in comparison if the appearances of fashion models used in fashion magazine advertisements are too different from the person’s own appearance and standards. It seems that the importance of the above mentioned factors in the decision-making process of consumers regarding fashion products and fashion magazines in particular, have not yet been fully realised in South Africa by magazine marketers and the advertising industry. The women in the Mzanzi Youth sub-segment, serving as the target market for this study, fall under the Black Diamonds consumer group, which is one of the most important up and coming consumer groups in South Africa. It is apparent that this consumer group has a lot of potential and could reap rewards if targeted successfully, yet there is not a fashion magazine that is known of in South Africa that specifically caters for them. Unfortunately little is known about their beauty standards and the appearance of a beauty ideal that they would prefer to compare themselves with, and fashion magazines are therefore not able to fully tap into this potential market. The Purpose of this study was therefore to explore and describe the women in the Mzansi Youth sub-segments’ social comparisons and reflected appraisals of fashion magazine images. It is envisaged that the results of this study would contribute to fashion magazine editors’ and marketers’ understanding of this market’s beauty standards and preferences for beauty ideals that can serve as a generalised “other” in social comparison, in such a way that it can contribute to a positive self-image and an interest in, and intention to buy a specific fashion magazine or the fashion products that are advertised. The theoretical approach to the study included a literature review on fashion, the consumer and the role of culture, which include a discussion on fashion magazines and fashion magazine advertisements or images. The literature also covered the role of cultural beauty ideals and aesthetics in self-esteem. In order to address the problem, a cultural perspective and the theory on identity and social identity were combined with the theory on social comparison, and serves as a theoretical perspective, or point of departure for the research, while also directing the research objectives. The unit of analysis for this study was young adult black women in South Africa (between 18 and 24 years of age), in the Mzanzi Youth sub-segment within the Black Diamond consumer group. A nonprobability sampling technique was employed. The sample for the study was purposive resulting in the use of the snowball sampling method, with 200 respondents having completed a self-administered questionnaire. The study showed that the women in the Mzansi-Youth sub-segment are directed by a strong personal identity and a need to be acknowledged as an African individual with unique personal characteristics. It is therefore also important for them that their appearance should symbolise their personal qualities and not necessarily that of a Westernised fashion style or beauty ideal, or that they belong to a specific social or sub-cultural group. The study further showed that dress, hairstyle and body shape are important features in their beauty ideal, directed by their personal identity. With regard to their aesthetic dimensions that play a role in dress and appearance, for them it is more about the sensory beauty of their appearance and emotional pleasure that their dress and appearance give them, than reflecting that they belong to a specific group or culture - indicative of a personal identity, rather than a social identity. The study further showed that with regard to social comparison, it is not important to the women in the Mzansi Youth sub-segment to compare themselves, and specifically their dress and appearance to those of others, whether it being to their friends, or an African or Westernised beauty ideal. With regard to appraisals of fashion magazine images, portraying different beauty ideals, specifically a Western, African and Euro-African beauty ideal, the study showed that the targeted consumers prefer the Euro-African beauty ideal because they like it, and it is also the appearance that they can relate to and that they would compare themselves to, although comparison is not important to them. However, if they have to compare themselves, they would compare the beauty ideal feature that is the most important to them, namely their dress style. They also mostly compare just for the sake of comparison and not to feel better about themselves or to feel that they fit into a specific group. In cases where they compare negatively to an image, whether African, Western or Euro-African beauty ideal, they will still accept the standard and will do nothing further. Lastly, the study also showed that most of the women in the Mzansi Youth sub-segment, would probably buy a fashion magazine which features Euro-African fashion images to see the latest trends and fashion ideas, but not because the model would inspire them to improve themselves. This study clearly has practical implications for fashion magazine editors and marketers in South Africa, as well as for the advertising industry, especially when incorporating fashion images in advertisements specifically aimed at the women in the Mzansi Youth sub-segment.
Dissertation (MConsumer Science)--University of Pretoria, 2011.