Towards a comparative sociology of beauty:

The transnational modelling industry and the socialshaping of beauty standards in six European countries



Principal investigator: Giselinde Kuipers

Institutional setting: Amsterdam Institute for Social science Research (AISSR) University  of Amsterdam

Duration: 1 May 2010- 1 May 2015



This project aims to study how beauty standards – perceptions of physical beauty in women and men – are socially shaped. It will focus on the transnational modelling industry, an institution centrally concerned with the production and dissemination of beauty standards.

In four subprojects this study investigates:

1. How standards of female and male beauty are perceived, shaped, and disseminated by professionals in the transnational modelling field;

2. How female and male models perceive, represent and embody beauty standards in their work;

3. How female and male beauty has been portrayed by models in mainstream and “high fashion” magazines from 1980 till 2010;

4. How people of different backgrounds perceive female and male beauty, and how their beauty standards are related to the images disseminated in modelling. Each subproject will be carried out in six countries: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Turkey and the UK.

The aim of this project is to develop a comparative sociology of beauty: a theory of the social creation of aesthetic standards, as they are applied to the bodies and faces of women and men. By comparing these standards, both within and across nations, it aims to identify central mechanisms and institutions through which such standards are developed and disseminated.This project is innovative in several ways. It is the first comprehensive study of the social shaping of beauty standards. Moreover, the four subprojects will result in an extensive account of production, products, and reception of a contested cultural industry: modelling. Third, it will draw together in novel ways theories about media, cultural production and taste formation; gender and the body; and globalization theory. Fourth, this project will make a major contribution to the study of cultural globalization. It analyzes a transnational cultural industry in different countries; and its comparative and longitudinal design allows us to gauge the impact of globalization in different national contexts. Finally, the project is innovative in its comparative, multi-method research design. Using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, the four subprojects will “follow” the entire process of cultural production and reception in an increasingly transnational field.