K. Adkins, A. Thompson, J. Moses
Acne can be associated with a range of psychosocial impacts including stigmatisation. Media representations of acne are likely to play an important contextual role in the nature of such impacts. This study sought to: (1) examine themes contained with acne-related advertisements, in women’s magazines; (2) to investigate how portrayals of acne have changed over time, situated in historical context.
A novel interdisciplinary methodological approach was adopted that incorporated ethnographic content analysis and thematic analysis. A total of 637 advertisements were collected from three UK women’s magazines (Cosmopolitan, Woman, Spare Rib), covering the past 40 years, at 5 year intercepts.
Acne was primarily framed as a cosmetic concern. Four key themes were identified: i) ‘Spot-free’/‘perfect’ skin as the ideal; ii) myths surrounding acne; iii) psychosocial impact of acne; iv) normalising acne. There were differences in the frequency and content of advertisements over time and between magazines, which suggested a movement away from myths surrounding acne, yet increased pressures to meet unrealistic ideals.
Acne was portrayed consistently as a threat to ‘perfect’ skin, and typically associated with distress. Over time, the focus of advertisements subtly changed, linking acne treatments with the pursuit of the body beautiful via self-improvement. Acne was frequently depicted as a barrier to being attractive and to forming romantic relationships. Advertisements also perpetuated myths regarding hygiene, age, and accountability. The results add evidence to the media's role in maintaining hegemonic accounts of female ‘beauty’ that may increase the risk of stigmatisation associated with acne.