Contemporary female celebrity is produced within a context of postfeminism, sexualised culture, consumerism and neoliberalism. Feminist analyses often argue that such celebrity figures commodify female sexuality and depoliticise feminist issues regarding autonomy and sexual agency; although some celebrate contemporary celebrity as a site for producing less conventional sexual identities. In this paper we contribute to these debates with analysis of focus group and interview data from 28 white heterosexual women aged between 23 and 58 living in the UK. For the women in our study, female celebrities were figures of successful neoliberal entrepreneurial selves, with the capacity to make money from their bodies. This capacity was associated with continuous work on the bodies, rather than a natural beauty. And while there was often admiration for the work that went into this self-transformation, a consequence for the participants of equating beauty with normatively unattainable levels of body work was that they came to understand themselves as falling short of even ‘achievable’ attractiveness. We conclude that these participants made sense of celebrity sexiness through neoliberal rhetoric of ‘choice’, entitlement and pleasure, which worked to constantly underscore the ‘ordinary’ woman’s inability to measure up.
Bibliographical noteAuthor's note: This paper, published in the Journal of Gender Studies (Taylor and Francis, IF 0.667; Ranked 13 in Women’s Studies) contributes to a subsection of debates around the ‘sexualisation of culture’ in relation to celebrity culture. Its originality rests with the paper being the first to link postfeminist celebrity to sexualisation through empirical research, showing how women make sense of their own subjective feelings of sexiness in relation to ‘sexy’ celebrities and the wider social contexts that make this possible. The paper demonstrated excellence in its analysis, identifying the logic of postfeminist ways of understanding the self and the emotional impact that such understandings can have in relation to well-being. In doing so, it further develops the authors’ efforts to document the duality of pleasure and pain in the ways that mediated sexiness is taken up by women and made their own. The paper was the first to go online as part of the Journal of Gender Studies move to iFirst and contributed to the nomination of Evans onto the journal’s Editorial Board. The paper received media attention in the local press and women’s magazines, demonstrating the paper’s resonance within a wider public sphere.
This is an electronic version of an article published in the Journal of Gender Studies, 22 (3), pp. 268-281. The Journal of Gender Studies is available online at:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09589236.2012.658145.
- celebrity culture
- sexualisation of culture