European Ph.D on Social Representations and Communication
Social Representations of Female-Male beauty and aesthetic surgery: a cross-cultural analysis

The aim of the research program is to investigate the socio–psychological interrelations between female/male beauty and aesthetic surgery in various social groups differentiated not only as gender function and education variables (female and male, young people with university training in Arts, Informatics and Sport) in three European countries (Italy, Spain and Romania), but also on the basis of psychological dimensions, like self-rated attractiveness, level of self involvement in the topic of aesthetic-plastic surgery, self-identification with salient cultural referents (like Beauty, Body, Culture, Nature, Soul). The Social Representation framework offers a wide range of heuristic and methodological tools especially called for by both the intimate and social nature of the topics under scrutiny.
The study is part of a wider research design following an integrated multi-steps path from exploration to experimentation:

  1. a study concerning content, structure, polarity, imagined and emotional dimensions of the Social Representations of female and male beauty and of aesthetic surgery;
  2. a study focused on internet discussion forums on the topic of plastic/aesthetic surgery and aimed at investigating the construction of social discourse and negotiation among members  of “virtual communities”;
  3. a study employing the “body map” tool, an innovative tool with a graphical referent concerning the aesthetic surgery ranking of the various parts of the human body;
  4. an experimental study focused on the generative activity of mental images and emotions in the S.R. of beauty and aesthetic surgery.

The results here presented come from the multi-method research plan obtained in the first step through: a) the “Associative Network”, using “female/male beauty” and plastic/aesthetic surgery” as inductive words; b) the “Involvement level scale”; c) the “Self –attractiveness Scale”; d) the “Self Identification Conceptual Network”. The data were explored by means of multi-step data analysis, including the lexical correspondence analysis. The results highlight cultural sharing and differences between groups, which give meaning to the interrelated objects of social representations in terms of contents, evaluations, emotional dimensions and referential system of values. They also show evidence of the influential variables in terms of gender, education, psychological dimensions (such as self-identification with cultural referents) and participants’ countries with a different familiarization with the aesthetic surgery massive phenomenon. The cultural differences are also discussed with regard to the diffusion of aesthetic surgery in the three countries illustrated in the introductory section, presenting some epidemiological data.