Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 9 Issue 6 (November/December 1999), Pages 397-482

‘Is that supposed to be sexy?’ Women discuss women in ‘top shelf’ magazines (pages 449-461)


Given that some critics have accused sexually explicit materials (SEMs) of preparing women's bodies for consumption by others, this paper documents women discussing images of other women's bodies in SEM. The aim of the paper is to outline different reactions and viewpoints women express when presented with sexually explicit images of the female body. An opportunity sample of 30 female undergraduates aged between 18 and 34 completed focus groups, where 10 copies of ‘top shelf’ magazines, aimed at a heterosexual audience were discussed. Discourse analysis revealed several consistent themes. Participants described the pictures by identifying with the models, or by distancing themselves (‘like me’ and ‘not like me’ discourses). Conversations included participant's own ‘natural’ sexuality, juxtaposed with the magazine images. Concern about the ‘comfort’ and attractiveness of models was also observed. Viewing the magazines allowed participants to discuss a number of related issues including censorship, sexuality, relationships and body image; in an area of research which has traditionally overlooked qualitative research and female participants. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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