The Time of Beauty: an Interpretation of Female Everyday Life
Abstract: The purpose of this study is to investigate how nuances in the perception and organization of time can influence the domestic consumption of beauty products. In-depth interviews with 26 women, with ages ranging from 17 to 55, made it possible to distinguish four female groups. The interviews suggest that the way in which they perceive time and how they relate to cosmetics may change over the years based on their life experiences and the different social roles they play as woman, mother, employee and wife.
Keywords: Time, physical appearance, market segmentation, beauty products consumption
The Time of Beauty: an Interpretation of Female Everyday Life
“Time won’t wait” and “time is money” are common sayings regarding the perception of time nowadays. For the cosmetic industry, these clichés seem to make sense in a series of ads that circulated in Brazil recently, in which “time” appeared as the central argument in communications and sales: “Firmer, quicker” (Nivea Body); “Less wrinkles in four weeks” (Revitalift L’Oréal); “Look beautiful for much longer” (Boticário); “Chronos: the anti-aging that won’t stop in time” (Natura). If the cosmetic industry has been selling “time” (or the antidote to its effects), how does does this process occur in the daily lives of Brazilian female consumers? How can certain nuances in the perception and organization of time influence domestic practices in the consumption of beauty products?
The purpose of this study, in which 26 women were interviewed, is to relate three fields of research regarding consumer behavior, i.e. comprehension of apects of physical appearance (Mccracken and Roth, 1989; Joy and Venkatesh, 1994; Holbrock, Block and Fitzsimons, 1998); influence and impact of time perception on consumption (Holbrock and Hirschman, 1982; Kaufman and Lane, 1990; Kaufman-Scarborough and Lindquist, 2003; Cotte and Ratneshwar, 2003; Borisov, Leipämaa-Leskinen and Laaksonen, 2004) and market segmentation (Wells and Tigert, 1971; Plummer, 1974; Young et al, 1978; Dickson, 1982; Wicks, 1989; Bromerchenkel, 1997; Kucukemiroglu, 1999; Hofestede et al, 1999; Yim and Kannan, 1999; Peterson and Malhotra, 2000; Schultz, 2002).
2-Beauty, Time and Differentiation
The interest in beautiful things and people has existed since Ancient Greece (ECO, 2004). However, what makes the contemporary world so peculiar is that, as a result of its massive presence in magazines and TV shows and the proliferation of products and services, beauty seems to become a matter of personal choice and, therefore, “you’re only unattractive if you choose to be.” (Wolf, 1002; Lipovetsky, 2000). Many studies address the association between beauty and the morally good (Dion and Berscheid, 1972; Gross and Crofton, 1977; Eagly et al, 1991; Joy and Venkatesh, 1994) as opposed to ugliness and the weak, who lack tenacity and are uncapable of taking responsibility for his/her own body (Novaes e Vilhena, 2003). In other empirical studies, appearance has proved to affect areas such as succeeding in a career (Landy and Sigall, 1974; Hamermesh and Briddle, 1994) and chosing a partner (Murstein, 1972).
Along with the concept of beauty, time has also deserved attention as a social construction. Not all civilizations perceived time in the same way as contemporary Western society (Aveni, 1989). The timestyle concept shows how individuals perceive and use time. (Feldman and Hornik, 1981). This study will concentrate on two timestyle dimensions. First, the so-called Temporal Orientation Dimension (Cottle, 1976; Jones, 1988; Bergadaà, 1990), which describes the importance placed on the past, present or future by an individual. The second, the Polychronic Orientation Dimension (Hall, 1984), deals with the way individuals plan their activities, i.e. the monochromatic perception that treats time as something valuable that must not be wasted, since it dictates a predictable lifestyle in which everything should be done according to schedule. Contrary to this, time is less rigid and important in the polichronic perception, since many things can be done simultaneously.
Market segmentation based on lifestyle became increasingly popular in the 70s and 80s (Wells and Tigert, 1971; Plummer, 1974), as did segmentation according to benefits (Dickson, 1982; Wicks, 1989), since other segmentation criteria, such as demography, no longer fulfilled the needs of businesses that wished to diferentiate their products for a demanding and diversified market. The concept’s simplicity was confronted in its origins by critics such as Young et al (1978), who were concerned about the segmentation studies’ operational method due to the excessive use of tecniques that diverted researchers’ attention from the marketing perspective and the competitive structure. Decades later, Schultz (2002) observed that segmentation studies did not seem to be following the rapid changes in consumer behavior, as they were never updated.
Some studies (Kamakura e Mazzon, 1991; Kopp et al, 1989, Bromerchenkel, 1997; Kucukemiroglu, 1999; Hofestede et al, 1999; Yim and Kannan, 1999; Peterson and Malhotra, 2000) do not account for alterations, and continue seeking homgenous consumer groups using multivaried analyses. Sociology, on the other hand, seems to contribute to the understanding of the social melting-pot in which consumer groups or communities are found (Cova e Cova, 2002) Lifestyle? According to Maffesoli (2000, p.125), there is a multiplicity of lifestyles that conflictuously and harmoniously mix and match.
3- The Study
How should a theme like beauty be addressed? It is a delicate subject filled with preconceived notions, in which the essential is often hidden behind coherent and greatly diffused sayings such as “beauty comes from within” or “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”? The approach chosen was to explore the intimate and trivialial aspects of the matter by asking women how they take care of themselves on a daily basis, what is their time availability, which products they buy and where they keep them.
For this study, in-depth interviews were held with 26 affluent Brazilian women, with ages ranging from 17 to 55. The interviews lasted an average of 100 minutes, amounting to a total of approximately 60 hours of recorded conversations. The inquiry designed was based on the works of Kauffman (1992) and Desjeux (2000). During the interview, the interviewee took the interviewer through every room in her home and pointed out where different beauty products were used and kept. It is worth mentioning that the women were not asked about time directly, as in the work of Borisov, Leipämaa-Leskinen and Laaksonen (2004), in an attempt to avoid possible biased answers. This aspect was only dealt with during the interview analysis, which attempted to establish how the women mentioned time as far as the consumption of beauty products was concerned. The Atlas.ti (4.2) software was used for the discourse analysis.
4- “The Time of Beauty” In Groups
In the interviews regarding the practices related to the consumption of beauty products, time is refered to in two different ways. One of them is the time that acts upon the woman’s body, leaving signs of its effects over time. In this case, time and aging are synonymous and will be repaired, combatted, and grieved by the women interviewed. The other one is the time that has to do with chores that must be done during the twenty-four hours of a typical day. It is the management of “things to do”, based on the different social roles a woman plays in each stage of her life. The way these two notions are perceived and articulated seems to affect the practices and choices made by the interviewees regarding beauty and hygiene products. Their different conceptions generated the four distinct groups presented below:
Group 1 – The Time Is Now
Most of the women in this group are between 17 and 25 years old. This period is limited on one hand by the end of adolescence and on the other hand by getting a serious job. The beginning of adulthood – which implies chosing a career, searching for a personal relationship and greater detatchment from family influence – would seem to make this an emotionally intense period in which concern with appearance plays a central part in women’s lives. This aspect is suggested by the interviewees’ constant reference to the mirror, i.e. they indicate various moments and places in which their own image can be observed.
The frequent concern with looks combined with a vigorous body makes the womem of this group focus their attention on the present. They do not protect the body – they may expose it to the sun, spend nights almost without sleeping or try products with immediate and unknown effect, based on the belief that the body will remain intact the next day. Neither the past (i.e. what I have done or the impact of time on my body) nor the future (what will happen or what should I do to preseve it) is a matter of concern. Consequently, they will use the products that give immediate results, such as ointment for pimples (if they appear) or soap that reduces facial oiliness, if noticeable. The choice of shampoo and conditoner depends on the results noticed right after use.
The use of sunblock is another example that shows the emphasis on the present. When reading between the lines, the interviews indicate that although these women have been warned by their mothers and are aware of the risk involving sun exposure, they value the tanned look enough not to use sunblock. In this sense, they seem to renounce a future benefit (better skin with age) in favor of a present-day result (a tanned look).
Compared to other groups, the time spent on beauty care seems to be less significant. It is during and after the shower that the products are used. Is now the moment?Yes, it is during the shower, when the body is touched and remembered, that only a few cosmetics are routinely identified and used.
Group 2 – Time exists!
This group comprises mainly women from 25 to 35 years of age, still without children. In this phase the woman seems to understand the importance of time management for the purpose of reconciling professional and personal commitments with boyfriends or husband, friends and family. In a typical day the inclusion of routines related to house and work are noteworthy. Unlike the younger women, the answers suggest various additional responsibilities besides the body itself.
This age group begins to realize the effects of time on the body. The past time dimension starts to influence the beauty care of these women, such as the use of sunblock motivated by the appearance of blemishes. Some use sunblock not only at the beach, but also during other daily outdoor activities. In addition to shampooing and conditioning, along with other cosmetic products, women begin dyeing their hair to conceal its first white strands. How do you recover the texture and natural brilliance of youthful hair?
The evidence of the effects of time on the body, combined with a certain emotional and financial indepedence from family influence, makes this a suitable period for testing new products. They evaluate and compare procedures learned in the past with new ones and reexamine their habits. They admit spending part of their time making inquiries in shops and drugstores.
Novelties are gradually incorporated into the routine. The products must be left out in the open, easily accessible to “help remind me” because “if I don’t see them, I don’t use them.” Time exists? It exists in strategic places that unite all the beauty products, i.e. the bathroom. Besides shampoos, conditioners and soaps, exfoliating agents, acids and moisturizing products have been added to minimize the effect of time and recover the “past”.
Group 3 – Time Does Not Stop
This group includes women who, according to their statements, have been able to balance their choices and daily habits according to two demands related to time. On one hand, they devote their limited time to multiple roles (mother, spouse, career woman, female, housewife). On the other hand, they defend themselves against the passing of time, which affects their bodies and causes them to age little by little. As the previous group, they recognize the past time dimension, but also work hard to avoid future aging effects. Most of the women in this group are between 30 and 45 years old. The most striking characteristics, however, is the presence of children still dependent on the parents: “spare time is dedicated to them”. For all these reasons, it is a niche marked by urgency. Even facing various demands, these women show smaller but numerous actions when compared to the previous groups.
The moisturizer, for instance, is applied at least twice a day, i.e. before the woman leaves her home and before she goes to bed. The frequent use reflects her concern with wrinkles. Some of the interviewees diferentiate the use of the products, applying sunblock for the daytime and a nutrient or anti-aging cream at night, facial cream and another cream for the region around the eyes. Urge to simplify? Of course, but provided that a minimum level of anti-aging care is assured.
The women seem to know what they want and what will work in their everyday lives, what will have a positive effect and what seems unnecessary. Product loyalty? Provided they show a certain efficiency based on testing? New products? They do not seem to be the kind of consumers who are willing to learn from product use, because time won’t wait. Novelties are welcome if they save time dedicated to beauty care.
Another resource in time management lies in the appeal of “minimizers” of daily chores, i.e. treatment or care which produces a long time effect, replacing small daily actions, e.g. blow drying after the shower by hair straightening every three months, monthly waxing by definite hair removal by laser, and hair cuts that do not need to be styled. This kind of initiative appears frequently in this group.
Group 4 – A Time for Everything
The members of this group seem to have more time for themselves and for their personal care. They are women generally above 50 years of age, who have finished raising their children and have more free time. One may add that some are already retired or benefit from a reduced workload, besides having learned from previous experience (with dependent children) “how to manage their time”. Under this circumstance, the conscience of aging and the concern about preventive actions play a major part in the lives of these women (present and future perspective). They diversify and sophisticate their beauty care and dedicate a greater number of hours to this activity.
Consumption in this phase seems to satisfy a surpressed demand from the previous phase in which lack of time, space and money would determine more selective choices. In this time of life, women turn to experimentation, although they are extremely demanding and sophisticated. The decision to purchase is still based on reasoning, but it gains new and specific aspects at this point of their lives when the attitude towards personal care changes. The knowledge about products becomes more extensive, allowing for a much more sophisticated choice compared to the previous group. Many interviewees, for example, mentioned formula details when describing their products.
Another characteristic that marks the routine of this group is the diversified moments of personal care, i.e. a time for everything. The members of the more mature group distribute their activities along the day, no longer limiting them to the shower, creating new opportunities to use more products.
5 – Closing Comments
Marketing researchers are always confronted with many questions to be answered. How to detect differences in consumer behavior? This seems to be one of the most frequent and instigating questions. Will much information about consumers produce extensive knowledge about them? We suggest a “careful listening approach”(Zaltman 2003) and not one of “technological arrogance” in search for differentiations or different consumer groups. This does not imply that already defined borders should be abolished, but rather that new possibilities of consumer analysis should be outlined.
New ways of looking at segmentation of cosmetic use? This paper uses the theory regarding ways of perceiving time and its impact on consumer behavior, suggesting four distinct groups. As a result, it may be of practical use for the industry or raise new questions to be analysed in future studies.
Through a qualitative approach it was posible to analyze time and its influence on consumer behavior as viewed from a multidimensional and integrated perspective of these women. The interviews suggest that the way in which they perceive time and how they relate to cosmetics may change over the years based on their life experiences and the different social roles they play as woman, mother, employee and wife. These changes, which are hardly mentioned in previous studies, may well represent a new challenge for researchers who dedicate themselves to the study of timestyle.
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