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Body, beauty and fashion

Offer semester
1st semester

Lecture time
Wednesday 12.30pm – 2.20pm

Lecture venue

Course description

This course takes students on an exploration of the links between body, beauty and fashion from a variety of perspectives ranging from sociology, social policy, economics, psychology and medicine. These various perspectives together offer students a way of seeing how individual level issues (like self esteem, stigma and identity) shape and are shaped by community level issues (mass media), societal level issues (gender) and global level issues (globalization and westernization).

The course examines these issues in a variety of formats using guest lectures, mass media analysis, video clips, problem solving activities and discussion.

The course also focuses on cultural representations and understandings of the human body and ideals of beauty. Although the emphasis is primarily on contemporary Hong Kong society, lectures will also include in-depth analyses of how beauty is culturally constructed and historically situated around the world. To this end, the course is gender inclusive and presents both the female and male perspectives on beauty and body image.

In this context, how human bodies and standards of beauty are increasingly influenced by a global media, which promotes a progressively more narrow concept of beauty, will be critically discussed. Aside from the media influence on an increasingly globalized interpretation of beauty standards, the course also explores how diet and fashion industries are gaining momentum in shaping beauty ideals. Lectures address other globally and socially constructed aspects of beauty and identity, such as: race, class, culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, age, and ability/disability.

Course learning outcomes

On completing the course, you will be able to:

  • Describe, explain and differentiate the sociological, psychological, anthropological and biological theories and ideas related to body, beauty and fashion.
  • Extrapolate key elements of various theories regarding beauty, body image, fashion and gender and apply to their everyday experiences.
  • Assess and critique messages regarding beauty, body image and fashion and place these messages in both a local and global context.
  • Demonstrate comprehensive understanding of the complex relationship between gender and beauty and how culture and history impact this relationship.
  • Critically assess social messages regarding body, beauty and fashion and discuss the social responsibility of accepting, not judging beauty as they explore alternative concepts of beauty that question conventional definitions.

Study load

ActivitiesNumber of Hours
Fieldwork / visits10
Reading / self-study25
Assessment: Essay / report writing30
Assessment: Presentation (incl preparation)30
Assessment: In-class quizzes (incl preparation)12


Reflective journal40%
Fieldwork assignment20%
In-class quizzes20%
Tutorial workshop participation20%

Required reading

Bun, K. H. (2006). Body, dress and cultural exclusion: Experiences of Pakistani women in “global” Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(3), 285-302.

Choi, S., & Ting, K. F. (2009). A gender perspective on families in Hong Kong. In F. Cheung & E. Holroyd (Eds.), Mainstreaming gender in Hong Kong society (pp. 159-180). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press.

Dittmar, H., Halliwel, E., & Ive, S. (2006). Does Barbie make girls want to be thin? The effect of experimental exposure to images of dolls on the body image of 5-8 year old girls. Developmental Psychology, 42(2), 283-292.

Francis, B. (2006). The nature of gender. In C. Skelton (Ed.), Sage handbook of gender and education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Gibbs, J., Ellison, N., & Heino, R. (2006). Self-presentation in online personals: The role of anticipated future interaction, self-disclosure and perceived success in Internet dating. Communication Research, 33(2), 152-177.

Goffman, E. (1959). “Introduction” from The presentation of self in everyday life. In C. Malacrida & J. Low (Eds.), Sociology of the body: A reader. (pp. 53-56). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lee, S. (1999). Fat, fatigue and the feminine: The changing cultural experience of women in Hong Kong. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 23, 51-73.

Leong, S. (2006). Who’s the fairest of them all? Television ads for skin-whitening cosmetics in Hong Kong. Asian Ethnicity, 7(2), 167-181.

Louie, K., & Edwards, L. (1994). Chinese masculinity. East Asian History, 8, 135-148.

So, A. (2003). Cross border families in Hong Kong: The role of social class and politics. Critical Asian Studies, 35(4), 515-534.

Wang, C. Y., & Goodridge, W. (2009). Chicken feathers and garlic skin: Diary of a Chinese garment factory girl on saipan. New York: Passion Profit Company.

Recommended reading

Edut, O. (2003). Body outlaws: Rewriting the rules of beauty and body image (Expanded and updated 2nd ed.). Emeryville, CA: Seal Press.

Frith, K., Cheng, H., & Shaw, P. (2004). Race and beauty: A comparison of Asian and Western models in women’s magazine advertisements. Sex Roles, 50(1/2), 53-61.

Klaczynski, P., Goold, K., & Mudry, J. (2004). Culture, obesity stereotypes, self-esteem, and the “thin ideal”: A social identity perspective. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 33(4), 307-317.

Kulick, D., & Meneley, A. (2005) Fat: The anthropology of an obsession. New York: Penguin.

Leung, F., Lam, S., & Sze, S. (2001). Cultural expectations of thinness in Chinese women. Eating Disorders, 9(4), 339-350.

McNeil, K., Johnson, O., & Johnson, A. Did you hear what Tommy Hilfiger said? Urban legend, urban fashion and African-American generation Xers. Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management, 5(3), 234-240.

Pun, N. (2005). Made in China: Women factory workers in a global workplace. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Weiner, J. (2007). Life doesn’t begin 5 pounds from now (1st pbk. ed.). New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

Course co-ordinator and teachers