LASICS .::. Open Conference Systems, IAMCR 2010: Communication and Citizenship

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College Students’ Involvement with Celebrities and Their Intention to Undergo Cosmetic Surgeries

Nainan Wen, Stella C. Chia, Xiaoming Hao

Last modified: 2010-07-14


This study examines the role of celebrity involvement, social comparison and media consumption in college students’ intention to undertake cosmetic surgery in Singapore. Young people’s demand for cosmetic surgery has drastically increased worldwide in recent years. Similar with its Western counterparts, Singapore has recently witnessed a 30% to 50% increase of cosmetic surgery in the 16-25 age group (Lee, 2006). One major reason for youngsters to undergo cosmetic surgery is to look like the celebrity they adore. This psychological process through which an individual strives to become like another person is termed identification (Kelman, 1958). Identification, together with parasocial interaction, affinity and capture, constitutes the construct of celebrity involvement. Another reason for youngsters to undergo cosmetic surgery is to abbreviate the perceived gap between the celebrity’s image and the self image after comparing with the celebrity they adore. This psychological path through which people make cognitive judgments about their own attributes compared to others is termed social comparison (Festinger, 1954). Meanwhile, mass media play a key role in celebrity involvement and social comparison. People get to know the celebrities, become involved with the celebrities, and compare with the celebrities mainly through media exposure. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine how youngsters negotiate involvement with mass-mediated celebrities and how they interpret intention to undertake cosmetic surgery.

We reconceptualized the construct of celebrity involvement and revisited social comparison theory. Celebrity involvement, which refers to how audience members think, feel about, and react to celebrities to whom they have exposure through the media, is a multi-dimensional construct, consisted of four components—parasocial interaction, identification, affinity and capture. Each component is associated with media consumption. Scholarly evidence has demonstrated that celebrity involvement would drive youngsters to adopt the dressing styles, products, health attitudes, and behaviors promoted by the celebrities. It is likely that when celebrity involvement reaches certain levels, audiences, especially young audiences, would want to look like the celebrity. This desire may turn them to undertake cosmetic surgery. Meanwhile, throughout audience’s involvement with celebrities, audiences would also compare themselves with their celebrity idols in terms of physical appearance and the observation of a gap between the self and the celebrities would be also likely to motivate them to undergo cosmetic surgery. Therefore, our research questions are: (1) What is the construct of celebrity involvement? (2) What is the psychological process with which involvement with celebrities and social comparison with celebrities drive college students to undergo cosmetic surgeries? (3) What is the role of media consumption in this process?

We conducted four focus group discussions, comprising 26 female and male college students in a Singaporean university. Results show that the four components demonstrated by these participants construct a continuum where a fan’s involvement with the celebrity moves from the lowest level to the highest level of involvement. At the lowest level, viz. stimulus-driven attentional capture, a fan turns attention to the celebrity, possibly without any feelings or liking. The stimulus-driven attentional capture would transit to goal-driven attentional capture and propel the fan to consume more media content about the celebrity. Along with the increasing media consumption, the fan may gradually move to the affinity stage and develop a general liking for the celebrity. Through the parasocial interaction with the celebrity in the media, the fan would also be likely to develop a close relationship with the celebrity. The fan is likely to see the celebrity as a close friend, a family member, or even a romantic partner. The fan would find some similarities between the self and the celebrity. The fan would also view the celebrity as a role model and wish to share more similarities with the celebrity.

Our results also reveal that college students compare themselves upwardly with celebrity idols throughout their involvement with celebrity idols with respect to abilities, wealth and physical appearance. Another finding is that media consumption is closely intertwined with social comparison and each of the four components of celebrity involvement. In addition, one crucial finding of this study lies in the revelation of the consequence of celebrity involvement. Celebrity involvement directly and indirectly influences the intention to undergo cosmetic surgery. Capture, parasocial interaction and identification have direct effect on college students' cosmetic surgery intention; whereas affinity has an indirect effect on cosmetic surgery tendency through social comparison. Finally, our study shows evidence that cosmetic surgery is not a social taboo any longer, but a negotiable option for youngsters.

In sum, this study sheds light on the dynamic process of how celebrity involvement and social comparison influence youth’s intention to undergo cosmetic surgery through media consumption. These findings address some potential strategies that may enhance young fans’ self-esteem and prevent them from undertaking dangerous cosmetic surgical procedures.

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