Appearance and the transition to motherhood: an exploration of consumption and identity construction

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Victoria S. Brown (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Nancy Nelson Hodges

Abstract: The purpose of this study was to explore what it is like to be a new mother and to consider the role of appearance in this experience. The three objectives of this dissertation were: (1) to examine how new mothers use appearance to establish identity, (2) to investigate the meanings new mothers assign to appearance, and (3) to understand the role of these meanings in shaping their identities as new mothers. Substantial research exists that focuses on the experience of being a mother, and on the many physical, emotional, and mental changes that women typically experience. Yet few studies are concerned with how the identity of a new mother might be developed and conveyed through appearance and what this means in the context of new motherhood. This dissertation therefore fills a void in the academic literature by exploring the meanings assigned to appearance by new mothers and helps to deepen our understanding of the role of these meanings in the shaping of a new mother’s identity. A phenomenological approach to research was used to address the purpose of the study. Specifically, the lived experiences of first-time mothers were examined in terms of how they use appearance and consumption as a means to shape their identity during the transition to motherhood. Two methods of data collection were employed, including in-depth interviews and focus groups. A total of 24 first-time mothers were interviewed, and two focus group sessions were conducted. Data were analyzed for similarities and differences which were then used in the development of the thematic interpretation. Three conceptual areas surfaced and are used to structure the interpretation: New Motherhood and the Self, Just the Two of Us, and Me, Baby, and the World. Within each area, themes that emerged through the analysis of data are interpreted and issues important to each theme are addressed. The broader conceptual and theoretical relevance of the interpretation was then considered in relation to the existing literature on the topic. Findings indicate that many new mothers feel as though they can better navigate the transition to motherhood if they are “in control” of the experience. This notion plays itself out in the way that the new mother may dress, appear in public, and in what she consumes. In contrast, other new mothers are more ambivalent about the motherhood journey and view this transition as temporary, thereby affording them the flexibility to wear casual clothing and stay close to home. Another major finding from the study is that a new mother’s identity is fluid, rather than fixed. Most new mothers felt overwhelmed and looked to their pre-baby selves as a means of articulating their ideal postpartum selves – suggesting a disconnect between the two selves and a difficulty with expressing the new identity as “mother.” Finally, interpretation of the data reveals the extent to which the baby plays a major part in how a new mother “performs” her new role when around others. Although this study addresses major gaps in the literature, it also points to the need for further inquiry into the relationship between motherhood, identity, and consumption.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2016
Appearance, Consumption, Identity, New mothers
New mothers $x Attitudes
Motherhood $x Psychological aspects
Clothing and dress $x Psychological aspects
Beauty, Personal
Identity (Psychology)
Consumer behavior

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