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Making sense of sunbed tanning: A social representations approach

Taylor, Jennifer

Making sense of sunbed tanning: A social representations approach Thumbnail


Jennifer Taylor


A substantial body of research has addressed the continuing popularity of sunbed tanning despite increasing evidence of the associated risks. Much of this research has tended to be atheoretical or underpinned by theoretical assumptions which neglect the wider socio-cultural context in which sunbed tanning is positioned. There is a need to adopt a social psychological perspective to explore how this apparent conundrum is made sense of by those who use and do not use sunbeds. Informed by social representations theory as well as rhetorical psychology, the overarching aim of the thesis is to develop and obtain an extensive social psychological understanding of sunbed tanning. The thesis adopts a number of complementary methods. Firstly, an online survey was conducted which provided a starting point for exploration. Building upon these findings, interviews were conducted to enable more in-depth insight. Study three explored how sunbed tanning was being discussed in interaction in online forums. Findings revealed that sunbed tanning was consistently represented in two interrelated ways by those who had never used sunbeds: as a risky behaviour, and as a vain, aesthetically motivated practice. Inherent within these representations was considerable negativity. Findings revealed that the sunbed users’ discourse was dominated by attempts to manage and resist this negativity, enabling them to defend and negotiate positive identities for themselves.

Finally, an ethnographic study of two sunbed salons was conducted in study four to explore how the wider negativity was influencing the actual behaviour of sunbed users. Despite discursive attempts to resist the negativity, findings of the final study revealed the influence of the disapproval through its internalisation at the behavioural level. Overall, this thesis demonstrates that sunbed users are engaged in a considerable amount of identity-work in light of the negativity surrounding their behaviour, which is essential for campaigners and researchers to take into consideration when designing interventions aimed at reducing sunbed usage. Implications for health psychology research and theory are discussed.

Publication Date Mar 1, 2016
Keywords sunbed tanning, social representations, identity, multiple methods, qualitative


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