The Linguistics of Blogging

As some of you know, I had a thesis to write over the summer, which is why things slowed down (okay...fully stopped) on this front. But I'm happy to report that I'm back in business.

For my Master's thesis, I wrote about the very content of what you're currently reading: beauty blogs. Specifically, on the language found in the most popular (U.K.) beauty blogs, and how young women expressed their femininity and their relationship to/with consumerism. 

What I found is, first, that it's a complex topic that deserves a lot more research, I just barely scratched the surface. By focusing on the most popular blogs (top 5), I also looked at a very specific type of beauty blog and therefore analyzed a specific beauty ideology. One must not forget that there are blogs focusing on green/eco-friendly beauty, on DIY beauty products, and blogs that make a point to show alternative beauty standards, etc. Race also plays a factor. For example, out of the five bloggers I analyzed, four of them were white. Therefore, the data I gathered was therefore bound to reflect and capture a predominantly white discourse of beauty. Bloggers of other ethnic backgrounds would perhaps write about their bodies and of beauty routines in different ways.

I collected posts from these top five bloggers over the course of four months, used a corpus-linguistics software to run various calculations (word frequency lists, etc), and examined the most widely used terms. For example, here's a table pulled from my paper where I look at the most frequent nouns and adjectives found in all five blogs (combined): 

These top tokens paint a rather stereotypical portrait of femininity. Top adjectives show that what bloggers are looking to describe are either looks or products that are pretty (line 2), good (line 1) and even gorgeous (line 8). Beauty blogs characterize beauty products by the effect they produce (e.g. a glowy complexion), the way the products are employed (e.g. straight out of the tube, just a small amount, on a daily basis, etc.) and how they engage with these products (e.g. what they think about them, why they love them, etc). 

This latter point is particularly important, because beauty blogs also allow women to have a critical voice on the blogosphere. Bloggers voice their stances (how they position themselves to products - that is, once more - what their feelings on them are). These blogs also allow them creative freedom and access to a virtual space that can be empowering. Though beauty blogs can easily be criticized as simply being narratives of girls in a hyperfeminine world, Mary Bulchlotz argues that "hyperfemininty does not mean disempowered." Indeed, I too argue that by providing critical evaluations of products, and by sharing intimate details of their lives, beauty bloggers therefore recontextualize a beauty discourse that make sense of themselves as active consumers, and as women. 

There's a lot more to this of course, and over the next few months I'll delve deeper into some topics I've examined, interspersed through various beauty-centered and feminist-centered posts. Which also brings me back to something else: remember this post where I wrote about whether or not one could wear makeup and call themselves a feminist? My research has led me to believe that though the beauty world is a complex cookie, and that problematic discourses of beauty surely prevail and are harmful, beauty bloggers have the power to apply these discourses to a new medium in which they are queen, ironically democratizing the discourse. Viewed this way, makeup can be a tool of empowerment for both the writer behind the screen and for the reader: not fooled by marketing gibberish, but influenced by a real girl with real opinions. 

What do you think?