9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN05 Sociology of Consumption

2009-09-04 09:00:00 2009-09-04 10:30:00 Friday, 4 September 09:00 - 10:30 Luxury and Affluence Building II, C5.02

Consuming spa in Norway - paths to beauty and health


This paper explores the connections between body-related consumption, beauty and health through a study of spa in Norway. The aim is to discuss spa as a successful contemporary technology of self or path to achieve beauty, health and/or well-being. Based on media spa is an expanding field, and it is marketed as something positive, a perfect treat, gift, investment for health or break from everyday life. The first day spa in Oslo was opened in 1999 and in the last years several spa resorts have been opened. Empirical data is drawn from an ongoing wider study on how discourses on health, consumption, and well-being use, interpret and attach importance to appearance. This paper is based on both qualitative (fieldwork, semi-structured interviews, magazines) and quantitative (survey) data on spa consumption in Norway. Concepts from the sociology of consumption are supplemented by work of Bourdieu and Foucault and theories of body and gender. Consumption of goods and services play a role in identity formation. Health, appearance, self-improvement and self-surveillance of the body are described as important for modern selves. Schillings concept of ?body project?, body as a phenomenon of choice and options, raises questions of identity, surveillance and resistance. Drawing on the work of Bourdieu, this paper argues that consumption of spa constitutes an investment in body that might be deployed in a variety of other arenas. Foucault?s concept of technologies of self emphasizes the role of practices and instruments in generating a sense of self. Consumption in itself, and consumption connected with producing beauty and health in particular, is associated with women. The paper highlights some of the paradoxes in spa consumption and discusses how it succeeds in uniting beauty, health and well-being. Spa is both an investment and experience. To consume spa is something you do to prevent decay and purchase well-being, and thus health becomes synonymous with individual self presentation which can be displayed through the body.