Trevor Butterworth: CDC Funded Study Links Booze Risk With “Unusually Suggestive” Clothing

What exactly is “unusually suggestive” clothing – compared, say, to plain old suggestive clothing?

Is there an academic literature on the semiotics of heel heights, seamed stockings and skirt lengths? And if there is, wouldn’t it be somewhat at odds with social movements trying to break the idea that “suggestive” clothing – whatever that might be in the eye of the beholder – is a legitimate signal of sexual availability in the mind of the wearer?

It’s hard not to think that there’s something, at best, outmoded and, at worst, politically dubious in going through advertisements from popular magazines and classifying the female models as not only sexually available by virtue of their clothing but as being posed in a way to imply an imminent sexual encounter. Isn’t this precisely the kind of mindset progressive academics have been fighting against – the idea that the way a woman dresses and looks implies she wants sex?

All of which suggests that researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore might have over-reached in their attempt to indict alcohol advertisements in magazines for inducing their under-21 year old readers to engage in risky behavior; or, perhaps, not far enough. Co-authors David H. Jernigan nor Elizabeth Rhoades do not elaborate on what, precisely, puts the “unusual” in “suggestive” in their unusually suggestive study: “Risky Messages in Alcohol Advertising, 2003-2007: Results from Content Analysis,” which is slated for imminent publication in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

They – and previous research associates and interns at the now-defunct Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University – trawled through five years worth of Cosmopolitan, Entertainment Weekly, In Style, Rolling Stone, Vibe and other popular magazines for alcohol advertisements, which they then subjected to content analysis. Content analysis is a terrific tool: it cuts through anecdotal impressions of what you think the media is saying to provide a taxonomy of what the media, in aggregate, actually said. But a good content analysis depends on how carefully the rules for coding content are framed. Are the rules going to lead to a lot of ambiguous judgment calls that produce disagreement among coders, or are the rules specific enough to the subject to produce consensus?


One response to “Trevor Butterworth: CDC Funded Study Links Booze Risk With “Unusually Suggestive” Clothing

  1. I always heard that “unusually suggestive clothing” was the result of alcohol consumption, not the other way around.

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