Hip Children, Good Mothers – Constructing Proper Parenthood By Means of Appearance

Tuesday, 17 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Erica ÅBERG, University of Turku, Finland
Tero PAJUNEN, University of Turku, Finland
A growing body of sociological literature conceptualises physical appearance as a form of capital; a convertible resource in contemporary societies (e.g. Holla & Kuipers, 2015; Sarpila, 2013). This so called “aesthetic capital” (Anderson et al., 2010) refers to a combination of resources related to physical appearance. In the sociology of consumption, children have been considered as an embodiment of the parents’ lifestyle choices, values and positions, maintained with the vicarious consumption (c.f. Weblen, 1899(2002)) on children. In more recent consumer culture research, children are often referred to as part of their mothers “extended self” (Belk, 1998). In this study, we utilise a sample of 10 interviews with Finnish mothers who were recruited from a popular Facebook group, which could be considered as a modern tribe (Maffesoli, 1996) focusing on children's fashion.

We examine whether the appearance of children is important only as a part of the new appearance-related consumer culture, or if the children are portrayed as “a sign-bearing capital” for their parents (Bourdieu, 1984; Skeggs, 2004; Mears, 2014). We also ask if the investment in the aesthetic capital of children can also be seen as a construction of a contemporary understanding of proper parenthood in the middle-class context. It has been suggested that clothing brands have taken the place of symbolic markers of class, and the well-dressed child represents the middle-class appearance: performing respectability, dignity and control (Skeggs, 1997; Vänskä, 2009: 222). Although extensive research has been carried out in consuming on children, this is the first study combining research on parenting in consumer culture with the theory of capitals to explore the materially based construction of parenting in the Finnish context.