Mapping the Negative Self: From 'so Not Me'...To 'Just Not Me'

Emma N. Banister, Manchester School of Management, UMIST
Margaret K. Hogg, Manchester School of Management, UMIST
ABSTRACT - This paper examines how consumers create and interpret meaning from the negative aspects of their self concept via symbolic consumption. This approach is in contrast to earlier studies of symbolic consumption and self-congruency which have traditionally focused on understanding how consumers use and interpret the positive meanings associated with their consumption decisions. In this paper we conceptualise and explore the relationships between dislikes, distastes and the negative self. Mini group discussions, friendship pairs and projective techniques were used to elicit qualitative data. A number of different consumer views of the ,negative self' (undesired and avoidance) emerged linked to various degrees of dislikes and distastes embodied by the 'refusal of tastes'. This major finding indicated the importance of appreciating the multifaceted nature of the negative self, which has hitherto been treated largely as a homogeneous entity within the self-concept.
[ to cite ]:
Emma N. Banister and Margaret K. Hogg (2001) ,"Mapping the Negative Self: From 'so Not Me'...To 'Just Not Me'", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, eds. Mary C. Gilly and Joan Meyers-Levy, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 242-248.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 28, 2001     Pages 242-248

MAPPING THE NEGATIVE SELF: FROM 'SO NOT ME'...TO 'JUST NOT ME'

Emma N. Banister, Manchester School of Management, UMIST

Margaret K. Hogg, Manchester School of Management, UMIST

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines how consumers create and interpret meaning from the negative aspects of their self concept via symbolic consumption. This approach is in contrast to earlier studies of symbolic consumption and self-congruency which have traditionally focused on understanding how consumers use and interpret the positive meanings associated with their consumption decisions. In this paper we conceptualise and explore the relationships between dislikes, distastes and the negative self. Mini group discussions, friendship pairs and projective techniques were used to elicit qualitative data. A number of different consumer views of the ,negative self' (undesired and avoidance) emerged linked to various degrees of dislikes and distastes embodied by the 'refusal of tastes'. This major finding indicated the importance of appreciating the multifaceted nature of the negative self, which has hitherto been treated largely as a homogeneous entity within the self-concept.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Understanding how individuals define themselves through consumption is a central concern of consumer research (Arnould and Price 1993; Celsi, Rose and Leigh 1993; Levy 1959; Schouten and McAlexander 1995; Thompson and Hirschman 1995). However, the role of different negative (or unwelcome) aspects of the self in consumption (and the associated rejection of products) has received scant attention in consumer research compared with extensive research into positive aspects of the self (e.g. actual, ideal). This relative neglect of negative selves represents a significant gap in our understanding of consumers' self-concepts. In this paper we examine, firstly, how consumers create and interpret meaning about the negative aspects of their self concept via symbolic consumption. Secondly, we explore the rejection of product or brand images within the context of negative possible selves (Markus and Nurius 1986).

Possible selves are presented as a set of imagined roles or states of being and can be either positive or negative (Markus and Nurius 1986). Negative possible selves function as incentives for future behavior, representing selves to be rejected or avoided (Markus and Nurius 1986). The undesired self (Ogilvie 1987) has been identified as one aspect of the negative self, and the push (of the undesired self) has been found to be more effective than the pull (of the ideal self) in terms of the standard for measuring one's present place in life (Ogilvie 1987). This undesired self seems to be linked to feelings of repulsion, revulsion (Rozin and Fallon 1987) and rejection. Various aspects of the negative self, and specifically the undesired self, can be considered to be important reference points or 'implicit standards' which individuals will use to assess how close or distant they are from being like their most negative images of themselves (Ogilvie 1987, Eisenstadt and Leippe 1994). It is proposed that what a person is afraid of becoming, or more specifically an individual's undesired or un-ideal self, is of particular relevance when they imbue products with negative meanings.

Operating within the context of the possible self-concept would suggest that a multitude of negative selves exist. Mapping these different facets of negative possible selves is important in any drive to understand negative symbolic consumption. The Undesired Self - identified by Ogilvie (1987) - is often manifested via the refusal of tastes (Bourdieu 1984). In fact a small yet growing body of literature (e.g. Wilk 1994, 1995, 1997; Freitas et a] 1997) has suggested that what we choose not to consume is an important aspect of both individual and group identity (or identities). It could be that distastes or the 'refusal of tastes' says as much about us personally and socially as that which we opt to consume.

Tastes often carry positive connotations, yet it is significant that tastes are predominantly asserted in negative terms through the "refusal" of other tastes (Bourdieu 1984:56). Consumers often have less difficulty articulating their distastes and dislikes than they do their desires (Wilk 1997), and also in articulating the negative product user stereotypes and the negative inferences that can be associated with product cues.

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

On the basis of the literature, a framework was constructed which seeks to identify the means by which consumers attach undesirable qualities to items (Figure 1). This is in direct contrast with the work of Grubb and Grathwohl (1967) who looked at product and brand purchases as a means of self-enhancement. Unlike McCracken's (1986) account of the transfer of the movement of cultural meaning of consumer goods, the framework seeks to understand how individual consumers use the consumption process as a vehicle for creating meaning.

The framework depicts the means by which product and brand meanings are interpreted by consumers in the context of (negative) possible selves and the product and brand user imagery that they bring into play. The spheres on the left and the broken arrows depict the probable influences on individual consumers' (negative) possible selves and the stereotypes that are important to them.

RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS

This was an exploratory study of a neglected construct in consumer behavior research: the 'negative self', so the research design used qualitatively-based methods for data collection to facilitate understanding. The objectives of the empirical study were to examine firstly, the negative self-concept and, secondly, the rejection of products.

Clothing was selected as a category for which both product symbolism and the theory of congruency is highly relevant (Belk et al 1982; Holman 1980; Freitas et al 1997; Feinberg et at 1992; Kaiser 1997). The study concentrated on the impact of consumer stereotyping on product/brand imagery in the category of clothing, and the implications of negative associations in the interpretation of product/brand-user imagery. The research specifically explored the extent to which consumers are able to construct product user stereotypes (Sirgy 1982), and the extent to which these were used by consumers when discussing their consumption choices.

As this was an exploratory study, we were not concerned with making "sample to population" statements (Firestone 1993, cited in Miles and Huberman 1994:28). The sampling was theoretically driven, as earlier studies (e.g. Holman 1980; Belk et al 1982; Belk et al 1984; Freitas et al 1997) had indicated the relevance of exploring symbolic consumption via clothing and younger consumers. A combination of purposive and convenience sampling was used, aimed at involving what Patton (1990) terms "information rich cases". Thirty participants were recruited, reflecting strategies adopted in other areas of consumer research (Thompson and Haytko 1997; Kimle and Damhorst 1997). Although no incentive was used, food and drink was provided for the participants. An equal number of male and female informants were recruited, as gender has been seen as an important variable for fashion meanings (Kaiser et al 1993; Kaiser 1997) although it was attempted to achieve a fairly even spread of ages within the selected age category. Other effects of consumer socialization were deliberately limited through keeping class differences to a minimum.

FIGURE 1

CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK: CONSUMERS' INTERPRETATION OF (NEGATIVE) PRODUCT AND BRAND MEANINGS

In the first phase, two mini discussion groups - each with four participants of the same gender - were conducted which provided an opportunity to explore the main issues and different lines of questioning, and to pilot the projective technique.

In the second phase, a series of semi-structured interviews were held using single sex 'friendship pairs' (ten interviews were held in all). Three main issues were explored in the interviews: firstly, attitudes to clothing styles and outfits; secondly attitudes to brands; and thirdly attitudes to fashion retail outlets. Although a number of set themes were covered, the discussion within these friendship pairs was fairly unstructured, following the flow of the conversation (Kvale 1996).

To promote discussion about clothing and fashion, ten photographs of same-sex models (which were considered by three independent judges to reflect a range of consumer images) were used as stimuli material.

To explore attitudes to brands and fashion retail outlets, a projective exercise was carried out individually, which involved the construction of collages, and participants' self-analyses of their collages. The projective technique required participants to map firstly, sports (trainer) brands and, secondly, clothing retailers' logos in relation to the three different views of themselves (actual, ideal and undesired). These collages, and the 'participant self-analyses' that followed, proved an effective means of eliciting firstly, self and brand / retailer connections; secondly, negative stereotypes of the rejected brands and retailers; and, thirdly the participants' negative attitudes about the rejected brands and retailers.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION

All the discussions were taped and transcribed. The qualitative data and projective material were analysed by an iterative process of searching for instances and themes (Miles and Huberman 1994). To clarify the presentation of the findings from the qualitative data, the key differentiation between aspects of the negative self can be summarized into undesired (So not me!) and avoidance (Just not me!).

The Undesired Self "So Not Me!"

The Undesired Self was the most extreme view of the negative self, compared with the avoidance self. Participants had little difficulty in articulating dislikes (see Wilk 1997), responding with clear distaste and the 'active rejection' (Schouten 1991) of outfits, brands and retailers that they considered to represent images that are ,not me'. Participants had clear views of the type of people that would wear the outfits, brands or retailers that they were describing, supporting Ogilvie's (1987) argument that the undesired self is less abstract than the ideal self.

Stereotypes

Participants made a host of (negative) assumptions predominantly on the basis of clothing. Negative stereotypes or portraits of negative 'typical' consumers, which emerged from the discussions, provided support for the use of negative product-user stereotypes as a means by which to understand and explore the negative aspects of symbolic consumption and the 'undesired self', thus extending earlier research into product-user stereotypes (Sirgy et al 1997).

Female participants, who themselves had fairly dissimilar self-images, provided illustrations of the undesired self that were remarkably similar. One stereotype was viewed particularly negatively by women.

"...... wearing like a little white skirt with white stilettos and American tan tights ... you know what I mean... and things like that with like a curly perm" (Lisa, 24, Doctoral Student)-

"...1 don't want people thinking I'm a slapper [English slang for appearing 'like a tart' or 'loose' usually used for young women and having negative connotations regarding appearance and morals. Derived from early 20th Century slang term 'slap' for make-up.] ... white short skirt and white stilettos" (Karen, 26, Project Officer)

Many of these more extreme images- representing the 'undesired self' - were spontaneously labelled by participants. Often accompanying these 'labels' were ideas and assumptions concerning the behavior and attitudes of the consumers, in line with Sirgy et al's (1997) notion of product user stereotypes. Two women respondents, for instance, described what they considered to be undesirable images, and gave them labels - "Sharon and Tracy" -which they saw as describing behavior as well as dress sense. These ,avoidance groups' were assumed to involve goals that were rejected by the participants, confirming earlier research (Englis and Solomon 1995; Freitas et al 1997).

"The typical Sharon is... that girl, she had this tiny little dress on and she was absolutely hammered [English slang for drunk] with her mate and she was trying to chat up this group of lads... because she had obviously decided that everybody else wore the short strappy little dresses, and that was what she was wearing... She looked dreadful..." (Adele, 27, Telecom Manager)

"I always think of Sharon and Tracys as wearing cheap clothes. That sounds awful doesn't it, but sort of cheap fashion clothes." (Liz, 27, Marketing Executive)

The male participants, in contrast, were not so specific as the women, perhaps because they are not socialized in the same way (Miller 1997) or because their 'clothing vocabulary' is not so vast (Kimle and Damhorst 1997). However there was still an identifiable tendency to stereotype other consumers on the basis of the clothing that they wore. The two youngest male participants (both undergraduate students aged 19), for instance, labelled one product-user stereotype as "Essex boys" when talking about white trousers. The term "Essex boys" was an interesting one particularly as the participants themselves lived in Greater London, very near Essex [It is difficult to describe the connotations that surround the term 'Essex' when used as an adjective by English people. Originally describing a county in the South East of England next to London, it has assumed pejorative overtones in English culture and tends now to be used in a derogatory sense often when denigrating someone or something in terms of 'having too much money and no taste, culture or breeding about how to spend that money'.].

Simon: "They ['Essex Boys'] go clubbing every night and you know, just general sort of things..."

Steve: "They have got earrings in both ears"

Simon: "XR2i [XR2i is a sports model of a small Ford car] and ......

Steve: "White socks"

Simon: "They are on the pull, every second of every day they are on the pull, they have a shower four times a day you know and usually have short gelled hair"

Steve: "And mobile phones"

In effect the description accompanying "Essex boys" appeared to be the male equivalent of "Sharon" (when used by women), with a set of behaviors and (similar) lifestyle assumptions accompanying the terms. Eisentadt and Leippe (612:1994) suggest that these kinds of clear views of negative selves are important in achieving a level of satisfaction; "The actual self - thankfully devoid of an undesirable quality - looks good 'by comparison' with the rejected self'.

Behavioral Assumptions Accompanying the Undesired Self

The main difference that existed between the undesired self and the avoidance self was the notion that specific 'undesirable' qualities accompanied the undesired self. In certain cases this affected individuals' behavior towards others (see Feinberg et a] 1992).

"It is quite possible for someone to be wearing something which totally puts you off them from the start" (Peter, 27, Art Dealer)

Both male and female participants expressed greater degrees of distaste for certain images, asserting that the image would never be one that they might embrace. This is in contrast to the avoidance selves which could become relevant if the individual's situation changed - for example as they got older or changed their occupation.

Personality Assumptions Accompanying the Undesired Self

Sometimes participants commented on individuals' personality or character, which suggested that not just complete images, but even small details of a person's dress, could communicate fairly specific messages. Where these negative comments concerned personality traits, they would often serve to ensure that the discussant would never consider dressing in a similar way, illustrating the 'push factor' of Ogilvie's (1987) argument.

"... so if they [teachers] look scruffy, they [school children] will consider them scatty and unorganised..." (Josie, 29, Teacher)

"...1 know it is a real stereotype, but someone who wears kind of street-wear ... you look at them and you think 'they've got a bit of an attitude'...." (Jayne, 25, Marketing Manager)

"...I think you ought to be able to see a cuff in a suit or you look untrustworthy if you can't..." (Craig, 29, Solicitor)

Experience Related

Ogilvie (1987) argued that the undesired self is more experience based and less conceptual than the ideal self. The findings supported this, with negative images emerging regarding clothing that were often formed on the basis of previous experience. This previous experience related either to [usually disliked] others, or it might be defined by an image that individuals used to have - often dictated by their parents. Sometimes this 'past experience' meant not making previous mistakes again.

"I think I have been stung before, and got stuff and thought that looks great and worn it once and never again" (Stuart aged 25, Business Advisor)

Dislikes could also be informed by links with the past:

"My parents always tried to get me to buy C&A ... so it's probably one of the reasons why I don't even look in there any more" (Wayne aged 22, Production / Sales Manager)

"I have a fife long aversion towards Indian fringed skirts ... I think because when I was about fourteen I thought it was very easy kind of hippie chic thing. I don't know, I have always associated it with pretentiousness basically, I still do... if somebody, even now, I mean obviously they are not around as much any more, is wearing an Indian fringed skirt I would regard them with suspicion." (Deirdre aged 26, Features Writer)

Links with disliked individuals were also made:

"...there is this woman at work that I don't really like very much. She's very fashionable but she's got a certain look, and I will go shopping ... I quite like what this girl wears but she is a bit ... I am probably quite jealous of her actually, she has got a very good figure and she is very blonde and girlie and I think ... Maybe it is not stuff that I would buy anyway, but it is just names come into your head while you are going round Top Shop [Top Shop is a British fashion chain store, predominately targeted at teenage girls and young women stocking fairly inexpensive clothing.] and you just think 'ooh maybe they are not the clothes for me"' (Joanna aged 26, Buyer Services)

"...It is like when you talk about what you would call your kids if you ever have them and you say well I would never call them say Megan, because it would remind me of Megan Childs or something... it is a bit like that. It is like I couldn't buy that because it would remind me of so and so." (Deirdre aged 26, Features Writer)

Avoidance Self "Just Not Me!"

The Avoidance Self can be contrasted with the Undesired Self because the undesired self is always viewed negatively - whether in relation to the individual or in relation to someone else. The ,avoidance self' is viewed negatively in relation to the individual, but might well be viewed positively on someone else. A different set of criteria were found to be significant when looking at the avoidance self - specifically age, body image, character / personality, situation -and many of these are less permanent characteristics than those that are associated with the undesired self.

"See like the dress Caroline wore on Saturday night, I really like it, but it just isn't me I would look totally out of character. I personally really really like it. But ... maybe it is the pattern ... refined isn't the right word because that isn't Caroline either ... I would feel out of place, I would feel like it was above me ... in a different situation maybe I would have carried it off, but I just don't think I could have mingled very well in it" (Suzanne, 25, Journalist)

Age Related

The age dimension was one of the clearest ways in which the negative aspects of the avoidance self emerged. Clothes were often used to indicate the age of the wearer. If clothing was worn that was not considered appropriate for the individual's age, it would be interpreted as 'bad taste'. The age dimension functioned in both directions - the wearing of clothes that were too young for an individual and the wearing of clothes that were considered to be too old.

Particularly for females - perhaps as a result of societal norms and pressures - a faux pas was the danger of wearing something that was considered to be 'too young' for the individual.

"...sometimes they [late teens] can be less inhibited, because I probably wouldn't wear something like that, not just because of what it is saying about you but also my body is a lot older whereas a seventeen year old you know ... can strut her stuff quite easily and people think it is OK and she probably looks pretty good for it" (Pippa, 30, Housing Policy Officer)

"...if I saw my Granny wearing a mini skirt, I would say that was really tasteless..." (Peter, 26, Art Dealer)

"people who try and look younger than they are is not to be encouraged, that is very tasteless" (Guy aged 28)

"I don't mind sandals, [but] I think they look stupid on middle aged men. I think you should wear them if you are young enough and can get away with it, but middle aged men took completely daft and usually wear them with socks as well..." (Adam, 27, IT Project Manager)

The greatest potential danger seemed to be associated with wearing clothes that were more appropriate for an older age group - perhaps this was a reflection of their age - i.e. as young adults and supported the findings of Freitas et al (1997). The impression was given that certain 'looks' would be acceptable for someone older, but that if a young person dressed in a similar manner they would be classed as dowdy.

"Oh I hope that is not me! I'd say that is a thirty something ... fuddy duddy person. That would be more like my mum would dress" (Pippa, 30, Housing Policy Officer)

The impression was given that as a young person, you had almost a 'responsibility' to dress in a certain way, a 'choice' that disappears as you get older - particularly for women.

"There are a lot of stylish clothes around, and I think if you are young and reasonable looking you might as well wear something that is stylish and quite good because when you are old you haven't got as many choices so you might as well make the most of it when you are young. It is a bit sad to be wearing clothes that you are likely to wear when you are sixty when you are thirty.." (Guy, 28, Travel Consultant)

At the centre of the relevance of age to clothing choices lies the question of the 'inevitableness' or otherwise of the progression into wearing clothes that for these young adults represented an avoidable self. One participant, Adele, rather than accept this 'slide', indicated that she would hope to fight against it, citing the example of her step mother who she says "would never be seen dead" in certain things. Others - for example Liz - claimed that it is almost a natural 'progression' "you just start wearing more sober clothes".

Body image

In some instances, linked to the age of participants, clothing choices (and the associated avoidance of products) were associated with body image. It was important to wear clothes that were flattering to their body shape; as well as appropriate.

"Women wear a lot more revealing clothes... bikinis and mini skirts and things, women reveal a lot more flesh than men in general, so if that flesh is all wrinkly and horrible, it is better to cover it up ... Men develop beer bellies and so on which means tight tee-shirts don't look so good..." (Guy, 28, Travel Consultant)

"I think they [men] lose their acute sense of worry about clothes at a younger age probably" (Peter, 26, Art Dealer)

"...maybe I would think I would really like to wear stuff like that but I would have to buy something in a [size] fourteen." (Joanna, 26, Buyer Services)

Character /personality

Participants acknowledged the need for clothing to be congruent with the character or the personality of a person. It was perhaps the major way in which clothing could still be considered negatively, in spite of its recognition as a positive image on someone else.

"You see people and they can be wearing clothes that I wouldn't dream of wearing, but you can still look and think they have got good taste in clothes because it suits that individual but it wouldn't necessarily suit me, but that doesn't mean that I think he has got bad taste in clothes, I can still think he has got good taste. I think a certain type of clothes can suit certain types of individuals..." (Andy, 26, Telecom Manager)

"... you know what suits you, you know what you are comfortable in and anytime I have bought something that feels slightly outside of those boundaries, no matter what it was then it will sit in the cupboard and never be worn again, ... You wouldn't buy something similar to that again." (Paul, 27, Telecom Manager)

Individuals need to be aware of what their image is and the type of dress that they can 'get away with' and linked to this, the 'limitations' that exist for them. Therefore some items/ images may be rejected for symbolic reasons but without the negative connotations attached to the clothing.

"I don't think of myself as somebody who is particularly fashionable and naturally stylish" (Deirdre, 26, Features Writer)

"... you can go into a pub and you will see someone and you will think 'they look really stunning in that' you might say 'oh I couldn't wear it' but you might comment that they look really nice" (Adele, 27, Telecom Manager)

Situational

Often clothing will reflect an individual's life situation -which could be partly dictated by occupation, life stage, age or simply their priorities at a particular point in time (Martineau 1957). Often it would be a reflection of an individual's very specific ideas about what represents 'me' and therefore by contrast 'what is not me'. At times, 'situational not mes' became relevant, with job interviews and certain functions, providing examples of situations when participants 'played' roles that were different from their usual ones.

"it depends on the location because you can get away with a quite skimpy dress in a night club because it is dark whereas you wouldn't wear a skimpy dress to work because it would be the wrong occasion for it" (Melissa, 25, Marketing Executive)

"I went to a wedding at the weekend, and I was wearing this dress from French Connection and some high shoes and had done my hair nicely and was wearing make up and contact lenses .... people kept coming up to me and saying 'bloody hell you don't look like you' and stuff (Deirdre, 26, Feature Writer)

"I wear a track suit and t-shirt or shorts and a rugby shirt or whatever if I was sat at home just because it would be comfortable, yet if I was going out I would straight away put a pair of jeans on or whatever just so you are giving the same sort image as what everybody else ... you don't want people to stop and stare at you." (Wayne, 22, Production / Sales Manager)

The work environment was particularly relevant for decisions about what to wear, and it was felt to be imperative that the correct signals were communicated at work.

"I can't be a real scruff, like turning up to work with holes in jeans and all the rest of it, because it gives the wrong image to everybody else. You can't take somebody seriously" (Dave, 27, Telecom Technician)

For women, the 'correct' work signals meant restraining from communicating sexual signs.

"I have got a couple of tops that I wouldn't wear to work just because they are black and tight or something.... if I went to clubs then I would probably wear something I wouldn't wear at work I think, like high heels if I am feeling a bit saucy!" (Joanna, 26, Buyer Services)

This contextual nature of clothing and identity creation complements the arguments of Davis (1985) who saw the relevance of wearer, occasion, place and company to the meanings that clothing communicates.

GENERAL DISCUSSION

A review of the literature indicated the multi-faceted nature of positive possible selves (see Markus and Nurius 1986). The negative self-concept effectively operates within the scope of possible selves and the findings suggest it to be equally multi-faceted.

Different aspects of the negative self were clearly identified and could be classified under two headings. The Undesired Self ('so not me') embodied the most extreme notions of what is 'not me' and could be linked to feelings of repulsion (Rozin and Fallon 1987) in the rejection of products/brands and product/brand -user stereotypes. The Avoidance Self (Just not me'), in comparison, embodied less strong views about 'not me' and could be linked to feelings of aversion and the avoidance of products/brands and product/ brand-user stereotypes. What clearly differentiated the Undesired from the Avoidance self was that the latter incorporated images that were negative when individuals applied the images to themselves but these images could be viewed positively on someone else.

Limitations

This was a small-scale study with the emphasis on exploration rather than developing hypotheses for testing. The presentation of visual stimuli provided an effective means through which to explore the way that individuals interpret the clothing worn by others. However the social interaction, although it promoted discussion, could also potentially have had the disadvantage of encouraging careful self-presentation and impression management when discussing negative stereotypes in detail.

Future Directions

Considerable work remains to be done to clarify the relationship between the undesired and avoidance self; to explore other aspects of the negative self (e.g. social and ideal social aspects); and to extend understanding of the negative self beyond the product category of clothing. It would be interesting to develop a more longitudinal approach to the study of the negative self concept, exploring its evolution and the effects of different forms of socialization and psychological or developmental influences on both the undesired self and the acquisition of negative stereotypes. In addition a study which involved a broader sample would be likely to expand the range of discoveries.

CONCLUSION

Our examination of negative aspects of the self and symbolic consumption stands in marked contrast to earlier studies of symbolic consumption and self-congruency which have traditionally focused on understanding how consumers use and interpret the positive meanings associated with their consumption decisions. In this paper we have sought to extend and challenge traditional thinking about how individuals strive to manage the inferences which others make about their consumption decisions. Through an exploration of the negative self-concept we examined whether and how individuals try to support their self concept through the avoidance of certain products which have negative images. This represented an extension of current work on self-image / product-image congruency (Erickson and Sirgy 1992; Kleine et al 1993; Grubb and Grathwohl 1967). Secondly, the paper sought to challenge the current homogeneous view of the negative self by mapping different possible negative selves. Thirdly, we discussed the potential links amongst the different aspects of the negative self which emerged from the empirical study to propose a conceptualization of the multifaceted negative self around the dimensions of 'undesired' and 'avoidance'.

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