Psychosocial Themes in Consumer Grooming Rituals

ABSTRACT - Ritual behavior is discussed as a mote of conceptualizing and analyzing consumer behavior. With specific focus on personal grooming rituals, thematic stories were collected from a cross section of young adults, using a projective, TAT-type instrument. Their content is interpreted using Eriksonian theories of psychosocial development and ritualization of behavior, to illustrate variations in grooming product symbolisms at different social class levels.


Dennis W. Rook and Sidney J. Levy (1983) ,"Psychosocial Themes in Consumer Grooming Rituals", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, eds. Richard P. Bagozzi and Alice M. Tybout, Ann Abor, MI : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 329-333.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10, 1983      Pages 329-333


Dennis W. Rook, University of Southern California

Sidney J. Levy, Northwestern University


Ritual behavior is discussed as a mote of conceptualizing and analyzing consumer behavior. With specific focus on personal grooming rituals, thematic stories were collected from a cross section of young adults, using a projective, TAT-type instrument. Their content is interpreted using Eriksonian theories of psychosocial development and ritualization of behavior, to illustrate variations in grooming product symbolisms at different social class levels.


Advancement of symbolic analysis in consumer research has proceeded less rapidly than progress in such areas as behavioral measurement and quantitative data analysis. A major factor discouraging the symbolic interpretation of products, brands, and companies is the widespread reluctance to teal with the less tangible realms of explanation of human behavior (Levy 1978, p. 43). Such inhibition has tended toward narrowly-conceived, static, and ultimately unrealistic portrayals of human behavior and motivation. Recent work exploring the deep structure of consumer myth systems serves to guide interpretation of the various symbolic logics that underlie product and brand usage behavior (Levy 1981). The present study investigates the relationship between consumer myths (as evidenced in fantasy expressions) and their enactment in everyday ritual behavior.

Although ritual phenomena pervade daily living, behavioral scientists (cultural anthropologists excepted) have tended largely to neglect the dynamics of ritual systems. Some relegate ritual to the domain of primitive savages, while others perceive ritual activities solely in the context of religious dogma and practice. Recent discussion more thoughtfully considers ritual as a critical social mechanism in industrial nations (Bocock 1974, Douglas 1978). Ritual behavior includes the often elaborate, public occasions that mark significant civic, seasonal, aesthetic, or religious events (Turner 1967). The familiar rites de passage belong to this type of ritual expression (Gennep 1908). Also included are mid-range rituals that accompany the celebration of special family occasions, or even more common household "events" (Bossard and Boll 1950). At the other end of this conceptual continuum are the everyday behavior ritualizations that may be either personal and private (prayer, grooming) or more interactional and public (the weekly visit to the "beauty shop"). Many daily grooming practices are often treated as "habits a redundancy for repetitive behavior - rather than as motivated. Erik Erikson (1980) provides a useful theoretical framework for observing and interpreting this everyday "ritualization of behavior".

The context chosen for this research is the arena of consumer grooming rituals. The term "grooming refers to diverse procedures applied to the body: cleansing, anointing, cutting and scraping, marking, shaping, coloring, and scenting (Vlahos 1979). An individual's grooming ritual is conceived as consisting of a complex behavior helix relating to his/her 1) personal hygiene, 2) attractiveness of appearance, 3) social role preparation, and 4) acceptability. Grooming behaviors thus extend from basic biological into sociological and even cosmological territories. Grooming practices are part of our -body language", and as such provide a rich context for symbolic interpretation. The products dealt with such as cologne, facial make up, hair dryers, tub and shower, etc., are among those readily recognized as subject to cultural variation and less dominated by easy rationalization in practical and economic terms.

The research instrument employed in this study is a modification of the Thematic Apperception Test (Morgan and Murray 1935). This projective tool offers much to the behavioral researcher, especially in areas thought to involve substantial potential for defensive reactance. Although cited as the most widely used projective technique in marketing research (Kassarjian 1974, p. 3-92), its scholarly neglect represents a significant lacuna in consumer analysis.


Any picture can elicit stories and provide material for analysis about the respondent. But study of a given realm such as grooming is facilitated by using pictures showing related behaviors. From a pool of over a hundred candidates, six pictures were selected through pretesting and judgement and subsequently used as a Grooming Thematic Apperception Test (GTAT) stimuli. Their selection was based on several evaluative criteria suggested by Henry (1956), Murstein (1963) and others. Each author has a preferred list, but they agree generally on the importance of five basic criteria for selecting and/or constructing thematic pictures.

First it is useful if a picture has relevant latent stimulus meaning. In GTAT Picture 1, for example, a woman is shown wearing hair curlers and applying some lotion or make-up. Research interest was focused not so much on facts about hair curlers and skin care per se, but on the fantasy material that surrounds such behavior. The six pictures selected raise various emotional issues stemming from one's grooming experiences and motives.

Second, pictures should depict various interpersonal relations, such as those involving basic family dyads. One GTAT picture does this explicitly (Picture 3). The others showed individuals alone to fit the common grooming situations. Since such personal grooming is interpersonally motivated, it was assumed that this dimension would also be tapped without direct depiction.

Third, the pictures should represent varying degrees of objective reality, from clear-cut representations to more ambiguous, illogical, or non-objective arrangements. The research interest here is not individual, clinical assessment, but rather in the discovery of modal grooming themes. Imposition of fewer degrees of freedom is justified by this relatively narrow purpose, orienting the results toward relatively conventional and socially characteristic results. Even so, there was sufficient variation in respondents' stories about the same pictures to suggest the individuals' projective mechanisms were not unduly inhibited.

Fourth, the pictures should be sufficiently intense in quality to intrigue the subjects and to demand that they propose some sort of solution to it. Although grooming procedures are part of most peoples' everyday routine, their centrality to self-image, sex role, interpersonal and vocational issues guarantees some baseline psychic involvement. Fifth, the pictures selected and the situations portrayed should be appropriate to the culture of the group being studied. Subjects were drawn from a broad population of young American adults from diverse social strata. The six GTAT pictures included representations of individuals in a working class environment (Picture 3), and in an upper status motif (Picture 5). The other pictures cannot be so easily ranked. The six GTAT stimuli included pictures of: 1) a (young to middle-age) woman in curlers doing make-up, 2) a young man blow trying his hair, 3) a couple sitting in a living room, 4) a woman sitting in a bath tub, 5) a young man applying after shave or cologne, and 6) a person taking a shower.


Forty-five young adults (23 females, 22 males) participated in the study. Respondents were selected in college classrooms and in other field settings. The average age of female respondents is 21.5 years (range-19-27), and for males 22.5 years (range 19-28). In addition respondents were selected in roughly equal proportion from l) working class, 2) lower middle, and 3) upper status (upper middles and uppers combined) populations. Social status was measured objectively using Warner's Index of Status Characteristics (ISC) instrument in combination with respondents' level-of-education, and parental occupation information. Assignment to social division relied on holistic interpretation of the data rather than a single score.


Respondents took from 35 to 60 minutes to complete their GTAT stores. A substantial majority constructed full-size stories averaging 175 to 250 words each - thereby satisfying the widely used 200-word criterion-for respondent involvement. The types of stories constructed ranged from socially conventional plots to unusual, highly fantastic themes. Although respondents are usually asked to construct imaginative and dramatically complete stories they often do not do so. Here, the extensiveness of fantasy elaboration, and the amount of expressive energy were impressive. Young adults apparently need little stimulation to involve themselves in such realms of experience. Quite a few stories were also notably and in tone - a finding consistent with the characteristic tenor of results that rely upon TAT-type instruments, but also compatible with the problems on people's minds.


William E. Henry (1956) provides a comprehensive framework for interpreting data gathered through TAT procedures. Of the many areas of mental life potentially illuminated through TAT administration, these four are the focal points of this analysis of grooming fantasies: 1) basic emotional attitude, 2) sexual adjustment (feelings of adequacy and anxiety, and role perception), 3) acceptance or rejection of impulse life, and 4) approach to interpersonal relations. The expressive content of these stories is viewed as representing projections of individual needs and motives interacting with forces from the social environment. Stories about "others'" grooming rituals reveal one's own conscious needs and attitudes, and the unconscious impulses involved. Psychosocial conflicts relating to personal appearance and self-presentation issues should also emerge in respondents' dramatic constructions.

Erik Erikson's work is relied on for interpretation of respondents' stories. In Toys and Reason, Erikson (1980) extends his dynamic theory of psychosocial development to the arena of behavior ritualization. The elements of ritualized adult interplay are explained as originating in the conflicts, or crises, associated with the five developmental stages preceding adulthood. The relative success (or failure) an individual experiences at each stage impacts the thematic content of adult ritualization, and more generally, personality. In pure form, the healthy individual's expression would emphasize interpersonal trust, autonomy, initiative, industry, and clear personal identity; while the-seriously disturbed personality would exhibit distrust, shame, guilt and inferiority and a diffused identity. The discussion that allows describes and interprets the thematic content of young adults' grooming fantasies. The figure below suggests the relation of Freud's psychosexual developmental stages in the formation of personality to Erikson's psycho-social stages with the accompanying psychological and characterological elements in behavior ritualization.



The analysis sees the contribution of these levels to the young adults working on the sixth and seventh levels of intimacy and generativity.

Numinous Elements

The numinous elements in adult ritualization originate in the infant-oral stage of development. Whether an individual is basically a trusting or a mistrustful personality is significantly influenced by life's experiences during this period. More than simple attitude clusters, the numinous elements that rise here are so basic as to possess mystico-spiritual qualities. In the context of personal grooming rituals, numinous themes describe the "before" and "after" magic that transforms the individual into a 'new man or a "new" woman. Grooming routines are often seen as involving dramatic personality reversals - for example, from the tired and withdrawn "me" to the energetic and outgoing "me". Underlying such expressions are sentiments describing the "wondrous" and "miraculous" results of various grooming procedures. Individuals who might otherwise disparage supposed romantic or age-retardant product claims appear quite able to suspend their disbelief and fantasize about magical lotions, elixirs and other forms of social war-paint. Respondents ' stories to only cite the captivating qualities attributed to grooming products and procedures, as well as the physical magic they provide.

Betty has an important interview with a large corporation. She has gotten up early to prepare and make sure she looks her best. She is using a special face cream that will make her look years younger. (LM-- F - 21)

With a little bit of cover-up the blemishes are just barely noticeable, and her self-confidence is restored to what it was before the zits popped up. Her date is wonderful, and he asks her out for next Wednesday - after confessing that she is one of the most beautiful girls he's ever seen. (UM - F 21)

Such stories take on a fairy tale quality corresponding to the before-and-after approaches that pervade the promotion of grooming and cosmetic products - and such classical transformations as Cinderella and the frog into a Prince.

Another numinous theme emphasizes the healing qualities associated with grooming routines. Grooming activities are widely described as occurring in silent places of contemplation and restoration. Lower status respondents tend to stress the relief of physical discomfort ("my aching body"), while upscale individuals stressed grooming's private, meditative aspects. .Showering and particularly bathing are valued as inviolable personal space, and as providing opportunities for retreat from the world. The healing dimension of grooming fantasies often involves preparation for quiet evenings at home, and for rest and sleep but it may also facilitate transitions from work to play.

I have to get another job - my body is killing me. And this hot bath feels so good. (UL - M 24)

Poor Katie - she's had one hell of a day. Now she's relaxing and contemplates in the midst of the luxury of having a moment to herself - and she thinks of the day's events as the night quickly approaches. (LM - F - 23)

"I love taking baths," thought Belinda, "just turn on the hot water,lock the door, sit back, relax, and let my thoughts just glide away. Oh, let's see, I think I'll go on a safari today -- just me and Jabar. (UM - F - 21)

Whether for physical rejuvenation or for psychic adventuring, such fantasies are more elaborately constructed among females than males. Responses to stimulus #4 (Woman Bathing) illustrate this idea. Men tended to see the individual depicted as a pathetic beast of burden soaking her tired bones, while women were generally more sympathetic to her, and were more likely to stress the enjoyment of a private moment.

A third numinous element, common to both sexes and across social divisions, depicts grooming's relationship to getting lucky, particularly in interpersonal relationships. Quite a few stories are and in tone, telling of past disappointments and cautious anticipation of meeting someone 'new'. This plot is often accompanied by the hope that one will finally get lucky, that good fortune is overdue especially to have sexual success. Viewed from this perspective, grooming rituals operate mantra-like to anchor positive energies and give the individual a "better chance" with a "new" person. Typical subject responses exemplify the various logics that link grooming procedures to helping luck along a bit.

He's wanted to go out with this girl all semester and now he's got his chance. He doesn't want to blow it, so he's going to make sure his hair is - as perfect as John Travolta's. (UM - F - 21)

Joe has to look good where ever he goes - he works out a lot on his body and gets ecstatic pleasure out of blow drying his hair. . . Will he get lucky tonight? Joe thinks so. (UM - M - 25)

This young man is getting.ready for a big date, maybe the Prom. He is using an aftershave to appear more grown up than he is. Undoubtedly he will "get lucky" once the girl smells his aftershave. (LM - M - 26)

Reflecting a basic, mistrustful orientation, a small but distinctive minority of stories describe the hopeless individual for whom luck has run out. The main characters are drug-addicted or alcoholic, abandoned, and suicidal individuals. Grooming issues were generally buried as hopeless beneath such plentiful misery.

Judicious Elements

This second behavioral element in Erikson's ritualization framework originates in conflicts surrounding the individuals' learning of basic "rights" and "wrongs" - the cornerstone for which, in Freudian thought, is the child's toilet training experience. Successful resolution of this developmental crisis fosters self perceptions of rightfulness and autonomy, while relative failure induces a sense of wrongfulness and shame. Grooming behavior - not surprisingly - very much involves issues of "right" and "wrong".

An earlier study by Levy (1961) reveals how women (men were not sampled) from diverse social strata and of various ages tended generally and readily to use graphically presented grooming cues as evidence revealing another's personality, vocation, family life, and sexual conduct, deduced from such signs as skirt lengths, amount of lipstick, elaboration of hairdo, etc. Forceful judgments about the appropriateness, normality and even morality of any given "look" often accompanies these interpretations. Based upon the results of the present study, men are also able to so classify and evaluate others, and to use the grooming vocabulary.

Grooming is, first of all, sanctioned behavior. In spite of the casualness and humor respondents see in the grooming domain, there is widespread recognition of prescribed norms for personal appearance, and of (sometimes severe) sanctions that ensue when the rules are violated. Grooming is seen as directing outcomes in both the vocational and romantic arenas, and it is used to assign individuals niches in the social hierarchy. Not surprisingly, the young adults sampled in this study place much emphasis on the use of grooving routines to judge maturity, capability and romantic availability. There is also some reaction against perceived pressures to fit the mold. For example, the young executive is described as really being very superficial, the career woman lonely and the young Romeo a bubble brain. This ambivalence is expressed in the idea that although grooming is a social necessity, too much emphasis on appearance connotes frivolity, not a thoughtful person.

This man was runner-up in the Mr. Young Stud contest. He won the talent section of the competition with the performance you see above successfully blow drying his hair in 7 min. 15 sec. But he got edged out in the shorts modeling segment by the man who was eventually crowned Mr. Young Stud. (UM - M - 25)

Dramatic Elements

The third dimension in Erikson's ontogeny of ritualization framework originates in the dynamics of learning to initiate playful activities in childhood. Successful task resolution encourages the development of an independent and initiating personality, while sufficient unresolved conflict fosters a guilty, delinquent orientation. This is a period of the elaboration of narcissism, dramatizing the self and displaying the body. It may foster the search for sensual experience. Several common themes illustrate how respondents in this study deal with these issues in the context of their grooming fantasies. Much emphasis is placed on the notion of the big event. Although grooming is an everyday activity, considerable importance is assigned to extraordinary situations. Stories describe individuals' preparations for a critical job interview, for a special date, for a television appearance, for a concert performance, or for a marriage proposal.

She is very pensive as she shaves her legs. Tonight her boyfriend has something important to ask her. She wonders if he will "pop the question" or just ask for another "tiny loan until payday". (UM - M - 27)

This gentleman seems to be preparing himself for a fun night out on the town. He seems a bit too happy for it to be a mere night out with the boys. So I would say it would be in the company of some lovely lady. (UL - M - 27)

Needing some justification for considerable allocation of time, effort, and money to grooming procedures, individuals construct extraordinary payoffs for their investments. Much emphasis is placed on achieving the "perfect" look such occasions are commonly thought to demand. More than self-gratifying narcissism, such behavior announces that the individual who lavishes such loving attention on him/herself, also has the desire for response from other people. The prevalence of the "big event" theme also highlights the anxieties that surround the search for a vocation and a mate, as one story poignantly illustrates.

Tonight I have tickets for the new musical "They're Playing Our Song" at the Drury Lane Theatre, and I'm taking a new girl I met at the office - she's beautiful - and really has potential. I'm putting my best foot forward donning my new suit and my Pierre Cardin after shave. Although I love the single life, it can be lonely, so I want this to be a good night. Who knows, I might find a companion out of this. (LM - F - 23)

Grooming is valued as a mechanism for bridging the gap between individual anxieties about various interpersonal interactions and the social contingencies that require them. Grooming procedures are viewed as cranking up energy to overcome reluctance and hesitation. Like a tribal war chant, some stories resonate with the themes of off-to-social-battle. Self-congratulatory and confidence-building sentiments charge the atmosphere.

That shower felt so good and I'll wear the best cologne (sic) I've got. Well, I look She's ready for me, well here I go. (UL - F - 24)

Oh! I'm so cool in the morning. They call me: smooth and cool. Because I come to work looking so nice. Well, I need a shave and a shower so I can keep on looking "cool and smooth". (LM - M 19)

These internally generated exhortations parallel a third element of dramatic elaboration: the call to "action!". Beyond the rudimentary whipping-up of social energy, grooming rituals inform about motives. Overwhelmingly, young adult fantasies about grooming products and practices are fillet with the urges to get ready and to join in.

Marilyn hurriedly rolls her hair and applies gobs of make-up between swigs of warm beer. Barney arrives and they're off for a night of action. (UM - F - 20)

Evoking the lyrics of many Bruce Springstein songs, respondents' stories are filled with characters running off into the night with hot chicks and cool studs, going in fast cars to action-fillet arenas of intoxicating romance and adventure. Social status appears to exert powerful influences over the dramatic elaboration of these ideas. Lower status romantic fantasies are characteristically similar to the Cinderella story. The drudge y and suffering of real world life is relieved by the intervention of an adoring Prince Charming. In contrast, upscale fantasies parallel the Snow White storyline which emphasizes independence and achievement, gaining control and power. The "action" components in individual stories reflect these thematic differences. Lower status stories are more likely to emphasize discos and dances as destinations, while upscale fantasies tend to involve exotic real world destinations (safaris, prisons) or metaphysical territories (LSD trips). Several stories told by upper status females involved degrading interactions with working class punk types. While the appeal of libidinal "action" pervades the grooming fantasies of young adults generally, the ritual behaviors of different social classes will most likely be connected to quite different personal myths.

A final dramatic element suggests a difficult resolution of the play-age childhood period. These delinquent fantasies involved rebellious individuals who refuse to "give-in" and modify personal appearances "even to get a job". Stories include hostile parents, rejecting employers, and unempathetic peers. Grooming issues here symbolize the conflict and guilt involved in the refusal to conform.

Formal Elements

With school age comes the crisis of performance. Positive resolution encourages an industrious orientation and feelings of success, while unresolved conflicts foster a sense of inferiority. The formal elements of grooming rituals emerge vividly in the stories collected for this study. Performance standards are on the minds of many young adults. Much emphasis surrounds having one's hair, or face "just so", or "perfect". One reaction to this pressure is the theme of never enough time. Stories involve characters who rush to gee ready, running late,and who are often interrupted in the midst of their grooming routines by the door bell or the telephone. While this may correspond to actual life events (people are busy and do run late), there is also the element of passive rebellion against society's performance standards. This theme was more notable among women than men, and more unenthusiastic stories are told by them about getting up two hours early to achieve "the look".

Many stories place value on having the right stuff. When confident in one's sexuality these individuals are portrayed as investing their grooming rituals with enthusiastic self-assurance. As the beginning to a busy day, such an individual's grooming routine sets the tone for industrious achievement. The young adults sampled here demonstrated some ambivalence about the value of high standards. Several stories told of meticulous grooming preparations that let to ultimate disappointment: the girl likes scruffy not clean shaven guys, the ' new' guy is really a drip, he/she doesn't get the job after all. Overall, such stories combine release of anxiety and feelings of resentment toward society's grooming standards. There is an element of intimidation in these perfect images. One young man illustrates his ambivalence.

Another morning. I'm 3 years out of a good Eastern school, and one and a half into a great marriage. My job is a real challenge. I think I can really go somewhere with it. Everything seems to be working out. It better. (UM - M - 23).

Reflecting less successful resolution of the crisis in performance standards are the themes suggesting inferiority feelings. Many stories described the behavior of a klutz, or loser, who can't seem to do anything right. Anxieties differ significantly by sex. women exhibit the strongest feelings about the physical effects of aging, and about finding mates. Men are more preoccupied with anxieties about their relative size and potency. The phallic symbolism in stimulus 82 (Blow Dryer) appears to have agitated quite a few male respondents. Responses describe the young man in the picture as sexually confused, as wanting to have sex with the blow dryer, as an insecure and undersized "zero compensating with a large electrical appliance.

Ideological Elements

With adolescence comes the famous identity crisis. Previous unresolved conflicts, converging with the bio-social conflicts of approaching adulthood, create existential pressures. Individuals respond by mentally creating ideal types who represent an appealing adulthood. Because maturity is still in the future, these images may be abstract or cartoonlike: Superman, Daisy Mae. When these ideal types correspond to iconic public individuals, the response can be intense and enduring: Elvis and Marilyn are examples.

In the search for role models, themes cluster around common ideas about who has the "right stuff". The male athlete is a popular standard bearer for lower status individuals. He is a virtuous and easy-going individual who grooms himself to keep clean and fresh. He has a conventional interest in pretty girls, and puts considerable emphasis on colognes when grooming for romantic interactions. His darker side is loutish and sadistic, and of below-average intelligence. A lower status female counterpart is the media girl.

Here I am getting ready for the 6:00 news and I only have 10 minutes to get ready. If this dressing room wasn't so small I could have been done. Oh, no! "Good evening, this is the 6:00 o'clock news and my name is Rita Carson." (UL F - 24)

The appeal of the media girl seems to lie in her glamorous but non-intimidating role. She is a newsreader, not a journalist, and her profession is used to justify massive narcissism. Her unattractive features include vanity and insincerity.

Lower-middle class ideals focus on someone who is one-of-the-guys. He may seek out involvement in the romantic arena, but his center of gravity is still his high school or college buddies even after marriage. He, too, may be an athlete, but his "sport" is Zaxxon or Tron rather than varsity. He uses deodorant. He may not use cologne generally, but when he does it supports his desire to be a lady killer. He can be either suave or crude, but he is a classic single out on the town hunting for sexual triumphs .

"Where to tonight? , that's what Vance is asking himself. He could cruise Faces or maybe Mothers - or maybe all the Rush St. bars between Oak and Division. The new cologne he just bought should knock the ladies out. Well, not out but if he's lucky it'll knock 'em down. Once they're down Vance can knock them out on his own. Knock them out and knock them up. Who's going to be the lucky lady tonight, Vance? (LM - M - 26)

Among men, the "lady killer" is often one of the guys with a lot of luck. For women, he may be an older man, or a working class individual. His grooming product usage is above average, but not by a great deal. Among lower-middle class females the working woman may be married, is practical, and spends a lot of time on her appearance. She works hard in a man's world with varying amounts of gratification. Upscale individuals idealize the junior executive who dresses well and makes decisions, and is very serious about his - or her - career. This person is more likely to be single than married. He/she spends a fair amount of time on personal grooming. Men are likely to use body talc, cologne, a blow dryer, even a facial bronzer. Under certain circumstances such behavior might be interpreted as effeminate, but here it is justified by everyone's general agreement on how important personal appearance is in the business world, relying on the same logic as the media girl.

Grooming appears equally capable of facilitating the assumption of either forbidden or virtuous social roles. Individuals who fail sufficiently to resolve the adolescent identity crisis experience, in Erikson's words, role diffusion. This element was evident in the numerous story themes that describes an individual blown away by circumstance, devoured or vanishing into non-existence.

Yes, Tony Baretta fought off the Mighty Mite for nearly ten minutes. His arm bulging, the Mite consumed him. (LM - M - 23)

As she bathes she notices more and more bubbles. She assumes it is normal because this new bubble bath is supposed to give you more bubbles than you can imagine. Finally there are so many bubbles that she panics and commits suicide. (UM - M - 21)

As he raised his Mighty Mite portable hair dryer with the 10 different speeds on the handle he accidently pushed the drying speed to 10 and was so blown away that it blew him right out of his apartment's bathroom window. (UM - M - 21)

These themes evidence the use of humor and fantasy to express anxiety about the pressures of growing-up at such high speed.

Other instances of severe struggle with role diffusion include fantasies of negative and secret identities. Among male respondents, there is the threat that too much grooming will be interpreted as effeminate. Some respondents described the young man depicted in stimulus #2 (Blow Dryer) as homosexual or transsexual.

This is a photograph of Joe Hill. Most weekends and many weeknights too, Joe transforms himself into Josephina. He tries not to do too many drugs because it's tough on his complexion, but he's drinking his white wine - hoping to calm his tension about the Grace Jones concert tonight. tomorrow will find Joe in his apartment, naked and alone, with no idea of what happened after 3 A.M. (UM - F - 21)

This secret identity scenario typically involves a story's main character adopting a radically different, and usually secret, name and persona. With a new, secret identity the path is cleared for participation in socially forbidden behavior, without sullying one's real, virtuous self. For example, the interpersonally awkward "Skinner" acts out his aggressive sexual fantasies when he becomes "Ricky"; or the housewife tons a wig to facilitate her entree into adultery. Secret identities are adopted not only to pursue taboo behaviors, but to cope with more conventional anxieties and disappointments.

Slim Joe, the dud of your high school, can only be tough once a day, and that's when he is by himself in the bathroom. There Joe becomes "Mighty Mite". (UM - F - 19)

Candy is a contented housewife living a nice upper-middle class life. Although her mornings are hectic around the house, the afternoons are all to herself. Candy enjoys dressing up and playing "Model" when no one else is home. (LM M - 21)


The fascination with magical effects, the various struggles to cope with social norms, and the dramatic elaborations that characterize respondents' grooming fantasies point to complex motives and a pervasive ambivalence. It seems evident that projective methods of research can provide useful access to fantasy life, bringing to our attention the less tangible realms of experience. A question naturally arises about the relationship between one's fantasy and "real" lives. Research currently in progress will address this issue further by relating individuals' responses on the projective instrument developed for this study to their performance on other instruments and questions related to product and brand use. So far these various grooming tales show that the consumption of bathroom furnishings, hair dryers, soaps, makeup, shampoos, colognes, shavers, underwear, etc., affords complex ways of expressing ones' sexual and social strivings. The products are not merely aids to cleanliness and sensory pleasure; they are means of coping systematically with the demands for growing up in particular ways in American society.


Bocock, Robert (1974), Ritual in Industrial Societies, London: George allen and Unwin Ltd.

Bossard, James H.S. and Boll, Eleanor S. (1950), Ritual in Family Living, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Boyd, Harper W. and Levy, Signey J. (1963), "New Dimensions in Consumer Analysis," Harvard Business Review, November-December, pp. 129-140.

Douglas, Mary (1978), The World of Goods: Toward an Anthropology of Consumption, London: Allen Lane, 1978.

Erikson, Erik (1980), Toys and Reason, New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.

Gennep, Arnold van (1908), The Rites of Passage, trans. Manika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Coffee, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Henry, William E. (1956), The Analysis of Fantasy, New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Kassarjian, Harold (1974), "Projective Methods," in Ferber, Robert (ed), Handbook of Marketing Research, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company.

Levy, Sidney J. (1961), "How American Women See Feminine Types," Chicago: Social Research, Inc. for the Public Relations Board, Inc.

Levy, Sidney J. (1978), Marketplace Behavior - Its Meaning for Management, Chicago: AMACOM.

Levy, Sidney J. (1981), "Interpreting Consumer Mythology: A Structural Approach to Consumer Behavior," Journal of Marketing, Vol. 45 (Spring).

Morgan, C.D. and Murray, H.A. (1935), "A Method for Investigating Phantasies, The Thematic Apperception Test," Archives of Neurological Psychiatry, Vol. 35.

Murray, Henry A. (1943), Thematic Apperception Test Manual, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Murray, Henry A. (1965), "Uses of the Thematic Apperception Test Manual," in Murstein, Bernard I., Handbook of Projective Methods, New York: Basic Books Inc.

Murstein, Bernard I. (1963), Theory and Research in Projective Techniques, New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Turner, Victor (1967), The Ritual Process, Chicago: Aldine

Vlahos, Olivia (1979), Body, the Ultimate Symbol, New York: J. B. Lippincott Company.



Dennis W. Rook, University of Southern California
Sidney J. Levy, Northwestern University


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 10 | 1983

Share Proceeding

Featured papers

See More


K10. The Acronym Effect: Acronym and Buzzword Use Lowers Consumer Persuasion

Sumitra Auschaitrakul, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce
Dan King, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, USA
Ashesh Mukherjee, McGill University, Canada

Read More


Preferences for Insight and Effort Differ across Domains and Audiences

Gaetano Nino Miceli, University of Calabria
Irene Scopelliti, City University of London, UK
Maria Antonietta Raimondo, University of Calabria

Read More


When News Gets Personal: The Evolution of Content in the Successive Retelling of Events

Shiri Melumad, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Yoon Duk Kim, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Robert Meyer, University of Pennsylvania, USA
Ani Nenkova, University of Pennsylvania, USA

Read More

Engage with Us

Becoming an Association for Consumer Research member is simple. Membership in ACR is relatively inexpensive, but brings significant benefits to its members.