Sexuality & Culture

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 41–55 | Cite as

Using Sexual Appeals in Advertising to Sell Cosmetic Surgery: A Content Analysis from 1986 to 2007

  • Heidi J. Hennink-KaminskiEmail author
  • Tom Reichert
Original Paper


This study provides an account of how sexual appeals are used to promote cosmetic surgery. A content analysis of advertisements appearing between 1986 and 2007 in large city magazines reveals that advertisements position surgery as a means of boosting sex-esteem, and enhancing one’s sexual attractiveness, a pattern different from that of branded consumer products and services. Invasive procedures such as liposuction and breast augmentation are the top procedures advertised with sexual appeals and most advertisements feature nude or partially-nude white female models. The findings help expand knowledge about cosmetic surgery advertising, how sex is used to sell an ideal beauty standard attainable through invasive medical services, and the use of sexual content in a new context, that of medical-related advertising for cosmetic surgery.


Sexual appeals Cosmetic surgery Plastic surgery Body image Content analysis Advertising 


  1. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2009). Retrieved from Accessed 17 November 2010.
  2. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2010b). Retrieved from Accessed 17 November 2010.
  3. Angier, N. (1999). Woman: An intimate geography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  4. Belch, G., & Belch, M. A. (2004). Advertising and promotion: An integrated marketing communications perspective. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin.Google Scholar
  5. Courtney, A. E., & Whipple, T. W. (1983). Sex stereotyping in advertising. Lexington, MA: Heath.Google Scholar
  6. Davidson, K. D. (1998). Marketing this hope sells our profession short. Marketing News, 32(15), 6.Google Scholar
  7. Davis, K. (1995). Reshaping the female body. New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Delinsky, S. S. (2005). Cosmetic surgery: A common and accepted form of self-improvement. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 35, 2012–2028.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Finch, D. (1999). Create ethical plastic surgery ads for your practice, Plastic Surgery News, January 18, p. 15.Google Scholar
  10. Goldfarb v. Virginia State Bar Association (1975). 421 US 773.Google Scholar
  11. Gould, S. J. (2003). Toward a theory of advertising love maps in marketing communications: Overdetermination, postmodern thought, and the advertising hermeneutic circle. In T. Reichert & J. Lambiase (Eds.), Sex in advertising: Perspectives on the erotic appeal (pp. 151–170). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  12. Gould, S. J. (2006). The fetishization of people and their objects: Using love maps to view “style” from the New York Times magazine. In T. Reichert & J. Lambiase (Eds.), Sex in consumer culture: The erotic content of media and marketing (pp. 263–280). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.Google Scholar
  13. Haiken, E. (1997). Venus envy. Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Heinberg, L. J. (1996). Theories of body image disturbance. In J. K. Thompson (Ed.), Body image, eating disorders and obesity (pp. 27–47). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.Google Scholar
  15. Hennink-Kaminski, H. J., Reid, L. N., & King, K. W. (2010). The content of cosmetic surgery advertisements placed in large city magazines, 1985–2004. Journal of Current Issues in Advertising Research, 32(2), 51–67.Google Scholar
  16. Hetsroni, A. (2007). Sexual content on mainstream TV advertising: A cross-cultural comparison. Sex Roles, 57, 201–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lacy, S., & Riffe, D. (1996). Sampling error and selecting intercoder reliability samples for nominal content categories. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 73(4), 963–973.Google Scholar
  18. Lambiase, J., & Reichert, T. (2003). Promises, promises: Exploring erotic rhetoric in sexually oriented advertising. In L. Scott & R. Batra (Eds.), Persuasive imagery: A consumer perspective (pp. 247–266). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.Google Scholar
  19. LaTour, M. S. (1990). Female nudity in print advertising: An analysis of gender differences in arousal and ad response. Psychology and Marketing, 7, 65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Lin, C. A. (1998). Uses of sex appeals in prime-time television commercials. Sex Roles, 38, 461–475.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Miller, F. G., Brody, H., & Chung, K. C. (2000). Cosmetic surgery and the internal morality of medicine. Cambridge Quarterly Healthcare Ethics, 9, 353–364.Google Scholar
  22. Mintel (2005). “Non-invasive cosmetic and dental procedures—United States, September 2005,” Retrieved December 21, 2005 from
  23. Morgan, K. P. (1991). Women and the knife: Cosmetic surgery and the colonization of women’s bodies. Hypatia, 6, 36–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nelson, M. R., & Paek, H. (2005). Cross-cultural differences in sexual advertising content in a transnational women’s magazine. Sex Roles, 53, 371–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Neuendorf, K. (2002). The content analysis guidebook. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  26. Padgett, B. L., & Haas, T. (2004). An ethical wrinkle on the face of therapy claims. Plastic Surgery Nursing, 24(3), 123–126.Google Scholar
  27. Pardun, C. J., & Forde, K. R. (2006). Sexual content of television commercials watched by early adolescents. In T. Reichert & J. Lambiase (Eds.), Sex in consumer culture: The erotic content of media and marketing (pp. 125–139). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.Google Scholar
  28. Perrault, W. D., & Leigh, L. E. (1989). Reliability of nominal data based on qualitative judgments. Journal of Marketing Research, 26, 135–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Pruzinsky, T. (1993). Psychological factors in cosmetic plastic surgery: Recent developments in patient care. Plastic Surgical Nursing, 13, 64–71.Google Scholar
  30. Putrevu, S. (2008). Consumer responses toward sexual and nonsexual appeals: The influence of involvement, need for cognition (NCF), and gender. Journal of Advertising, 37, 57–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Ramirez, A. (2006). Sexually oriented appeals on the internet: An exploratory analysis of popular mainstream websites. In T. Reichert & J. Lambiase (Eds.), Sex in consumer culture: The erotic content of media and marketing (pp. 141–157). Mahwah, NJ: LEA.Google Scholar
  32. Reichert, T. (2002). Sex in advertising research: A review of content, effects, and functions of sexual information in consumer advertising. Annual Review of Sex Research, 13, 241–273.Google Scholar
  33. Reichert, T., & Carpenter, C. (2004). An update on sex in magazine advertising, 1983–2003. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 81(4), 823–837.Google Scholar
  34. Reichert, T., & Lambiase, J. (2003). How to get ‘kissably close’: Examining how advertisers appeal to consumers’ sexual needs and desires. Sexuality and Culture, 7, 120–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Reichert, T., Heckler, S. E., & Jackson, S. (2001). The effects of sexual social marketing appeals on cognitive processing and persuasion. Journal of Advertising, 30, 13–27.Google Scholar
  36. Richins, M. L. (1991). Social comparison and the idealized images of advertising. Journal of Consumer Research, 18, 71–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Riffe, D., Lacy, S., & Fico, F. G. (1998). Analyzing media messages: Using quantitative content analysis in research. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  38. Ring, A. (1999). Cosmetic surgery magazines: Mass mediating the new face of medical practice. Australian Studies in Journalism, 8, 118–138.Google Scholar
  39. Rizzo, J. A., & Zeckhauser, R. J. (1992). Advertising and the price, quantity, and quality of primary care physician services. The Journal of Human Resources, 27, 381–421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Sarwer, D. B., Wadden, T. A., Pertschuk, M. J., & Whitaker, L. A. (1998). The psychology of cosmetic surgery: A review and reconceptualization. Clinical Psychology Review, 18(1), 1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Soley, L. C., & Reid, L. N. (1988). Taking it off: Are models in magazine advertisements wearing less? Journalism Quarterly, 65, 960–966.Google Scholar
  42. Spilson, S. V., Chung, K. C., Greenfield, M. L., & Walters, M. (2002). Are plastic surgery advertisements conforming to the ethical codes of the American society of plastic surgeons? Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, 109(3), 1181–1186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Stafford, D. C. (1988). Advertising in the professions: A review of the literature. International Journal of Advertising, 7, 189–220.Google Scholar
  44. Sullivan, D. (2001). Cosmetic surgery: The cutting edge of commercial medicine in America. New Brunswick, NJ and London: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Sung, Y., & Hennink-Kaminski, H. J. (2008). The master settlement agreement and visual imagery of cigarette advertising in two popular youth magazines. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 85, 331–352.Google Scholar
  46. Yalom, Marilyn. (1997). A history of the breast. London: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  47. Yavas, U., & Riecken, G. (2001). Attitudes of US doctors and dentists toward advertising: A comparative study. International Journal of Advertising, 20, 341–359.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.University of GeorgiaAthensUSA

Personalised recommendations