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Special issue: Special feature: Inside/out: lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans appearance and embodiment

Clarke, Victoria


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Dr Victoria Clarke
Associate Professor in Qualitative & Critical Psychology


The three papers in this special feature all make important contributions to the psychology of LGB appearance and embodiment and extend and develop the existing literature in exciting ways. First, Caroline Huxley contributes to the literature on sexuality and body image by exploring the relationship between appearance satisfaction and sexuality-based discrimination (which, Huxley argues, is often based on the visual recognition of sexuality) among lesbian and bisexual women. Huxley shows that lesbian women were more likely to report experiences of discrimination the less satisfied they were with their appearance; there was no such relationship between appearance satisfaction and discrimination for bisexual women (and bisexual women reported experiencing significantly less discrimination than lesbian women). Huxley speculates that bisexual women are less vulnerable to discrimination because there are less visual cues associated with bisexuality and consequently bisexuality is less easy to detect than lesbianism.
Nikki Hayfield returns to the earliest strand of LGB appearance psychology – heterosexuals’ perceptions of lesbian and gay appearance – and provides a qualitative exploration of (predominantly heterosexual) university students’ perceptions of the ‘typical’ appearance of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and heterosexuals. She shows that although the participants identified appearance norms for lesbians and gay men they presented these as stereotypes of lesbian and gay appearance rather than as accurate reflections of how real lesbians and gay men appear. Furthermore, in reporting that the participants struggled to identify appearance norms for bisexual people, Hayfield provides important empirical evidence of the socio-cultural invisibility of bisexuality.
Finally, Victoria Clarke and Katherine Spence contribute to the small but growing body of research on appearance and clothing practices by exploring lesbian and bisexual women’s accounts of their appearance practices and in particular the ways in which the women discursively negotiated a dilemma of authenticity. Clarke and Spence argue that lesbian and bisexual women are compelled to negotiate the dual demands of sub-cultural authenticity (looking like an authentic non-heterosexual) and individual authenticity (looking like an authentic individual). They found that their participants deployed various discursive resources for negotiating this dilemma from an essentialist butch discourse to challenging the link between lesbianism and masculinity by arguing that any woman (with any style) can be a lesbian.
As the brief overview of existing appearance psychology has shown most research is based on a binary (homosexual/heterosexual) model of sexuality, and the exclusion of bisexuality. By contrast, the papers in this Special Feature are all inclusive of bisexuality. Although appearance research is often dismissed as trivial and fashion is typically viewed as a site of oppression, it is hoped that this Special Feature will convince readers of the importance of appearance in the lives of LGB individuals and communities and the need for further (inclusive) research on LGB appearance and embodiment.


Clarke, V. (2013). Special issue: Special feature: Inside/out: lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans appearance and embodiment

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jan 1, 2013
Journal Psychology of Sexuality
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 4
Issue 1
Pages 1-33
Keywords lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, LGB psychology
Publisher URL