Black in a Blonde World: Race and Girls’ Interpretations of the Feminine Ideal in Teen Magazines.
written by Lisa Duke
In a comparison between black and white teen girl readers, Duke conducts interviews with black teen readers and compares their responses to the content to various data collected on white teen girls. Duke states that “girls compare their own bodies to our cultural ideals,” here when she says “girls,” she means white teenage girls (367). Duke begins her paper by stating that not enough data is collected on teenage girls of differing races, but rather, the data that has been collected is meant to generalize all teenage girls.
Duke goes onto state that girls (white girls), often replace their family and peer groups with magazines, meaning that white girls seek information about relationships, and body image ideals from magazines, not people in their lives (369). This is what previous studies have shown is the cause of eating disorders and a preoccupation with looks in white teenage girls. Previous research also states that the “road to happiness is attracting males for a successful heterosexual life by way of physical beautification,” (369). Duke also presents Frazer’s arguments that teenage girls, of any race, make their own meaning of the media, and these magazines are not simply a mirror in which young girls reflect from (340). However, through Duke’s study, she finds that black girls respond much more critically of teen magazines than white girls do.
Duke finds that for black teenage girls conditioning and beauty standards come from the home (373). Black girls look towards their mothers and grandmothers for how their bodies should look to whether they should wear makeup or not. This means that black girls suffer significantly less than their white counterparts in areas such as eating disorders and self-confidence issues. Duke explains that this is because black girls “are affected by media [that] is largely determined by the relevance of the message,” (372). Black teenage girls see magazines such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue as magazines focused on white girls, and white feminine beauty standards. One girl in Duke’s study stated that “White people perceive beautiful in a different way than we do,” (378). That definition of beautiful is what black teenage girls see replicated in teen magazines, therefore, it does not apply to them. This also means that black teenage girls are able to critically read teen magazines (379). Duke goes onto to say that even though black girls do not identify with the models shown in teen magazines, they continue to read them –as do girls of other races—as a learning material for heterosexual relationships, sex, their bodies, pregnancy, STDs and HIV, binge drinking, and eating disorders (380). While black girls are not affected by the beauty standards—i.e. wearing makeup or being thin—that are presented in teen magazines, they still use those texts as a place to gain information.
In summation, Duke states that black girls have higher self-confidence and body image because they are able to critically read teen magazines, and due to the culture within black girl families to prioritize family ideals over societal ones. Especially societal ideals that are seen as irrelevant to black girls, their bodies, and their communities (384). Duke then presents future questions, such as, will black girls maintain resilience against media presented feminine standards if they are presented with models that more closely represent them?
In this case study, it is important to recognize that while Duke was studying and interviewing black girls, white girls’ behavior is also captured through juxtaposition of the two groups. In both cases, teen magazines, a vessel for popular culture, is utilized to help young girls formulate how to behave in certain circumstances—i.e. dealing with boys, and heterosexual romantic relations, sex. It was only in the case of the black girls that beauty standards did not translate, meaning they were less susceptible to experiencing the negative effects of media, as their white counterparts do. It is important to note that if we wanted to foster a resource of information that was helpful for both groups, or any group of young girls, we would need to create something with more diversity. Or, we would need to teach white girls to critically analyze the materials they have, like their black counterparts. Either way, Duke’s research shows that teen magazines helps form young girls’ identities in a variety of ways and degrees. Depending on the audience, these magazines only shape “appropriate” heterosexual relations, with the extreme being young girls who are unhappy with their bodies and develop eating disorders to emulate the bodies they seem in mainstream media.
Duke, Lisa. “Black in a Blonde World: Race and Girls’ Interpretations of the Feminine Ideal in Teen Magazines.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 77.2 (2000): 367-92. Web.
Sex, Postfeminist Popular Culture and the Pre-Teen Girl. Sexualities
written by Sue Jackson and Elizabeth Westrupp
Jackson et al. present a study based on interviews with Australian girls aged 11-14 and their views and thoughts on the teen magazine Girlfriends. The goal was to see how postfeminist content affects young, pre-teen girls’ identities. In this study postfeminist content refers to text that delivers sexual content which encourages girls to be consumers and participants in a sexualized world (358). This means that girls aged 11-14 are reading material that is seen as feminist because it empowers girls, but Jackson et al. argue that the material is in fact not empowering girls, but rather shaping them to be what a neoliberal, capital society thinks girls should be. Arguably, postfeminist materials then expose girls too early to sex, while also limiting what it means to be a girl. In this case, a “girl” is a sexually knowledgeable, heteronormative consumer of products that make them “girlie” and “attractive to men” (359). Jackson et al. go on to argue that this dictation of girls and female sexuality has been going on throughout the ages. Postfeminist material in teen magazines regulate female sexuality (360).
The main finding from the study was simply that these girls identify themselves as consumers of sexual content, meaning they know they are buying magazines that are meant to give them more information on sex and how to be a sexually attractive girl to a boy (364). Jackson et al. found that teen magazines are a primary source of education in terms of sexuality, what sexuality should look like, and how a girl should look and behave. Jackson et al. go on to say that this magazine also forms and reinforces girls’ ideas about “alternative” sexualities, such as lesbianism. When the girls read about lesbian experiences in the Girlfriend magazine, they questioned the authenticity of those narratives, Jackson et al. argue that is because lesbianism is presented outside of the heteronormative narrative, and it is easier for these girls to dismiss what they do not have experience with (366). Meaning, the teen magazine reinforces the idea that only heterosexual romantic relationships are true and worth learning about, whereas, homosexual romantic relationships are coded as abnormal and as something to stay away from. Jackson et al. also saw the magazine as reinforcing the idea that male sexuality is uncontrollable, and therefore the responsibility of the girl to either defend herself from, or succumb to (368). In both cases, coding lesbianism as abnormal and casting male sexuality as uncontrollable, the magazine tells its reader that sex should look a certain way, and it is their job to be in charge of sex.
However, if a girl is going to be sexually active, then it is her responsibility to also practice safe sex, and not be too sexually appealing—i.e. have condoms, use birth control, not “asking for it” in terms of rape, and not being too promiscuous (370). This is how the teen magazine shapes a young girl’s idea of sex, while simultaneously controlling that sexuality. As Jackson et al. states, “the saturation of sexuality and heterosexual address…presents girls with a highly limited way to ‘be’ a girl” (374). This means that girls, who are actively admitting to being consumers of these materials, are forming their identities around a narrow idea of what a girl could be. This type of media is admittedly where girls are seeking information out about sex and other topics they do not understand. Making them reliable to only one narrative of what makes up sexuality and femininity. This narrative is also not constructed to inherently benefit girls, rather it is constructed to follow heteronormative, patriarchal, and capitalist agendas. Therefore, girls are constructing themselves around a narrative that wants them to be a narrow, male pleasing, sexual object that buys into a very specific, and unrealistic beauty standard industry.
Jackson, S., & Westrupp, E. (2010). Sex, Postfeminist Popular Culture and the Pre-Teen Girl. Sexualities, 13(3), 357-376. doi:10.1177/1363460709363135
The power and the pain of adolescents’ digital communication: Cyber victimization and the perils of lurking
In the journal article, The power and the pain of adolescents’ digital communication: Cyber victimization and the perils of lurking written by Marion Underwood and Samuel Ehrenreich from the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, University of Texas–focuses on the impact of adolescents’ intense involvement in social media, but also touches upon the positive attributes that social media may have on young adolescents’. This article is meant for psychologists that study adolescents and the interaction with digital communication and with social media, but includes recommendations for clinicians, parents, researchers and educators on how they can better guide young adolescents to a healthier relationship with social media and digital communication to reach positive goals. I found that this article was insightful and can help me research my topic on social media and its affect on young girls because it connects the relations between the offline and online impacts of digital communication, as the article refers to as “co-construction theory” and how this theory can be both a negative and positive impact on young adolescent lives.
Underwood, Marion K., Ehrenreich, Samuel E. (2016). The power and the pain of adolescents’ digital communication: Cyber victimization and the perils of lurking. American Psychologist, Vol 72(2), Feb-Mar, 2017. pp. 144-158. Doi: http://dx.doi.org.offcampus.lib.washington.edu/10.1037/a0040429