Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Mixed Messages: the Portrayal of Adolescent Girls' Emotional Distress in Popular Culture
by Holt, Gennifer Ann, Ph.D., University of California, Davis, 2020, 245; 27996881
Abstract (Summary)

Background: The exponential increase in emotional distress among adolescent girls has proved to be a literal life and death issue for this population. Previous research examining depression, self-harm, and suicidality in adolescent girls recommends further evaluation to explore the linkages between depression and social locations such as race/ethnicity, class, and sexual orientations. Additionally, recommendations have called for the identification of socio-cultural influences that may be at work among adolescent girls given the vast and recent changes in the United States social environment. The media is a powerful socializing agent, serving as a key reference to the identity construction of girls. Cultural artifacts are central to how norms and values come to be shaped and embedded in society.

Purpose and Aims: To shed new light on the way in which we understand emotional distress, self-harm, and suicidality in adolescent girls by analyzing popular culture targeting this population. By revealing the implicit and explicit messages of emotional distress from media consumed by adolescent girls, it may be possible to identify potential methods of prevention and intervention of distress and self-harm impacting immediate and long-term health outcomes.

Methods: Qualitative content analysis grounded in intersectional feminist scholarship was employed to explore the messages and images in popular culture by analyzing four magazines targeting the adolescent girl audience: Seventeen, Girl’s Life, Sesi, and Teen Graffiti. Articles and images were analyzed for context with a deconstruction approach by examining whose perspectives were highlighted and whose voices were silenced or missing.

Findings: The research findings indicate incongruent messaging within individual magazines and across journals. The messaging included gender expectations as part of hegemonic femininity versus alternative femininities with messages of empowerment and authenticity. The ways in which class and social status were portrayed in the magazines privileged girls from higher income families. In all of the journals analyzed, race was often only applied to non-Whites, leaving Whiteness undiscussed and unnamed, therefore reproducing White privilege. Social media amplified the girls' experiences of distress in all spheres of influence (e.g. peer, family, school/neighborhood, cultural). The pressure to post photos, respond to posts, and exposure to news stories remained an ever-present force in the lives of adolescent girls.

Conclusion: The qualitative findings yielded rich theoretical understandings of the portrayal of emotional distress and self-harm at the intersections of gender, race, class, sexuality, disability, and religion. Nurses may be able to provide mental health assessments and depression screenings to evaluate the emotional well-being during routine and specialty care. Nurses can also combat stigma and discrimination against those with mental illness, thereby decreasing treatment seeking and care by strengthening pediatric primary care and school-based services. A cultural shift in the attitudes of nurses and other healthcare providers is necessary to de-stigmatize mental illness and improve patient care by viewing the increase in mental health services as a cultural and institutional issue, not an individual one.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Apesoa-Varano, Ester Carolina
Commitee: Draughon Moret, Jessica, de Leon Siantz, Mary Lou
School: University of California, Davis
Department: Nursing
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 82/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Mental health, Gender studies, Womens studies
Keywords: Adolescent girls, Critical feminist approach, Hegemonic femininity, Intersectional framework, Qualitative content analysis, Teen magazines
Publication Number: 27996881
ISBN: 9798664727067
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