Constructing Ideas of Femininity

research areas: gender, femininity, advertising, young girls, body image, media effects, marketing ethics

A Context-rich Exploration of Young Girls Advertising Experiences

(Nottingham Trent University Funded PhD Research project-  - 3 Years VC Scholarship)

This study aims to explore how pre-adolescent girls perceive, respond to, and interact with representations of femininity in current advertising messages, through an in-depth and mainly qualitative approach with a purposively and progressively narrowed sample of primary school girls (no. of participants throughout: 37>31>21>12 ).

The primary method used is phenomenological interviewing prompted by adverts elicitation and it relies on thick descriptions and close attention to the context in which the girls are immersed, in order to provide a frame of reference for understanding their different responses and contextualise their advertising experiences.

What it is seen as main priority for this study is to give young girls a voice which is truly theirs: in their role as participants the girls are not simply “respondents”, but actively engaged with the research questions.


The choice of phenomenology to explore girls' advertising experiences is undoubtedly risky (as it relies heavily on participants' ability to express their thoughts verbally) and inherently more problematic due to the self-reflexive nature of the investigation, but it is considered the most appropriate to illuminate girls’ direct experience of adverts, especially when combined with methods providing context-rich information about girls’ life (for more on phenomenology read the methodology section).


The research design evolves through five stages:

1) quantitative (with a questionnaire-guided interviews with the girls and a similar questionnaire distributed to their parents)

2) projective (through photo elicitation and cartoon completion)

3) unstructured group session (bonding time)

4) phenomenological (with peer-to-peer interviews prompted by adverts elicitation)

5) follow-up interviews (with 12 selected participants) for clarification and amplification of themes emerging from the analysis

The study proceeds through a comparative analysis to help further hypothesis generation regarding the effects of advertising on young girls’ gender identity, with particular reference to factors facilitating girls’ critical interaction with stereotyped femininity portrayals in current advertising messages.