Article No. 4
and the World Wide Web:
Making an About-Face
Girls, Internet, World Wide Web, Identity, Sex Roles, Feminism,
Adolescent girls must make a
decision, the results of which affect the quality of their lives
early, often, and sometimes through adulthood. Being a "good girl"
or a "bad girl," according to social constructions of femininity, is
a key component in identity formation. I argue that this is a false
dichotomy imposed upon adolescent girls as a means of creating
conformity to a set of ideas and behaviors by using morality (or
lack thereof) as a social barometer. Advances in girls' access to
sports, media literacy education, access to the Internet, and
participation by many in third wave feminism has made the emergence
of a third girl identity possible. I call her “Jammer Girl .” In
this article, I describe the underpinnings of the imposition of the
identity dichotomy, explore the nature of female adolescence as it
relates to identity formation, and explore the impact of peer
pressure on self-esteem. Finally, the Web resource About-Face.org
is described as an Internet catalyst for Jammer Girl activism.
A girl has two
choices in life according to advertising critic Jean Kilbourne
(1999): (1) to be a good girl who conforms to sex role expectations
and strives to achieve an unrealistic body ideal, or (2) to be a bad
girl who rebels against the culture and society with violence,
aggression, and indiscriminate sex. But are there really only two
choices? What about the girl who rejects the tenets of thinness,
fashion, and passivity? What about the girl who is tired of the
barrage of commercial messages and the hard sell, and who wants to
challenge beauty ideology with positive actions and representations
of healthy femaleness? This article is about the false dichotomy of
good girl versus bad girl in American society, how the divide
between the two can be filled by a third girl identity--Jammer
Girl--and strategies that facilitate the process of becoming a
healthy, activist girl by way of the Internet. This analysis
accepts Kearney's (1998, p. 289) challenge that studies of girl
culture need to go beyond "consumerist practices of female
adolescents" to reflect not only advances in studies of girl culture
but also the improving status of women in society.
In this article,
I have four goals. First, I would like to briefly explore the roots
of the good girl versus bad girl dichotomy in adolescent
development. Second, I will describe the harmful effects this
division has on the psyches of adolescent girls. Next, I will
explore the emergence of Jammer Girl, who represents an identity
based not on physical appearance and passivity, but on health and
activism. And finally, I examine About-Face.org (A-F.org), a World
Wide Web site resource for girls and women that provides examples of
and skills needed to evaluate and respond to harmful images of girls
and women in advertising (particularly in fashion advertising) that
help sustain the good girl/bad girl dichotomy. Importantly,
A-F.org offers a solution to many of the frustrations facing girls
by demonstrating ways to interrupt the flow of images--the "media
circus"-- by culture jamming.1
While A-F.org is only one among several proactive girl sites, it is
unique in its use of a media literacy framework within which ads are
evaluated and posted. In the sections that follow, I briefly
describe the challenges of adolescent girlhood, the relationship of
commercial media to that experience, and the role of the Internet in
facilitating a safe and private space in which girls are invited to
create content, advocate for change, and explore questions about
their minds, bodies, and roles in society.
ADOLESCENCE AND CULTIVATION OF THE IDEAL GIRL
A time of
awkwardness and opportunity, adolescence is a critical moment in
identity formation for both boys and girls (Erikson, 1950). It is a
time of "searching and introspection in which the individual is
constantly faced with the perplexing question 'Who am I?'" (Avery,
1979, p. 53). For girls, adolescence is a particularly tender
time. Although both boys and girls experience puberty (the
biological process/sex distinctions) and adolescence (emotional
process/gender formation), girls are faced with a unique set of
challenges (Gilligan, 1982). For girls, physical development, for
example, often triggers unrealistic expectations and low self-esteem
(Offer, Schonert-Reichl, & Boxer, 1996). Widening hips, developing
breasts, and emerging curves are inconsistent with media-generated
and sustained images of ideal female beauty.
investigates girls’ developmental issues has focused primarily on
four areas, briefly discussed below: (1) Body image, (2)
Self-esteem, (3) Sexuality, and (4) Peers.
Do I look fat?
mediated by weight, is only one among many concerns of female
adolescence. How this intimate aspect of femininity translates into
feelings of self worth is one of the most important concerns of
girls (Cusimano & Thompson, 1997; Kilbourne, 1999; McCabe, 2001).
Given that women are judged not by what they do, but by how they
look, the sense of urgency in meeting social expectations of ideal
female beauty can be intense (Wolf, 1991). While boys are conscious
of their bodies, girls are most worried about appearance, in
particular how their weight affects popularity and relationships
(Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2003). The mass media play an important
role in cultivating and maintaining the flawless
skin/body/hair/personality image, yet only one percent of girls are
naturally “flawless” (Lee, 2003). More specifically, American
adolescent girls are often dissatisfied with their behinds, thighs,
hips, and waists, all of which they wish were smaller, and with
their breasts, which they want to be larger.
Eating disorders are one among many
possible results of diminished self-esteem, negative body image, and
depression (Field, et al., 1999; Harrison, 2000; Harrison &
Cantor, 1997; Hofschire & Greenberg, 2002; Levine, Smolak, & Hayden,
Am I worthy?
For many girls,
"identity is largely shaped through images of themselves seen in
movies, television, magazines, and music" (Sutton, 1999, p. 164).
At a time characterized by intense self-consciousness and
self-scrutiny, advertising that targets adolescent girls usually
spotlights solutions to personal conflicts and challenges that are
solvable by the purchase of the right clothes, cosmetics, hair
ornaments, and other beauty products.
long-term exposure to stereotypical role portrayals of women in the
media may encourage girls to internalize the associated values and
ideals of ideal female beauty (Jennings-Walstedt, Geis & Brown,
1980; Tan, 1977). However, while physical appearance is a key
component of self-esteem for girls, other factors contribute to a
healthy (or un-healthy) self-image. For example, feelings of
competence are tied to how much or how little parents and teachers
support girls and respect their opinions (Caron, 2000). In
addition, outcomes related to shaky self-image include dropping out
of school and, among girls, the
additional stresses of dating violence, sexual assault, and
pregnancy. While worrisome for both girls and boys, the rate of
depression and suicide is higher among teen girls (Marcotte, et al.,
Does he want me?
also a time when girls begin to see themselves as sexual beings.
Information from parents, teachers, counselors and the media play
important roles in how a girl perceives herself and her
relationships with others. Stereotypical sexualized portrayals in
the media reinforce ideas of ideal female beauty, and equate this
beauty with an ideal sexuality (typically heterosexual), and support
a willingness to "give up" the self in the process. Techniques of
presentation show female models appearing "both passive, yet
actively sexual," as desirable objects of the subjective male gaze
(Shields, 2002, p. 45). They are
articulated in ways that make them appear natural, normal, and
hence, unremarkable by using particular codes of sexuality in
advertising and attaching them to products designed to maintain
desirability (Hall, 1980). Attracting boys is an essential
motivator for maintaining a particular physical appearance, and
perceived success or failure directly affects self-confidence,
measured by responses from peers.
other people think?
Peers are a major
source of validation and socialization for adolescent girls. Peer
opinions are more important, at this time, than are those of their
parents (Coleman, 1961; Lashbrook, 2000). In fact, “tweens”
(adolescents 7-14 years) are "more susceptible to the opinions of
friends than to traditional media messages" (Lueker-Harrington,
2001, p. 13A). The collective consciousness of peer codes is often
the determinant of self-esteem as "adolescents look to each other,
rather than to the adult community for their social rewards"
(Coleman, 1961, p. 138). However, these peer relationships become
so paramount to girls that they hide or silence parts of themselves
to avoid conflict and maintain relationships. This silencing seems
to go hand in hand with declining self-esteem, another worrisome
characteristic of the developmental process in contemporary female
adolescence (Brumberg, 2000, ¶3).
McRobbie (2000) identifies how "commercial representations of young
women which now dominate visual culture bring together the
signatures of 'slim blondeness' and also perpetuate routinely a
series of violent exclusions, of the non-white, non-heterosexual,
non able-bodied” (p. 198).
image, self-esteem and sexuality are disproportionately affected by
peer pressure as well. The "relentless body-image mood swing not
only wreaks havoc on [our] self-esteem, it also turns [girls]
against each other" (Lee, 2003, p. 133).
When she was
good, she was very, very good
In the good
girl/bad girl dichotomy, the good girl next door isn't free; she's
enmeshed in male conventions of perfection and the obligation to
fulfill them. The bad girl isn't free either; she's labeled, used,
and trashed. (That's me! 2004).
Being defined as "good" or as "bad" serves a useful
organizational function in society. Adolescent girls often find
themselves subjected to moral judgments based on a set of socially
defined characteristics. If a girl is considered "good," she has
the blessings of the culture by meeting the criteria of
acceptability and preferences for what is "feminine." She learns to
"bury her sexual self" and gives in to what Gilligan calls "the
tyranny of nice and kind" (Kilbourne, 1999, p. 149). If she is
identified as "bad" she is often shunned for lacking the will or the
desire to conform and will "flaunt her sexuality, seduce
inappropriate partners, smoke, drink flamboyantly, use other drugs"
(Kilbourne, 1999, p. 149). While a discussion of the physical
requirements needed to fulfill this role are beyond the scope of
this chapter, the behavioral elements play a central role in
understanding identity development.
good girl status often pits girls against each other. Essentially,
a good girl likes to shop (particularly for brands), spend time and
money on advertised products, and is "normatively feminine"
(straight, white, and middle class). In preparation for womanhood,
she has been trained, by her mother, magazines, and manners to be a
good (i.e., compliant, orderly, quiet), and willing participant in
the ideology of preferred femininity. As a culturally sanctioned
identity, being a good girl is also not "a natural attribute, but
one constructed through the interplay of language and social
expectations" (Bucholtz, 1999, p. 9). Meeting this nebulous goal
requires intense self-scrutiny and self-consciousness as well as
surveillance of other girls to maintain a position of power.
stereotypical bad girl, who is less often studied and typically
pathologized, wears too much or the wrong kind of makeup, too little
or the wrong kind of clothing, rejects authority, is angry,
aggressive, and uses bad language. The image is of "nasty,
backbiting, manipulative" adolescent girls who "deride and undermine
each other mercilessly" (Boyle, 2004, ¶1). The self-consciousness
inherent in female adolescence is fertile ground for planting the
seeds of shame associated with bad girl femininity. These girls
"are ashamed for being too sexual, too loud, too boisterous, too big
(in any sense of the word)" (Kilbourne, 1999, p. 133).
If not in life at
least in the media, the division between "good" and "bad" is
increasingly blurred, and few healthy alternatives offered. While
many girls strive for the former and experiment with the latter, the
boundaries are less clear. Whereas "girls-in-real-life" (g-IRL)
face conflict over the false dichotomy of good or bad, celebrities
such as Britney Spears confuse things even more. According to Lowe
(2003, p. 125) girls desperately want to believe Spears' good-girl
image and projected naivete but, because of the clashing
photographic images, contradictory messages in her music, and
inconsistencies in the course of her career, the girls don't know
which is the real Spears--the pure and wholesome Britney they meet
in Teen People or the Lolita they discover in Rolling
Stone, the chaste Britney of "Sometimes" or the lusty Britney of
"…Baby One More Time."
contradictions, the "unaffordable but palpable world of yearning"
presented in the media, and the simultaneous fear of becoming a bad
girl "set girls up for disappointment, self-doubt, ridicule and
solidifies feelings of economic and taste inadequacy" (Quart, 2003,
p. 5). Unrealistic desires often cultivate unhealthy competition
between girls seeking not only to achieve impossible standards of
beauty, but also the attention of boys. Brown (2003) explores
factors that turn adolescent girls against each other. In
interviews with hundreds of girls, Brown (2003) found a common
It's a story
about containment and dismissal that gets acted out by girls on each
other because this is the safest and easiest outlet for girls'
outrage and frustration. Simply put, girls' treatment of other
girls is too often a reflection of and a reaction to the way society
sees and treats them. (p.2)
While most girls
are initiated early into the culture of sexuality, physical
appearance, and consumerism, some girls choose, in healthy ways, to
reject the confines of good versus bad girl femininity. They speak
out and want to be taken seriously. They are "the passel of teens
who resist brand culture" (Quart, 2003, p. 189) and are often
ostracized as "weird" or "unusual," or ignored because they often
voice opinions. "In a world where simply being can count as
bad, identities are often constructed in opposition to dominant
cultural ideologies" (Bucholtz, 1999, p.10). Jammer Girls are teen
girls who are not affected by advertising messages which promote the
notion that self-worth, value, popularity, and agency come from
conforming by buying the right products. Instead, they "see the
cultural contradictions clearly" (Kilbourne, 1999, p. 149). Jammer
Girls seek choice, change, place, and media that celebrate the
individual, physical, and intellectual qualities of girl-ness,
and encourage speaking out about the damage done to girls by the
steady stream of commercial messages. Moreover, Jammer Girls know
that good girl/bad girl dichotomy is false because "the world
doesn't work that way; people are never so simple" (Brown, 2003, p.
2). Girls can be each other's best friends who watch (as well as
stab) each other's backs. The goal is nurturing the first reality
while working to neutralize the second.
Over the past
decade, the rise of Jammer Girl has been facilitated by two changes,
one sociological and one technological. First, a Jammer Girl
identity is consistent with the rise of third wave feminism, a
response by many young women not only to the perennial, patriarchal
restrictions of 20th century definitions of femininity,
but also to narrow exemplification of who/what makes a feminist. In
Driscoll (2002), Rebecca Walker, daughter of Alice Walker, describes
a "rigidly ideological second wave feminism" that doesn't fit
measuring up to some cohesive fully down-for-the-feminist-cause
identity without contradictions and messiness and lusts for power
and luxury items is not a fun or easy task…For many of us it seems
that to be a feminist in the way we have seen or understood feminism
is to conform to an identity and way of living that doesn't allow
for individuality, complexity, or less than perfect personal
histories. (p. 136)
ascension of Jammer Girl coincides with girls' access to the
Internet. Unlike teen girl magazines that continue to emphasize
beauty, consumerism, and passive interaction with the medium, the
Internet allows girls to interact, interpret, and negotiate their
world. For example, whereas magazines such as Seventeen
emphasize music, "girls are provided with no information about how
to set up a band, nor are they encouraged to learn to play an
instrument" (Kearney, 1998, p. 291). They are hailed as consumers
of music, not as makers of music. The World Wide Web provides an
avenue for girls to speak out about their refusal to accept "the
established story of a woman's life" (Brown, 1991, p.72).
Web sites have a
narrower focus compared with the broader view of other media. The
Internet facilitates an intimate, transactional, informational
relationship for young women, particularly in their search for
knowledge about personal topics (Robbins, 2000). Girls' use of the
Internet affords ways of negotiating social relationships and
supported engagement in "personalized, self-directed and
self-initiated learning" (Robbins, 2000, p. i). The
accessibility and privacy of Web-based information offers girls
personal and private space in which to explore questions about their
bodies and their minds. Stern's (2000, p. 6) study of teen girl
created Web sites as public/private places reveals girls use them
for "self-disclosure, especially
self-clarification and self-expression." Dede (1996)
explores girls' social life in the virtual world and describes how
the Internet facilitates a social life of shared common joys as well
as trials and tribulations. She noted the Internet provides a
mechanism to maintain friendships while avoiding face-to-face
contact. The Net is also a place where girls can enjoy a sense of
freedom and a sense of control. Gruber (2003, p. 160) points out
"Cyberspace is a place that allows for the 'complex and shifting
play of body, self, and community.'"
Riot Grrls, paper
zines, and bands such as Bikini Kill and Bratmobile preceded the
Internet, but the compulsion to create them was, and remains, the
same. Just as Riot Grrls did not "shy away from difficult issues
and often addressed painful topics such as a rape and abuse,"
(Rosenberg & Garofalo, 1998, p. 810) Jammer Girls answer a similar
call to action. Riot and other girl/gurl/grrrls are examples of
"the independent, assertive, and empowering attitude of many young
women who are not only entering previously male-dominated fields…but
are completely convinced they have every right to do so" (Denfeld,
1995, p. 135). Collectively, these pre-Web activities resulted in
an "accumulation of practices" (Hawisher & Sullivan, 2003, p. 220)
as second wave feminists forged the way for other active feminist
groups to extend their reach and claim virtual space. Just as girl
zines were "often created to either resist or oppose representations
of gender, sexuality, class, race, and age found in mainstream
culture," today, several Internet sites "openly ridicule the
dominant ideologies of female adolescence reproduced in mainstream
girl magazines" (Kearney, 1998, p. 300, and, most particularly, the
While most Web
sites provide net savvy teens a heavy dose of popular culture (fan
sites, fashion, and advice), others provide more pro-social
content. The Web makes the space for activism, "for forging new
social arrangements by creating a visual discourse that startles and
disturbs" (Hawisher & Sullivan, 2003, p. 220), and it is a place for
women and girls to "act potently" (Haraway, 1991, p. 181).
there has been "an escalation in the promotion of 'culture jamming'
as a viable form of populist, anti-commercial critique" (Soar, 2002,
p. 572). This activist strategy draws upon the ideas and ideals of
The Situationists, a group who "first applied" the "spirit of
anarchy to modern media culture" (Lasn, 1999, p. 100). Adbusters,
the magazine and the Web site, is best known for spoof ads that
aim "to subvert corporate brainwashing through satire and 'social
marketing campaigns' such as 'Buy Nothing Day' and 'TV Turnoff
Week'" (Sullum, 2000, ¶3).
critiquing, and parodying mainstream media representations are forms
of culture jamming. Subvertising focuses on commercial messages and
"uses the power of brand recognition and brand hegemony either
against itself or to promote an unrelated value or idea" (Cortese,
1999, pp. 49-50). The intent is to turn the way we look at media
"on its head" (Cortese 1999, p. 50) by actively appropriating "the
ad's images…in critique and subversion" (Kearney, 1998, p. 300).
The creation of culture jamming-focused Web sites, increased numbers
of users, and gender-based user equity have combined to extend the
hands-on aspects of girl culture activism. The sister concepts of
subvertising and culture jamming are strategies embraced by Jammer
Girl activism and illustrated by the Web site About-Face.org.
The Web site
About-Face.org (A-F.org) launched in 1997, encourages girls to voice
their opinions and use the site as a "launching pad" for their own
rebellion and to do so "with guts and humor" (Brunkala, 1998, ¶2).
In 1997 and 1998, the site received an average of 3,580 page views
per day, but by 2002, the hits were up to more than 11,000 (A-F.org).
A-F.org uses a feminist pedagogical approach to guide young women
through the process of "making an about-face, a 'reversal of
standpoint,' when they look at advertising and media messages." The
goal, according to its founders, is to get girls "to stop, turn
around, and think about what they are seeing. Conversely, we
agitate for an about-face in the way advertisers portray women" (A-F.org).
The founding and ongoing charge of A-F.org is to address the dozens
of glossy advertisements contained in dozens of glossy magazines,
ads that emphasize what women look like instead of what they think.
In the summer of
1995, Kathy Bruin saw, on the side of a bus, a Calvin Klein
Obsession fragrance ad featuring a naked, reclining Kate Moss.
Bruin and a friend found a print version of the advertisement,
scanned it, subvertised (manipulated it) and, with help from friends
and family, plastered posters onto temporary structures around San
Francisco. In true Culture Jammer fashion, Bruin played on Moss'
already thin body by exaggerating her skeletal features through
enhancing shading and elongating the image to emphasize the model's
already apparent vulnerability. She states that Kate Moss:
looked so young
and gaunt, so frightened and vulnerable. This ad was the last straw
for me. I wanted to make a statement that would be louder than just
writing Calvin Klein a letter. I envisioned myself scrambling up
scaffolding to deface billboards, or waiting at bus stops to attach
an ad on the side of a bus! (A-F.org)
Bruin did not
deface the ad; rather she satirized it by changing the text to
"Emaciation Stinks!" and "Stop Starvation Imagery!" This led to the
creation of the culture-jamming organization About-Face. In 1996,
in honor of National Eating Disorders Week, Bruin and company
created another poster "Bodies are not Fashion Accessories: Question
the motives of the Diet Industry," and, again displayed it around
San Francisco, catching the attention of critics and comrades. A
critique of the messages of fashion magazines' seasonal dictates of
what is in and what is out, the poster satirized the
objectification of women's bodies and presented the parts as baubles
and beads. Bruin describes what motivated her to become an activist
and why sexist advertising images are harmful to the psyches of both
girls and boys:
does all of us a disservice to put such importance on the way women
look rather than who we are. Encouraging women — and then expecting
us — to spend a lot of time and money on beauty/fashion/diets
guarantees that we may never measure up. Images of women in popular
culture, led by the entertainment and "beauty" industries, affect
women's perception of themselves and contribute to unhealthy
relationships with food. This campaign encourages people to voice
their own disenchantment and to make changes in their own lives….If
nothing else, we as individuals have the power to make an important
impression in a young woman's life or to give a great big company a
piece of our minds. (A-F.org)
A favorite trope
that fits A-F.org well is the concept of détournement,
defined as "an image, message or artifact lifted out of its context
to create a new meaning" (Klein, 1999, p. 282), and drawing upon
Debord (1983), is "a way for people to take back the spectacle that
had kidnapped their lives" (Lasn, 1999, p. 103). This type of
rebellion is a way of combining teenage traits of angst and anxiety
with the urge to rebel that touches a deep-seated adolescent trait
usually associated with boys. Media literacy is "the
ability to critically consume and create media" (New Mexico Media
Literacy Project, 2004). The goal is to teach individuals how to
decipher deeper meanings from the media they consume. A-F.org
demonstrates media literacy by applying the concepts to advertising
as well as instructing girls how to use and transform ideas into
their own words. It also serves as an exchange, a place to document
action, post alternative responses, and create community.
Based within the
rubric of media literacy at the grass-roots and on-line levels,
About-Face.org believes "when girls and women understand what media
messages are saying and the impact of such messages, they will act
to change them" (A-F.org). In 1996, the A-F staff began a media
literacy program by giving speeches, talks, and workshops at
colleges, high schools, and to women's organizations. A-F.org
applies the same principles of awareness and critique to online
examples, thereby reaching a wider geographical audience. The
strategies and tactics give girls and women the tools needed to
think critically about advertising, providing an outlet for them to
become active, educated, and visible consumers.
Girls are encouraged to "use this Web
site as a launching pad for [their] own rebellion" (A-F.org).
The goal is to "disarm irresponsible advertisers" by
subverting the messages that undermine girls' and women's strengths
media literacy principle of "informed inquiry" (Center for Media
Literacy, 2004) involves a
process of awareness, reflection, analysis, and action with which
young people acquire the skills to navigate the sea of media
messages in order to:
Access information from a variety of sources.
Analyze and explore how messages are "constructed," whether print,
verbal, visual or multi-media.
Evaluate media's explicit and implicit messages against one's own
ethical, moral and/or democratic principles.
Express or create their own messages using a variety of media tools
(Center for Media Literacy, 2004).
interrogating A-F.org, I question whether the cite fosters activism
in Jammer Girls. In most cases, it is difficult to determine
whether or not a particular "jam" was ultimately effective in
changing corporate behavior or how girls were moved to do something
because of visiting the Web site. However, A-F.org provides the
place and the space for Jammer Girls and school groups to post their
information, art, and essays. To examine responses to the site, I
discuss examples that demonstrate online Jammer Girl activism under
the three links "Your Letters," "Visitor Feedback," and "Your Forum"
("Visitor Picks," a fourth link, was not operational, but is a site
for submission of images).
letters, and in some cases company responses to them, are posted on
the "Your Letters to Companies" page.
Examples include an exchange between individuals and PETA about
their sexist portrayals of women as a way of creating awareness for
the plight of animals and Skyy
Vodka's sexist representations of women. An example of letter
writing to a company, the company's response, and change catalyzed
by this activist effort was written to Dana Perfume objecting to
their "Fetish" perfume ads that target girls. The letter, signed by
a group of concerned individuals, includes a high school girl, an
undergraduate psychology student, a psychology professor, a nurse, a
business professor and "father of two daughters," and the associate
director of a teen theater project. The objectionable
advertisement, printed as an insert in the Portland Oregonian,
shows a young woman wearing an orange bikini top, heavy pink eye
makeup above and below her lashes, and a vial of Fetish perfume
hanging between her breasts. The copy across her chest reads:
"Fetish #16: Apply generously to your
neck so he can smell the scent as you shake your head 'no.'" The
group's objection was perpetuation of "the dangerous myth that girls
and women mean 'yes' when they say 'no,'" and that this translates
to the suggestion that is it acceptable to ignore a girl's voice.
Further, it reinforces the stereotype that, by wearing certain kinds
of clothing or makeup, a girl gives permission to be sexually
violated. The text of the letter also mentions the rail-like
thinness of the girl, how the red-rimmed eyes speak to the "heroin
chic" look, and that she looks battered. The group asks the company
to discontinue running the ad, but until that time states they would
boycott Fetish products.
response, written by the general manager of Dana Perfumes, refers to
a telephone conversation between the general manager and
The company stands behind the ads and does not believe them to be in
bad taste or harmful to girls. What they do say, however, is that
the group's letter demonstrates how the ads "do not
live up to the standards that we attempt
to maintain." Consequently, the ad campaign was discontinued.
Short quotes from visitors to the site are presented on this page.
Examples of their comments show their interest in and response to
the site's content. The first quote demonstrates familiarity with
the Internet and what is (or is not) available there while the
second demonstrates the importance of peer pressure to a girl's
self-image. The third example showcases the importance of
validation to self-esteem, and the fourth is evidence of true Jammer
Girl response to the information at A-F.org:
A.H., Female, Age 18:
loved it, it has to be the best thing i've found on the net in
Female, Age 18 -I
absolutely love it. Never in my life have I felt as though someone
really understood what I was going through as a size 12 in a high
school world of size 3s. As soon as I entered your site I felt
immense relief... like I didn't have to do it alone anymore... like
there was a whole world full of people out there who understood me.
I can't find the words to express the immense gratitude I feel
towards you. You have made me feel like I have worth even though I
am 20 pounds over my "acceptable" weight based on height. I will be
a full supporter of you forever, you've given me my life back, it's
the least I can do in return.
Female, Age 14:
found your site very informative, and it was very nice to know that
I am not the only one to think that some of the pictures in
magazines are ridiculous, and out of control.
Female, Age 14:
loved this web site so much that I started writing letters and
getting on the phone with companies. I even started my own webpage.
"Your Forum" is the place at A-F.org to post original essays, art
projects, student projects, reviews, and columns. Among the 17
essays posted, thirteen deal with eating disorders and body image.
Sixteen-year-old Katie Rainbow, for example, is a high school
student from Philadelphia. She says, "I enjoy writing, reading
anything I can get my hands on, and upsetting the natural order of
the universe as often as possible." Katie uses chocolate as
metaphor in her brief essay in which she explores peer and parental
pressure to be thin and popular, her disgust at having her cake and
throwing it up too, increased awareness of what a life of denial
means, and, ultimately, her rebellion against a thin-obsessed
culture. Similar to the poetry on girl-authored home pages, by
using third person, essay format, Katie is able to "address serious
and intimate matters " yet remain one step removed from confessional
writing (Stern, 2002):
sees all the chocolate cake she wouldn't eat, and all the chocolate
cake she threw up. And later, the chocolate cake she couldn't taste
anymore. And the chocolate cake she couldn't swallow. And the
chocolate cake she couldn't keep down. And now it's the chocolate
cake that has been replaced with an IV tube in a horrible hospital
where nurses yell at her when she doesn't eat her pudding. And they
force that pound it took her so much work to lose back under her
example of an art project is sixteen-year old Erin's post of a
collage of magazine images of unrealistically thin women in
advertisements, fashion spreads, and art. The words "Shed the
weight of the world" are placed on both sides, drawing the viewer's
eyes back and forth across the piece. Sarah submitted an image of a
blond woman in a neon pink string bikini with her wrists wrapped in
rope, dangling like a puppet from a stick. Between the figure's
arms are the words "The diet industry takes in over $40 billion each
year and is still growing." To the right, she has typed, "Don't
participate in your exploitation."
Five student projects are linked to the "Forum" page including
"Beauty is in the eye of the media," "Fashion: The cycle of shame,"
and the essay "Girl Power or Girl Downer?" written by Cate, 15 years
old, Santa Clarita, California, for her American Literature class.
In this piece, Cate discusses Barbie, the Spice Girls, and cartoons
as not only perpetuating the thin-is-in stereotype but also
appropriating the concept of Girl Power by mainstream culture:
"Having women in high positions. What a lie the media is feeding
us? Can you say Girl Power?"
purpose of this chapter is to explore the underpinnings of the false
dichotomy of good girls and bad girls in American society and to
posit the need for and appearance of a third teen girl identity. I
argue that, because of the development of Internet sites such as A-F.org,
Jammer Girls have visibly emerged from the cloudy cultural waters of
female adolescence. These sites have facilitated the concurrent
"coming out" of nonconformist girls whose blossoming rose from soil
made fertile by sister movements such as third wave feminism. Other
Web sites, such as AdiosBarbie.com and Loveyourbody.org, also strive
to empower girls with information to work toward changing the flow
of media images in order to help them love the bodies they are in
and to value and voice their ideas. What A-F.org offers that is
different from the others is a research-grounded media literacy
framework within which images are analyzed, discussed, and culture
shortcoming of this chapter and other feminist analyses of girl
culture is that they primarily addresses the experiences of white,
heterosexual, middle-class girls. There are vast and important
opportunities within this research area to explore, for example,
identity issues within other groups in American society,
particularly among African American girls and Latinas. Social class
issues also limit this kind of analysis. Not all girls have access
to computers and not all girls receive education in how to use
Based on the anecdotal comments posted by girls visiting the site,
the content of their essays, and the messages of their "jams," I
believe A-F.org has made a difference in girls’ lives. As girls
navigate a world littered with complexities of celebrity culture,
consumerism, and media ad-monish-ments about makeup, clothing, and
related accoutrements of female beauty, Internet sites such as
About-Face.org, media literacy education in schools and on the
Internet, girls participation in sports, and the burgeoning critical
mass of girls who are, to quote the film Network, "mad as
hell and not taking it anymore," all offer hope that girls of the
future will be more in a position to choose their identities. In
conclusion, A-F founder Kathy Bruin offers this positive message:
must all choose between battles: One battle is against the cultural
ideal, and the other is against ourselves. Must we always define
ourselves by what popular culture dictates? Develop your own
style. Have fun-- Wear lipstick. Or don't. You're the boss of
you. By speaking out and accepting yourself (dimples and all), you
help break the barriers. (A-F.org)
The expression "culture jamming" was
first used by the jammer band Negativland (http://www.negativland.com/)
and popularized by Dery (1993) who defines it as "media
hacking, information warfare, terror-art, and guerrilla semiotics
all in one" (http://www.levity.com/markdery/culturjam.html
). The expression has since become associated
with Kalle Lasn and Canadian activist group Adbusters.
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