Femininity and the female body : a discourse analysis of young women's talk : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Psychology at Massey University
This research looks at how 11 women aged 18-25 talk about femininity and the feminine body. The analysis is based on interview data collected in 2000, in Palmerston North and Napier, New Zealand. A discursive approach was used in analyzing the texts. The main assumption was that the meanings the women give to events and people when talking about femininity are likely to be related to their constructions of their bodies. Four main areas were looked at: the first was how the women talk of their bodies in relation to their evaluative sense of self; the second was how the women talk about the standards of beauty that are presented to them in the media; the third being how the women talk about themselves as consumers of fashion and beauty products; and the last was how the women talked about their understanding of femininity. Women generally constructed their physical appearance as relating closely to their sense of self, particularly their self-esteem. Beauty standards, especially those portrayed in the media were constructed as standards of physical attractiveness that are impossible to live up to. As a result of this, the women talked about depression and anxiety. In order to attempt to live up to these standards of beauty, women also talked of the ways they altered their appearance, particularly in regards to weight-loss, as well as the use of fashion and cosmetics. The concept of femininity was difficult for the women to talk about, as many had never given the idea much thought. Stereotypic notions of femininity as passive and self sacrificing were usually used, along side new ways of thinking about the concept, which often involved adopting valued masculine traits, such as independence and describing them as now relating to being a woman.