Kleine Achiles

Professor Elizabeth Littlejohn


15 November 2007

Identity Formation in Adolescent Girls: Just Your Average Girl

A critical time of identity formation is the adolescent years (ages 13-19) in which the individual self is focused on introspection as one grapples with the question of “Who am I?” Adolescence is a confusing period full of emotional and physical changes. “It is a time of introspection and of trying to fit oneself into increasingly complex relationships,” (Turkle 131). For young girls, the social pressures to become like the runway models gracing the covers of fashion magazines and the mixed messages they receive from many sources telling them to retain their sense of innocence and yet be the fantasy of all boys is confusing. Participating in online communities created by and geared towards girls such as gURL.com, About-Face.org, and Blue Jean Online allows them to express themselves in a safe environment. Girls’ websites provide safe outlets of communication for adolescent girls to explore and form their sense of sexual and gender identity. 

Gurl.com is a “builder of community” (Grisso and Weiss 34) that tackles issues important to girls ages 13 and up in a matter-of-fact way as opposed to going around them. Topics surrounding the issues of sex and sexuality that girls often find embarrassing and awkward to discuss in person are freely discussed in the site’s relationships and sex board. What stands out about this site is the way the girls support each other and if a girl were to criticize or place judgment on another in a rude way may find herself reproved for such behaviour (Grisso and Weiss 2005). This place provides a safe outlet of communication for girls to discuss with other girls about similar issues and questions regarding their growing sense of sexuality. It serves as a reminder that wider groups can have an influence on one’s identity and that others are there to help along the way (Armitage and Roberts 39). It is encouraging to know that others face similar confusing feelings about one’s changing body and emotions and realizing that one is also a sexual being. At a time when “peers are a major source of validation and socialization for adolescent girls,” (Coleman 138) I can imagine how being able to relate to millions of other girls on this site would give way to feelings of normalcy, of no longer feeling like an outsider. To know that there are others that have come before me that can give me advice and insight into how they navigated through such a confusing period in their lives and being able to freely discuss it in a non-judgmental environment is empowering. 

What is even more empowering is how websites such as About-Face.org challenges the messages that the media sends out to females. The site is a “launching pad” from which girls (and women) can speak out against advertisings in fashion magazines depicting unrealistic images of female beauty (Merskin 59). The site challenges girls to think about what they are seeing in the media, to understand it and resist conforming to the harmful stereotypes of females (About-Face.org). As girls going through a vulnerable stage of their lives where identity formation is critical seeing such images in the media is truly discouraging and can be a major blow to their self-esteem when they realize they can never meet such expectations. It is truly refreshing to find a site that helps girls realize that the females they see portrayed in the media that their peers are trying hard to emulate are unrealistic. This site gives way to a more positive outlook for girls, empowering them and encouraging them to create their own ideas of what it means to be a beautiful girl and to shape their own identities different from what the media tells them to be.

Blue Jean Online (BJO) was a companion website to the magazine founded and edited by Sherry Handel and content created by young women all over the world that was published between 1996-1998. The considerations of complex and intriguing issues such as the objectification of women as sexual objects and their roles and status in society in comparison to men provoked stimulating discussions on the website. The site and magazine’s goal was to publish what young women all over the world were thinking, saying and doing (Walsh 73). The site challenged the dominant stereotypes about men and women and argued that media should be creating guiding principles that are meant to empower young girls and to show them as more than just sexual objects or as passive weak damsels (Steiner 1995). For adolescent girls, being able to view such a diverse content of information from many young women around the world is a display of uniqueness from other traditional magazines geared toward girls. The site shows that there is no such thing as one criteria that young girls need to meet in order to fit their societal “norms” whatever they may be nor do they need to look at what media says is female beauty or equate one’s status with one’s self-worth (Walsh 2005). By emphasizing that women are independent and strong a window of insight is created for adolescent girls to realize that they can be that and much more by not conforming to what society expects of them and what media says to them. It influences the way young girls think of themselves as females growing up in a media-saturated society. 

These three websites give girls a sense of freedom from their feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment as they navigate and express their thoughts on issues important to them such as questions about their bodies and meeting unrealistic social expectations of a “perfect girl.” Being able to relate to millions of other girls their age and having the wisdom and knowledge of those that have come before them is empowering in itself. On these girls’ websites, young females can safely access a plethora of information concerning issues important to them as well as express their thoughts and gain insightful ideas on being a girl. Despite being able to be anonymous on these sites there is a sense of intimacy as a girl finds herself immersed in a new world where she can become someone new and discover different aspects of herself while interacting with other people online, expressing emotions and asking questions she may feel restricted from voicing in real life (Weinberger 11). In her exploration and discovery she may find herself and the young women she wants to be. 

Works Cited

About-Face. Ed./founder Kathy Bruin. 30 Oct. 2007. 8 Nov. 2007

 < HYPERLINK "http://www.about-face.org" http://www.about-face.org>.

Armitage, John and Joanne Robers, ed. Living with Cyberspace: Technology &

Society in the 21st Century. New York, N.Y.: Continuum, 2002.

Coleman, James Samuel. The Adolescent Society; the Social Life of the

Teenager and its Impact on Society. New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1963.

Grisso, Ashley D, and David Weiss. “What Are gURLS Talking About?

Adolescent Girls’ Construction of Sexual Identity on gURL.com.” Girl Wide Web: Girls, The Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity. Ed. Sharon R. Mazzarella. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 31-49.

gURL Ed. Karell Roxas. 1996. iVillage Inc. 4 Nov. 2007  <http://www.gurl.com>.

Merskin, Debra. “Making an About-Face: Jammer Girls and the World Wide

Web.” Girl Wide Web: Girls, The Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity. Ed. Sharon R. Mazzarella. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 51-67.

Steiner, Linda. “Would the Real Women’s Magazine Please Stand Up…for

Women.” Women and Media. C. Lont Ed. Belmont, CA:Wadsworth, 99-108.

Turkle, Sherry. The Second Self: Computers and the Human Spirit. 20th

anniversary ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005. 

Walsh, Susan F. “Gender, Power, and Social Interaction: How Blue Jean Online

Constructs Adolescent Girlhood.” Girl Wide Web: Girls, The Internet, and the Negotiation of Identity. Ed. Sharon R. Mazzarella. New York: Peter Lang, 2005. 69-83.

Weinberger, David. Small Pieces Loosely Joined. Cambridge, MA: Perseus,


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