The latest “girlhood crisis” sparking controversy in academic and popular culture discourse is the premature sexualization of girls’ media and consumer-product environments, which has been termed the “Lolita effect” by media studies scholar M. Gigi Durham (2008). However, the high-profile books about the effect’s repercussions for girls’ healthy physical and emotional development do not include data elicited from preadolescent girls about their interpretations of this archetype; instead, authors base their conclusions on adult-centric assumptions about how this representation of idealized femininity might affect girls. Projecting presumptions about the effects of media sexualization and objectification on adult women onto girls’ lived experiences both underrates the importance of the broad array of meanings that girls ascribe to the imagery of idealized femininity and inappropriately equates a specific type of objectification (sexualization) with all manners of treating the body as an object to control and manage. This article addresses the theoretical and methodological limitations of conflating sexualization with objectification in the context of preadolescent girls’ performances of archetypal femininities, arguing that the assemblage of consumer purchases and grooming techniques that produces the Lolita effect’s image is also required to fashion other archetypes of idealized young femininity that permeate media constructions of neoliberal American girlhood. Drawing from Erving Goffman’s (1959) framework for dramaturgical analysis of social behavior and recent ethnographic studies with preadolescent girls, the article argues that the key determinant of the gender scripts that girls employ in fashioning their subjectivities may be their perceived audience for their performances of femininity, which for preadolescent girls includes not only boys, but also their female peers.


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pp. 165-190
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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