Taiwanese girls’ self-portraiture on a social networking site.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
An increasing number of young girls produce contents in social media on a everyday basis for the opportunities to express, explore and connect. Public misunderstanding and
concern are about whether girls are being narcissistic and vain. Academic works address how girls exercise agency while negotiating structure in the construction of their gendered adolescent identities. This thesis is situated in relation to our hopes and fears about girls’ self-representation through digital media production, and examines the role
that photographic self-portraiture plays in girls’ social relations, personal and gender identity work.
The theoretical framework combines the perspectives of gender performativity and symbolic interactionism, supplemented by analyses of personal photography. This thesis chose as its case study the popular Taiwanese social networking site Wretch, and employed a mixed method of quantitative content analysis of 2000 self-portraits of
teenagers to understand how they represent themselves, and qualitative online interviews with 42 girls aged 13-20 to learn about their relationships with self-portraiture.
The content analysis shows that most teenagers represent themselves in a gender stereotypical manner, while some adopt non gender-specific styles to represent themselves as friendly, suggesting that teenagers may use ideals about femininity, masculinity and sociality as shortcuts to present themselves in a positive light. Interview findings reveal how girls use camera technologies and the affordance of SNS for visual self-disclosure, which isimportant for the development of theirinterpersonal relationships. The findings also suggest that self-portraiture is not simply an act of photographing a ‘reality’ of the self, but of formulating self-image(s) and identity in the process of making self-portraits. In self-portraiture, girls are constantly confronted with the ‘who am I’ question, and construct and revise their biographies as they manage an
array of audiences from different contexts all collapsing in one space. Furthermore, selfportraiture creates a distance between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’, allowing one to ‘play’ with
self-image(s) and identity. It creates a space for the negotiation of ideals and anxieties, for experiments with different subject positions that may be socially or individually rewarding, and it is through these seemingly casual endeavoursthat one gradually works out their position in the social world. The thesis contributes to the scholarship on girls’ media culture, and suggests current theoretical perspective be expanded in order to better
understand different ways of ‘doing girlhood’.
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