Are “fun” slogan T-shirts for tween girls limiting their emotions?


York University professor to discuss pressures on girls to show happiness

TORONTO, June 5, 2019 – While some admire tween girls wearing T-shirts emblazoned with slogans like “Hey you! Smile” and “When in Doubt, Laugh,” others suggest the T-shirts exemplify the pressure on young girls to limit their real feelings.

Natalie Coulter, assistant professor in York University’s Department of Communication Studies, researched how these message T-shirts affect the emotions of tween girls and found that they place a constant emphasis on smiling, being fun and looking happy, which precludes exhibiting other emotions.

Coulter will present her ongoing research at a lecture on Saturday, June 8, 2019 from 11:20 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. in the Life Sciences Building at York’s Keele campus (see #90 on the MAP).

Natalie Coulter

Assistant Professor Natalie Coulter

“There is a lot of pressure on girls to smile and perform an emotion for the outside world that doesn’t exist internally, and this has negative, long-term implications,” said Coulter, an expert on young people’s media culture in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. “

Coulter says these T-shirts reinforce gender stereotypes with the ones aimed at young boys touting messages like “Eat. Sleep. Drink. Hockey,” while some T-shirts marketed to tween girls display messages such as “Happy Girls are the Prettiest.”

Her lecture will also address how these T-shirts function as a way to keeps girls from being political. Coulter says companies and clothing stores are positioning girlhood as a moment of fun, which limits the political possibilities for girls.

“One of the most poignant examples of this constant pressure on women to smile and be happy is the Clinton-Trump campaign,” said Coulter. “After every debate in the last U.S presidential election, Donald Trump could just stand there looking solemn and nobody cared, but Hillary Clinton had to perform, with a wave and a smile, and be happy and jubilant afterward, or she would face the wrath.”

Coulter’s research and teaching focuses on girls’ studies, critical advertising studies, and the media cultures of children and young people, with an emphasis on the social construction of marketing niches such as tween girls.

She has written extensively about young girls and tween girls, authoring and co-authoring more than 20 published journal articles and books. She co-edited  Youth Mediations and Affective Relations, a look at the emotional experiences of young people as they actively use media in order to forge communities, published last year. She wrote Tweening the Girl: The Crystallization of the Tween Market, a book that explains how the preteen girl is a product of the marketing and media industries carving them out as a separate marketing niche.

Coulter’s talk is part of The York Circle Lecture and Lunch Series, a free day of presentations by leading York professors speaking about their research to an audience of York students, parents of students, alumni, friends and neighbours of the university.

NOTE: Members of the public are required to RSVP. Members of the media should advise Media Relations at the contact below.

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