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HOW DO LATINAS NEGOTIATE THE MAGAZINE'S IDEOLOGY
OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LATINA?
LAUREN ANN RUSSELL
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS IN LATIN AMERICAN STUDIES
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Lauren Ann Russell
At times, I thought I might not complete my master's degree because of the
difficulty of writing this thesis. I tackled a topic about which I had no prior knowledge,
and it forced me to think outside of my comfort zone-for a while. Of course, I did
complete this thesis, and I did so because of the support of my family, friends, and
I am especially grateful to my committee member, Dr. Robyn Goodman, who
spent countless hours reading my many drafts and advising me about how to construct a
sound thesis. From the inception of this work through the defense, her guidance made this
thesis something of which I am proud. I would also like to thank my committee chair, Dr.
Michael Leslie; and committee member, Dr. Tace Hedrick, for their time and insightful
I am very grateful to my mom who throughout this process reminded me of how
proud she is of me and encouraged me to be proud of my efforts. I am very thankful to
Radley who provided encouragement and patience when it was most needed. Also
deserving of my appreciation is my Nana, who allowed me to live with her while working
on this. I would also like to thank Allison, Francesca, Rue, and Claudia for providing a
place for me to rest my weary head when I visited Gainesville; and my brother, Luke, for
helping me whenever needed. I am grateful for my supportive family and wonderful
friends who never once, when I spoke about my thesis incessantly, told me to zip it
already. Finally, I would like to thank my dad who provided incredible encouragement
for continuing my education.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S .................................................................... ......... .............. iii
ABSTRACT ............... ..................... ......... .............. vii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
Purpose and Significance of the Study ..................................... ...................
M magazines and W om en.................................................................... .................. 2
Trends In W omen's M magazine Research................................................................... 2
Ideology and E thnic M edia.......................................... .......................................8
L atina M magazine .................................................................................... ...... .. 9
Latina Magazine's Ideology of What It Means To Be Latina............................... 9
Consum erism and Panethnicity ............................................................................ 10
L a tin id a d .......................................................................................................1 3
More About Latina Magazine ................... ................................. 14
The History of Hispanic/Latina Magazines......................................................18
New Considerations and New Research..... .................... ...............19
Research Question .................................... .. .......... .. ............20
2 LITERATURE REVIEW ..................... .....................................................23
M edia Representations of Latinas ............... .......... ................ ....... ........ 23
M edia Stu dies ....................................................... 2 7
T heoretical C on sideration s .............................................................. .....................4 5
3 M E T H O D .............................................................................5 7
T h e F o cu s G ro u p .................................................................................................. 5 7
R e se arch D e sig n ................................................................................................... 5 9
A n a ly sis ..............................................................................7 0
4 F IN D IN G S ...................... .. ............. .. .....................................................7 6
Focus G group D em graphics .................................................................... ..76
Sum m ary of Findings .................................. ...........................................77
The M ediated Latina Ideal ........ ........ .. ................. .................. ............... 78
Summary of the Latina Ideal ........... ...................... .... .... ......... ..................90
Negotiating Latina Magazine's Ideology of What It Means To Be Latina ..............91
B eauty ............. ...................................... ........ ......... .................. 91
F a sh io n .................................................................................................................. 9 9
B iculturalism .................................................................................................. ...... 110
F a m ily ................................................................................ 1 1 3
R e lig io n ............................................................................................................... 1 1 8
T ra d itio n ............................................................................. 12 0
5 D ISC U S SIO N ...................................................... 125
Summary of Findings .......................................................... 125
Participant Awareness of Mediated Ideals .........................................................126
Trends in Negotiating the Other Articles .......................................................128
Implications of Findings ............... ......... ....... ........128
Filling a G ap in R research .............................................................. 137
Limitations ............... ......... ........................138
Future Research .................. ..... ......... .......... 139
A MODERATOR'S INTRODUCTORY TEXT ......................................................... 141
B M O D ER A TO R 'S G U ID E .................................................................................. 143
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................................... 145
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................................................ .............153
Abstract of Thesis presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in partial fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
HOW DO LATINAS NEGOTIATE THE MAGAZINE'S IDEOLOGY
OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE LATINA?
Lauren Ann Russell
Chair: Michael Leslie
Major Department: Latin American Studies
The purpose of my study was to attempt to understand how Latinas negotiate
Latina magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina. According to previous
research, ideological messages in women's magazines have powerful effects on the
women who read them. However, no study has explored how Latinas negotiate the
messages in a magazine designed specifically for them. My study was the first to explore
how Latinas negotiate Latina magazine and whether they accepted, questioned, or
rejected the messages in the magazine.
My study used qualitative methods to collect data from three focus groups
comprising a total of 20 self-identified Latinas. Findings suggest that the focus group
participants perceived the mediated Latina ideal in Latina magazine as similar to the
mediated Latina ideal found in mainstream media: curvy, sexy, tan skin, dark eyes, and
dark hair. My findings suggest, as previous research suggested, that Latina magazine is
reproducing dominant ideology.
Glaser and Strauss's (1967) constant comparative method was used to organize
and analyze the data and showed that the women's readings of Latina magazine were
complex and sometimes inconsistent. Most of the women's attitudes were, at one point or
another, resistant to many of Latina magazine's messages. Consequently, the readings of
Latina magazine were largely negotiated and, at times, oppositional. Many of the women
were aware of the dominant standards in the magazine but most did not articulate in-
depth criticism that exposed underlying dominant ideology. The women often indicated
that their beliefs and sometimes their behaviors aligned with dominant ideology.
In addition, findings suggest that Latina magazine may not be catering to its target
audience, because many of the women in the focus groups conveyed that they felt
alienated by the magazine. Many of the women perceived the magazine as upholding new
standards for qualifying as Latina in terms of physical appearance, beliefs, traditions,
behaviors, and values.
I speak English with my friends and colleagues and Spanish with my
familiar. I eat flan and apple pie. I'm a modem woman but I'm firmly
rooted in tradition. I want a magazine that speaks to me in both worlds,
and in both my languages, that covers beauty in all shades and shapes, a
magazine that shows successful Latinas achieving their dreams. Latina is
that publication. (Latina Mission Statement, 2004)
Purpose and Significance of the Study
Women's magazines and the women who read them have been researched for
more than 20 years (Adegbola 2002; Britt 2003; Duke 2000; Durham 1996,1998,
1999a,b; Ferguson 1978; Frazer 1987; Goodman 2002; McRobbie 1978, McRobbie 1996;
Pompper and Koenig 2004; Woodward 2003). Some research about women's magazine
focuses on how minority women or women of color negotiate mainstream women's
magazines (Britt 2003; Duke 2000; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002). Virtually no
attention, however, has been paid to how U.S. Latinas negotiate women's magazines
designed for them. This is original research about how self-identified U.S. Latinas
negotiate Latina magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina.1
1 This thesis uses the term "Latina" to refer to women who live in the United States who trace their origins
to Spanish-speaking Latin American and Caribbean nations. While the term "Latina" disregards the
diversity of women with Latin American connections, it should be noted that the author does not believe
that any woman of Latin American origin is actually part of a homogeneous group. Nevertheless, the term
"Latina" is used throughout this thesis because the magazine that is explored in this thesis is called Latina.
The term "Latina" relates to U.S. experiences (Suhrez-Orozco & Piez, 2002). The term "U.S. Latina" is
more precise but is somewhat redundant, therefore the term "Latina" is used throughout this thesis.
Magazines and Women
Ferguson (1978) said that a woman's magazine is one "whose content and
advertising is aimed primarily at a female audience and at female areas of concern and
competence, as customarily defined within our culture" and that these publications
"function to transmit cultural prescriptions of female role performance" (p. 97).
Women's magazines are popular with many women in the United States. In fact,
one survey (The Female Persuasion, 2002) conducted in 2002, found that 60% of women
had read a women's lifestyle magazine in the past year. Perhaps the popularity of these
publications is what drives researchers to study them.
Trends In Women's Magazine Research
According to Gough-Yates (2003), research about women's magazines shows the
negative representations of women in these magazines. An abundance of literature links
women's magazines to negative representation and misrepresentation, and much research
suggests that the dominant ideologies in these magazines subjugate women (Calafell
2001; Duke 2000; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002; Hedrick 2001; McRobbie 1978).
According to Durham (1999a), "Literally hundreds of studies of mass media content in
the past 20 years have produced evidence of detrimental representations of women and
femininity" (p. 216).
Most of the literature about women's magazines since the 1970s has been written
by feminist media scholars who have reached similar conclusions: these magazines are
problematic for women because their hegemonic standards of beauty and patriarchal and
commercial messages (i.e., dominant ideological messages) perpetuate gender, racial,
ethnic, and class inequalities and stereotypes, thereby oppressing the construction of
positive feminine identities (Gough-Yates 2003; McRobbie 1996). In sum, according to
existing studies, women's magazines support and reflect the ruling ideology (Calafell
2001; Duke 2002; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002, McRobbie 1978).
Ruling or dominant ideology refers to the ruling ideas or standards of society that
revolve around the ruling classes and institutions (Althusser 1971; Hall 1982). In the
United States, for example, Whiteness is privileged, as is heterosexuality; men hold the
most power, and capitalism flourishes. Hence, the ruling ideas and standards are those
supported by White supremacy, patriarchy, and capitalism. There is no one "unified and
stable" dominant ideology; rather, ideology is constructed of the core assumptions in a
culture or society that make certain beliefs, values, and ways of life seem normal or
"common-sensical" (Kellner 1995, p. 58). That is to say, our collective common-sense
understanding of the way things are, so to speak, results from ideology.
Althusser's (1971) theory of ideology accounts for how the ruling or hegemonic
classes or institutions perpetuate our consent to the dominant ideology. According to Hall
(1982), media institutions produce and reproduce dominant ideologies and "powerfully
secure consent" (p. 86). Media institutions are not independent of dominant ideological
influence; rather the media incorporate hegemonic standards and transmit them to media
audiences (Hall 1982). According to Hall (1982), "ideology is a function of the discourse
and of the logic of social processes, rather than an intention of the agent" (p. 88). In other
words, theories on ideology would support that a magazine producer "unwittingly,
unconsciously ... has served as a support for the reproduction of a dominant ideological
discursive field" (p. 88).
Often support for dominant ideology by magazine producers is manifest in
advertising. That is to say, advertising needs often dictate editorial content (Steinem
1995). According to Steinem (1995), there is an "ad-edit linkage" that pressures
magazine editors to praise particular products in editorial copy and to position ads next to
what companies deem appropriate or complementary editorial content so as to attract
advertisers (p. 329). Says Steinem (1995), advertising is pulled or not even considered
when magazine producers do not provide editorial content that advertising companies
Using theories on ideology, McRobbie (1996) said that, for researchers, the
common attitude toward women's magazines is critical and that "Women's and girl's
magazines not only failed the women they claimed to represent, they actively damaged
them, constructing injured and subordinate subjectivities" (p. 173). For media scholars,
incorporating theories on ideology such as Althusser's (1971) theory of ideology served
to make research about women's magazines more "theoretically sophisticated"
(McRobbie 1996). Gough-Yates (2003) said, "The women's magazine industry is
understood as a monolithic meaning-producer, circulating magazines that contain
'messages' and 'signs' about the nature of femininity that serve to promote and legitimate
dominant interests" (p. 7). Many studies classify magazine producers as instruments of
the dominant class who spread its ideological messages or as cunning business people
aware of how to attract advertising and high circulation (Gough-Yates 2003). "In these
terms those working in media production are seen as conspiring in the promotion of both
capitalism and patriarchy" (Gough-Yates 2003, p. 7).
In sum, critical stances toward women's magazines often highlight the hegemonic
attitudes and dominant standards promoted by magazine producers, and often the point of
such criticism is to draw attention to these things so that female readers may be more
aware of the ideological messages and more adept to challenging those oppressive
messages (Gough-Yates 2003; McRobbie 1996).
Questioning the power of ideology. In the 1980s, the power of ideology was
challenged (Frazer 1987). One big problem some researchers had with theories on
ideology was that, simply put, "ideology makes people do things" (Frazer 1987, p. 410).
According to Frazer (1987), if the ideological effects of a text caused people to have
certain beliefs, attitudes, and opinions; and ultimately, influenced their behaviors, then
why were the theorists who explained the power of ideology not affected? Could these
theorists maintain more agency than the average magazine reader?
Even the perspective of Angela McRobbie, a veteran women's magazine
researcher who avidly implemented theories on ideology and who wrote that through
magazines, "a concerted effort is ... made to win and shape the consent of the readers to
a set of particular values," (McRobbie 1989, p. 203), later questioned the power of
ideology and considered reader agency. McRobbie (1996) later wrote, "If we feminists
turned out not so badly, on what basis can we assume that magazines have such a
damaging and dangerous effect on all their other readers?" (McRobbie 1996, p. 175).
Hence, the emphasis on how ideology victimized women diminished because the line
between feminists and "ordinary" women became blurred (McRobbie 1996).
Although, it could be argued that perhaps one could maintain more agency when
reading media if the reader's consciousness were raised. According to hooks (2000),
consciousness-raising is when people, via communication and dialogue, become more
aware of how social systems of domination and oppression work in every day life or,
more specifically, how women may "clarify our collective understanding of the nature of
male domination" (p. 8). Consciousness-raising is about understanding the roots of our
sexist thinking that we often accept without question (hooks 2000). For example, a
woman who has had her consciousness raised has "gained the strength to challenge
patriarchal forces at work and at home" (p. 8).
Another factor that challenged the power of ideology was the pleasure that even
feminist writers admitted to experiencing when reading women's magazines (McRobbie
1996). "Ostensibly, these magazines are positive projections of the future self, for few
would buy these publications were they overtly to present negative images" (McCracken
1993, p. 136). People take pleasure in consuming media texts (Lindlof and Taylor 2002).
A prominent exemplar that demonstrates how women derive pleasure
from a medium is the work of Janice Radway (1984). In a study of women
reading romance novels, Radway (1984) found that housewives viewed their
readings as an escape and as a way to assert their independence. But why do
women experience pleasure when consuming a mass medium? A pleasureful
reading of a popular text may result from identifying with the content, but Kellner
(1995) says that experiencing such enjoyment from reading a text is not
completely innocent or without consequence. Kellner (1995) said, "Pleasures ...
should thus be problematized .. and interrogated as to whether they contribute to
the production of a better life and society, or help trap us into modes of everyday
life that ultimately oppress and degrade us" (p. 39).
Similarly, McCracken (1993) said that "the attractive experiences are
ideologically weighted and not simply innocent arenas of pleasure .. along with the
pleasure come messages that encourage insecurities, heighten gender stereotypes, and
urge reifying definitions of the self through consumer goods" (p. 8-9). In other words,
pleasureful readings of media texts have a way of naturalizing dominant ideology.
Agency of the magazine reader. Historically, much research about women's
magazines has not emphasized the power or even the role of magazine readers (Gough-
Yates 2003; McRobbie 1996). McRobbie (1996) says that magazine researchers should
posit questions about magazine consumers because readers are not as often assumed to be
naive "cultural dupes" as they were in the past. Eventually, researchers did question that
texts could always be read exactly as they were produced or that meaning was inherent
(Johnson 1986-1987). Messages in texts are now often thought to be polysemic, or open
to multiple interpretations (Fiske 1986). Moreover, ideological effects cannot be assumed
(Johnson 1986-1987). According to Johnson (1986-1987),
It is important not to assume that public-ation only and always works in
dominating or in demeaning ways. We need careful analyses of where and
how public representations work to seal social groups into the existing
relations of dependence and where and how they have some emancipatory
tendency. (p. 52)
Readers may accept the messages in a text without question, and they also may
negotiate or even reject them (Hall 1979). The ability to actually resist media messages,
however, is debatable (Durham 1999a). According to Thompson (1990), one reason the
ability to reject ideological messages in the media is debatable is because the way
ideology works is it gives people just enough autonomy so that they think they have
power to resist ruling forces and so they will not actively revolt. In other words, said
The ruling or dominant ideology may incorporate elements drawn from
subordinate groups or classes, and there may be ideologies or 'ideological
sub-systems' which correspond to subordinate groups or classes and
which have a 'relative autonomy' with regard to the dominant ideology.
But these ideological sub-systems are constrained by the dominant
ideology; they are part of an ideological field which is ultimately
structured by the ideology of the dominant class. It is in this way-to
employ Gramsi's term-that the dominant class secures 'hegemony':
through the structuring of the ideological field, the dominant class or class
faction is able to exercise political leadership based on the 'active consent'
of subordinate classes and to integrate the various factions of the dominant
class into a relatively stable power bloc. (p. 94)
Ideology and Ethnic Media
Ideology as it relates to ethnic media is especially interesting because it addresses
typically subordinate audiences (i.e., ethnic audiences). Yet, little attention has been paid
toward magazines designed for minority audiences. Applying theories on ideology when
researching so-called U.S. ethnic media, however, is appropriate because these magazines
are created in the United States within dominant ideology (Calafell 2001; Johnson 2000).
Yet, these publications also serve as respite from mainstream publications that do not
reflect, for the most part, diverse ethnicities (Johnson 2000).
Johnson (2000) concluded that ethnic media produced in the United States have
assimilative functions that, a theorist on ideology might argue, produces and reproduces
dominant ideologies. Johnson (2000) said that media research assumes that ethnic media
have assimilative functions that include "serving as instruments of social control,
maintaining the dominant languages of the host society, maintaining the dominant
ideology, borrowing general market media genres and socializing to the modern" (p.
234). Besides encouraging readers to be members of mainstream society, Johnson (2000)
says that ethnic media simultaneously have pluralistic functions as well, and so the
content is designed to also sustain one's heritage or culture.
Latina magazine is one of the top 10 publications read by Hispanics/Latinos in the
United States, and it is the most widely read of English-language Latina magazines
(Magazine Publishers of America 2004).
Latina magazine attempts to reflect what it means to be Latina. The magazine also
attempts to communicate what Latinas look like, what traditions they uphold, and what
beliefs and values they have, just to name a few examples. The current editorial director,
Betty Cortina, says that Latina magazine reflects "the world through that unique Latina
lens" (Cortina 2003, p. 34). Latina magazine has a concept of what it means to be Latina,
and that concept is communicated via the text and images in the magazine. Latina
magazine has an ideology of what it means to be Latina.
Latina Magazine's Ideology of What It Means To Be Latina
Latina magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina, as it is manifest almost
every month in the pages of the magazine, must be born of some thing. Theories on
ideology would suggest that the producers of Latina magazine are guided by dominant
ideology; hence, the ideology of Latina magazine may reflect those dominant standards.
Calafell (2001) said, "We are bombarded with media images, historical images, and
cultural images that define what we should be as Latinas. Many of these racist and
stereotypical images have been created and maintained by the dominant society" (p. 39).
One might argue that dominant ideas dictate that consumerism and a panethnic
impulse become a part of a woman's magazine created for Latinas and that these factors
influence Latina magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina.
Consumerism and Panethnicity
Latinos wield $653 billion in purchasing power, a number that is expected to
nearly double by 2008 (Humphreys 2003). When considering Latino purchasing power, it
is no surprise that this growing sector of the population is a prime target for marketing a
product like Latina magazine. McCracken (1993) says that magazines for ethnic
minorities have been successful at reaching "a substantial growing sector with
consumerist messages that are ostensibly personalized with the specific cultural heritage
of minority groups" (p. 223). Latina magazine markets to the Hispanic/Latino population
in the United States. The magazine contains advertising-much of it identical to other
women's mainstream magazines-which grosses revenue.
Panethnicity is encouraged by the Hispanic/Latino market (Davila 2001). Latino
panethnicity refers to people of Latin American decent belonging to one, unitary group
(Davila 2001, 2002). In terms of panethnic mass media audiences, Davila (2002) said that
Latino-oriented media have contributed to "Latinization-the consolidation of a common
Latino identity among different Latino subgroups" (p. 27) and the idea that U.S. Latinos
are part of a distinct symbolic or imagined community (Anderson 1983; Davila 2001).
Latina magazine supports the invocation of family and identification of heritage so as to
situate readers "within an imagined panethnic Latino family" (Martinez 2004, p. 163).
To make a profit, magazine producers must create a publication that identifies and
targets a specific market, yet at the same time that magazine should capture the interest of
as many people as possible. Panethnicity, therefore, works for those seeking to tap into
the Hispanic/Latino sector. Panethnicity is marketable (Davila 2001).
Latina magazine supports a pan-Hispanic or U. S. Latino panethnicity (Johnson
2000). Espinoza (1998) said that magazines like Latina are a site for the construction,
negotiation, contestation, and affirmation of Latina identity because it's an "identity,
which resonates with a panethnic population in the United States" (pp. 6-7).
Latina magazine invites a broad readership, and consequently, refers to Latinas as
members of a panethnic group who are sometimes of a generic or pan-Hispanic look
(Davila 2001). If a magazine were to solely target Puerto Rican women or only address
the Argentine market, it would not attract as many advertising dollars because few
companies would shell out necessary funds to create ad campaigns to be seen by a small
readership. Rather, big-money advertisers are drawn to magazines that reach big
audiences. Thus, one reason Latina magazine encourages U.S. Latino panethnicity is to
bring in advertising dollars. Johnson (2000) said that a common sentiment is that
"Spanish-language mass media exploit Hispanic heritage to sell an audience to
advertisers, and in doing so, end up promoting group consciousness" (p. 233).
Much literature condemns marketing to Hispanics and magazines such as Latina
for capitalizing on and marketing Latina ethnicity, for addressing Latinas as "objects of
consumption" (Hedrick 2001, p. 150; Shorris 1992), and for hindering Latinas from
constructing non-consumerist identities (Beer 2002). According to Negr6n-Muntaner
"Latino," in this case, does not refer to a cultural identity, but to a
specifically American national currency for economic and political deal
making; a technology to demand and deliver emotions, votes, markets, and
resources on the same level as other racialized minorities. (p. 184)
Problems with panethnicity. Suarez-Orozco and Paez (2002) said, "The very
term Latino has meaning only in reference to the U.S. experience. Outside the United
States, we don't speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and so
forth. Latinos are made in the USA" (p. 4). Keeping in mind that Hispanics and Latinos
have not historically referred to themselves as neither Hispanic nor Latino, the idea of
encouraging U.S. panethnicity is a lofty, utopian ambition and sometimes contentious.
Latinos may share a language (and sometimes they do not even share a language), but
they are of various and distinct nationalities, cultures, and experiences. Nevertheless,
Flores-Gonzalez (1999) said, "Recent research suggests that second and subsequent
generations are more likely to self-identify panethnically, and to adopt different self-
identities that convey the degree of assimilation into the white middle class" (p. 5). Of
course, this excludes Latinos with African heritage.
One might argue that Latina magazine appears to encourage panethnicity for the
same reason many scholars, politicians, authors, and national organizations like La Raza
encourage U.S. Latino panethnicity-to create a solidarity that advances Latino
recognition, protections, and consciousness. Panethnicity for such purposes sounds
somewhat like Padilla's (1985) concept of Latinismo. Padilla (1985) calls for the uniting
of two of more Spanish-speaking groups to mobilize efficiently toward objective goals.
"This view assumes that Latino identity is situational and contextual, being activated
under specific circumstances and for political purposes, and deactivated once goals are
reached" (Flores-Gonzalez 1999). According to Latina magazine, U.S. Latinas share
common experiences simply because they have Latin American roots, and thus, can learn
from each other and advance with each other. Espinoza (1998) said, "Their unique
experiences as Latinas in the United States is the common thread that ties them together"
(p. 15). Latinas are united from "shared social location, despite their diverse historical
backgrounds" (Espinoza 1998, p. 15). Still, some argue that this panethnic approach
blurs the diversity that is reality. Scholar and author Arlene Davila is quoted in Latina
I think we need to not necessarily think that the 'Latino' category is what
we should go for. For example, right now in New York City, the Puerto
Rican and Mexican communities are organizing according to their national
groupings, with Mexicans organizing as Mexicans for immigrant rights
and amnesty. So I'm thinking that perhaps we need to be more open, to be
more embracing, thinking about the real diversity and the ways in which
we could connect and disconnect with the incredible variety. (Ocafia,
2004, p. 120)
In contrast, Lisa Navarrete, vice president of the National Council of La Raza,
responds to Davila by saying that today it is becoming more in people's interests (i.e.,
equating visibility with power) to identify as Latino rather than by nationality compared
to during the 1990s when most people identified themselves by nationality. Navarrete
cites the example of when Italians first immigrated to the United States and identifying
themselves as Sicilian, Milanese, and the like. "You can't have power as a Milanese, but
you can have power as Italian Americans .. 'Doesn't it make more sense to be part of
38 million people than to be part of 308,000?'" (Ocafia 2004, p. 120). Whether this
integration of nationalities and cultures is a step in the right direction in terms of power in
numbers or whether this homogenous impulse leads to "blissful ignorance" (Hedrick
2001, p. 141), will continue to be debated. One point of contention that will remain
constant, however is that in reality there is no "Latino market" and that the illusion of a
Latino community was created to facilitate delivering to advertisers (Davila 2001; Shorris
Somewhat similar to panethnicity is the concept of Latinidad. Latinidad is a term
used in a variety of way in various disciplines (Aparicio 2003). Latinidad, for the purpose
of my study, is a concept born of panethnicity. Latinidad describes a common cultural
identity (Davila 2002; Valdivia 2004). Also, one's sense of what it means to be Latina is
Latinidad; one's Latin-ness or Latinity, as Latina magazine calls it. Latina magazine
encourages readers to embrace their Latinity.
Davila's (2001) definition of Latinidad also requires the conglomeration of
women with Latin American roots. However, again, the lumping together of women of
Latin American background into one category has consumerist implications, says Davila
(2001), which may influence Latina magazine's ideology. Davila (2001) uses the term
"Latinidad" to refer to the enactments, definitions, and representations of Hispanic and
Latino culture that manifest as a result of Hispanic marketing (p. 17).
More About Latina Magazine
In an interview with Folio magazine, Christy Haubegger, the founder of Latina
magazine, a Mexican-American from Houston, Texas, says her purpose for starting the
magazine was that, "There wasn't a magazine for me-no one in the magazines looked
even remotely like me" (Beam 1996, p. 23). Haubegger has also said that there were no
magazines that spoke of the Mexican-American experience (Christy Haubegger, 2002).
Interestingly, Haubegger was adopted into "a tall, blond family named Haubegger" when
she was less than a year old (Veilleux 2002; Prather n.d.). "I grew up in a household that
emphasized the importance of my own heritage," Haubegger is quoted as saying, "[My
parents] made me speak Spanish."
After graduating from Stanford Law School, Haubegger conducted research to
learn what Latinas were reading and in what language (Martinez 2004). Consequently,
she learned that the Spanish-language literature produced outside of the United States did
not speak of the lives and experiences of Latinos living in the United States (Martinez
2004). After conducting focus groups and analyzing marketing surveys and census data,
Haubegger decided there was a need for a magazine for bilingual, middle-class Latinas
created by Latinas (Martinez 2004).
In June 1996, Haubgger launched Latina magazine with the backing of Essence
Communications (Martinez 2004). Haubegger says she designed the magazine in the
hopes of changing the negative image of Hispanic women in the United States. She also
is quoted as saying that she hoped Latina magazine would be like Essence magazine in
the sense that Essence is a "bible" for African-American women (Beam 1996; Briggs
2002). Essence's editorial mission conveys that the magazine attempts to guide African-
American women to be successful in relationships and in the workplace, independent,
spiritual, empowered, ambitious, and socially conscious. It proclaims that it informs,
inspires, advises and affirms the needs and desires of African-American women
(Editorial Mission 2005). Essence's mission is similar to that of Latina magazine.
Latina's mission statement: "To inspire women to be the Latinas they want to be. Latina
empowers, illuminates, and validates, encouraging women to embrace and explore their
individual styles while celebrating their shared experiences. It balances a modern
sensibility with wisdom grounded in tradition" (Latina Mission 2004).
Latina's content is similar to mainstream women's lifestyle publications with
fashion, beauty, health, cuisine, celebrity profiles, and interviews. Yet, the current
editorial director, Betty Cortina, says that Latina magazine reflects "the world through
that unique Latina lens" (Cortina 2003, p. 34). According to a Latina magazine editor, the
cultural (culture) section is what separates Latina from any other magazine in the world.
The cultural section is dedicated to exploring "Latino culture," including its roots and
traditions. Culture is not only addressed in the cultural section, it is addressed throughout
the magazine. In fact, the topic of culture infuses the entire magazine. For example,
sample topics gleaned from the Latina magazine's cultural section include an exhibit of
Latin American portraits that can be visited in the United States, a profile on a "Texican"
music group called Los Lonely Boys, and a story about how some Chicano students are
using an ancient Aztec language called Najuatl.
Generic topics are Latinized. These are topics that could just as well appear in
mainstream, non-Latina magazines. These generic topics are given a Latin slant so they
appeal to Latinas. For instance, an article about the importance of donating blood-a
topic that could appear in any medium for any audience-is infused with statistics about
Latinos and cultural myths that often deter Latinos from donating blood.
By targeting U.S. Latinas, editors and publishers home in on U.S. and Latin
American-born women in English and with an editorial slant that acknowledges readers
as English-dominant, U.S. residents (Beer 2002, p. 170). Producers of Latina magazine
say the magazine is an English-language magazine, although many articles are condensed
and summarized in Spanish, and simplified code-switching2 is common throughout the
magazine. For instance, one Latina article reads, "Mi mama has always said that the best
products are at our fingertips, and she usually meant in la cocina" (You Ask 2004).
The median age of Latina magazine readers is 29, and 68% of its readership is
between ages 18 and 34. Latina magazine readers are largely identified as college-
educated, acculturated, and mostly born in the United States-women who are "living
between two cultures" (Coleman 1996, p. 71; Martinez 2004). A quick glance through the
2 Code-switching refers to when speakers go back and forth between using two different languages, such as
Spanish and English, to maximize relationships (Johnson 2000).
pages of the magazine reveals that many women from Latin America are featured as well.
According to Martinez (2004), most readers earn between $27,000 and $60,000 a year
(those figures based on literature dating as far back as 1997).
And although Latina magazine producers set out to model the magazine after
Essence magazine, Latina has not yet proved to reach as many Latinas as Essence does
African-American women. Latina's circulation has increased 20% over the past two
years, which means nearly every month 350,000 women read the magazine (Press Kit
2004). However, due to the pass-along rate, the magazine producers estimate the reading
audience is actually 1.7 million bicultural women (Press Kit 2004; Martinez 2004).3 In
comparison, Essence's monthly circulation is 1,063,000, and its readership is an
estimated 7 million (Our Company 2005).
Latina's advertising pages have steadily increased. In fact, they increased 29.8%,
up nearly 100 pages from the previous year (Press Kit 2004; Holt 2004). Latina magazine
is second only to People en Espahol in advertising revenue (Hispanic Magazine Monitor
Haubegger, who stepped down at Latina to assume the role of founder and to
work as brand agent for Creative Artists Agency in Los Angeles (Latina Magazine CEO
2001; Target: Teens 2004), says that before Latina magazine was published, women of
Latin American descent were forced to turn to general interest women's magazines,
which did not reflect their experiences, or to Spanish-language magazines, which were
produced outside of the United States and often proved useless to Latinas not comfortable
reading in the Spanish language.
3 Regional demographics were not available, according to an editor at Latina magazine.
The History of Hispanic/Latina Magazines
In the United States, when Hispanic publications first started to surface, they were
printed in the Spanish language. Hispanic publications for Latin American women were
first published, in the Spanish-language, in the United States in the 1960s (Beer 2002).
Headquartered in Mexico City, with offices in Miami, Editorial Televisa has been the
main producer of this genre of magazines (Johnson 2000). Hispanic publications in
Spanish were viewed as sufficient for Latin American immigrants; however, for Latinas
publishers had a different kind of magazine in mind.
In the mid-1990s, a new wave of magazines for women of Latin American
descent emerged in the English language. For the first time, publications were produced
for first, second, and third-generation Latinas living in the United States. The first of the
English-language magazines, Latina Style, arrived in 1994 to cater to contemporary,
Hispanic businesswomen. Latina magazine launched in 1996. Three other Latina
magazines: Estylo, Latina Bride, and Moderna commenced in 1997. Modern ceased
publication in 1998. There was room for this genre of magazines because as Perez Firmat
says (1994), "it is one thing to be Cuban in America, and quite another to be Cuban
American" (p. 3).
Since the 1970s, the number of Hispanic publications for both sexes in the United
States has increased 219% (Davila 2001). This should come as no surprise considering
the Hispanic/Latino population recently increased 58% in 10 years (Suarez-Orozco &
Paez, 2002). Within the United States, 80% of Hispanic/Latino adults read magazines
(Magazine Publishers of America, 2004). Advertising dollars devoted to Hispanic
magazines grew 24% in 2003 over 2002 (Jordan 2004), and recently, advertising revenue
for Spanish-language publications outgrew general market publications when it reached
$854 million last year (Grow 2004).
New Considerations and New Research
Previous research about women's magazines laid essential groundwork for how to
examine these popular texts. Incorporating theories on ideology often aids magazine
researchers and make their claims more theoretically sophisticated (McRobbie 1996).
Today, more research examines the magazine audiences, which is key to understanding
women's magazines and their implications.
The growing Hispanic/Latino population in the United States and the growth of
the mass media that targets them has spurred communication research that analyzes how
Hispanic/Latina women read women's magazines (Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002;
Pompper and Koenig 2004). Still, there are gaps to fill in this area of research.
Research about women's magazines often does not focus on how women of color
negotiate magazines designed especially for them but rather how they negotiate
mainstream magazines that have predominantly Anglo audiences (Britt 2003; Duke 2000,
2002; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002). Two studies have explored how African-
American women negotiate Essence magazine (Adegbola 2002; Woodward 2003).
This research seeks to understand how women of color, specifically U.S. Latinas,
negotiate a magazine "created by Latinas for Latinas" (Beer 2002, p. 170), Latina
magazine. Exploring what it means to be Latina as defined by Latina magazine provides
a research opportunity to understand how U.S. Latinas-the magazine's target
audience-negotiate a text that is supposed to describe and reflect them and whether they
are cognizant of how dominant ideology works.
How do Latinas negotiate Latina magazine's vision of what it means to be
Latina? Focus groups were conducted to answer this question.
McRobbie (1996) says that typically, the "most straightforward way to respond to
these [women's] magazines, as a feminist, is to condemn them" (p. 200). However,
McRobbie (1996) suggests that media scholars move beyond solely emphasizing the
ideological and take a sociological approach that considers lived experience. What is
needed in magazine research, says McRobbie (1996), is dialogue with magazine
consumers. Yet media studies with Latino audiences are relatively rare, said Davila
In addressing Latinos as a single, encompassing group, these initiatives
have certainly helped shape and refurbish the existence of a common
Latino/a identity, but seldom have we looked at the ways people respond
to these culturally specific media and to the "Latinness" so promoted by
their programming and representations. (pp. 25-26)
Although media studies with Latino audiences are becoming more popular (Rojas
2004), there is still a dearth of research in terms of how Latinas interact with women's
magazines and, moreover, with magazines that target them. Previous studies conducted
with Latina audiences have focused on representations of women on Spanish-language
television (Davila 2002; Rojas 2004) and how Latinas negotiate physical representations
(i.e., the mediated ideal body) of non-Latinas in the media (Goodman 2002; Pompper and
Relevant Latina/o audience studies are few and while one study did address how
Hispanic women negotiate images of women, most other research addresses how Latinos
interpret television and radio. For example, Pompper and Koenig (2004) analyzed the
perceptions held by Hispanic women toward body image. Rojas (2004) conducted 27 in-
depth interviews with immigrant and non-immigrant Latinas of various income levels to
understand how they evaluate and negotiate the representations of women on talk shows
on the Hispanic networks, Univisi6n and Telemundo. In another study, Davila (2002)
conducted focus groups with Latinas and Latinos to understand how they feel about
Published studies about Latina magazine are limited to content and rhetorical
analyses (Beer 2002; Calafell 2001; Johnson 2000), and these studies lack Latina voices.
This, despite the fact that there are over three million Latinas in the United States
between ages 15 and 24 and over six million Latinas between the ages of 25 and 59, a
number estimated to soon exceed eight million (Joiner 2002; R. E. Spraggins personal
communication, August 5, 2005). Moreover, women ages 15 to 24 are known to read
magazines in great numbers (Duke 2002). Still, little attention has been paid to this
burgeoning sector in terms of media research.
Moreover, the topic of how popular culture may define a group of people
is a hot one. Romero and Habell-Pallan (2002) said about the terms Latino and
Latina, "The power to define these terms is political and economic and plays out
symbolically in the imaginative products of the popular culture machine" (p. 2).
Latina magazine, a popular text for nearly a decade, attempts to
communicate what is Latina. Yet, the magazine has yet to be used in media
studies with a Latina audience. How Latinas negotiate Latina magazine-whether
they accept, negotiate, or reject the messages-has yet to be explored. Hence, my
study aims to explore how Latinas negotiate Latina magazine's ideology of what
it means to be Latina.
Media Representations of Latinas
There has been consistent negative representation, misrepresentation, and Latino
absence in the media (Albert 1998; Calafell and Delgado 2004; Espinoza 1998; Flores
and Holling 1999; Hedrick 2001; Menard 1997; Papper 1994; Perez Firmat 1994;
Rosaldo 1994; Taylor and Bang 1997; Wilson et al. 2003).
Historical representations. Flores and Holling (1999) said that, historically,
media representations of Latinos were characteristically lecherous, thieving, dirty,
violent, and cowardly (p. 340). Latinos have also been depicted as illegal or unlawful.
Rosaldo (1994) said,
... whether or not we belong in this country is always in question ... The
mass media often present sensational views of Latinos as new immigrant
communities with the consequence, intended or not, of questioning our
citizenship and hardening racialized relations of dominance and
subordination. (pp. 31-32)
In addition, Latinas have primarily been portrayed as sexually enticing (Calafell
2001; Flores and Holling 1999; Menard 1997). Early U.S. film may have seemingly
broadened its conception of beauty to include "exotic" looking actresses with dark
features, but the women who bore these features were often perceived merely as
sexualized bodies (Flores and Holling 1999). When Hollywood filmmakers began casting
Latinas in the 1920s, these actresses were typically cast to fill the role of spitfire (i.e.,
overly emotional and oversexed), exotic, and promiscuous or tempestuous (Flores and
Holling 1999; Menard 1997; Wilson et al. 2003).
In contrast, Hollywood also encouraged Latina actresses to alter their physical
appearances to appear more White. For example, Rita Hayworth, the Brooklyn, New
York-born, Spanish-Irish actress, born Margarita Carmen Cansino, underwent hair
lightening, weight loss, and heightened her forehead to become the all-American girl who
starred in U.S. films during the 1930s and 1940s (Hedrick 2001). "Hayworth was
transformed from the dark lady to an auburn-haired love goddess" (Menard 1997).
Current representations. Historical representations have influenced modern-day
media representations of Latinas (Calafell 2001). Consequently, scholarly work and
popular criticism condemns current media representations of Latinas. One reason for the
criticism is that mass media rarely reflect the fluidity and diversity of Latinas (Calafell
and Delgado 2004, p. 2). "We're either maids or sex symbols," says Dorothy Caram of
the Institute for Hispanic Culture in Houston Texas, (Menard 1997). The modem-day
Latina archetype in the media is primarily one of sexuality (Calafell 2001; Menard 1997;
Wilson et al. 2003). According to Wilson et al. (2003), Latinas are typically portrayed in
"ways that connote sex and sexuality" (p. 198). Wilson et al. (2003) use as an exemplar
the cover of Sports Illustrated Winter 2002, which features Argentinean cover model
Yamila Diaz-Rahi. Next to Diaz-Rahi's cover image are the words "red-hot" and
A Latina magazine article entitled "What is Latina style?" uses similar language.
The article reads, "For sure, Latina fashion has to have fire-you know, some flesh and
some flash" (Quintanilla 2003, p. 124).
The flesh of Latina pop-culture icon Jennifer Lopez, a Puerto Rican-American
from the Bronx, New York, is often in the media. Media attention often focuses on
Lopez's rear end, which ostensibly is perceived as a quintessential Latina physical
characteristic (Negr6n-Muntaner 1997). Similarly, Iris Chac6n, another Puerto Rican
dancer and singer of days past, was famous for her rear end (Negr6n-Muntaner 1997).
The stereotypical representations of Latinas that focus on the body are said to be
what spurred Anna Maria Arias to create Latina Style magazine. Apparently, Arias was
"tired of the media's portrayal of Latinas as sequined sexpots and ghetto gangstas"
(Ballon 1997). Magazines are criticized for presenting women as sex objects and as
luscious and exotic (Menard 1997). But are the consumers of these magazines opposed to
these sexualized images? No, according to a Hispanic magazine article in which Menard
(1997) said, "The basic attitude among Latinas seems to be, 'We know the stereotype
exists, and we like it.'"
Another common portrayal of Latinas in the media is that they are inarticulate and
subservient; hence, the stereotypical representation of Latinas as maids (Menard 1997).
Caram of the Institute for Hispanic Culture says, "Unfortunately, you seem to have two
extremes, and neither one gives us credit for having intelligence" (Menard 1997).
According to a Hispanic magazine article, "The biggest limitation has been that they
[Latino actors] don't get to play everyday people, and for Latinas that includes playing
hardworking moms or professionals" (Menard 1997).
The absence of Latina representation. Equally detrimental as negative
representation may be the absence of Latinos in the mass media. Espinoza (1998) said,
"For Latinos, the national culture of the United States manifests itself in everyday life
with institutions (such as the media) that render them invisible further reinforcing their
marginalization and exclusion as full members of society" (p. 26).
Comparing Hispanic presence to Caucasian presence in the broadcast television
news workforce, the numbers are 8.9% to 78.2%, respectively, according to Papper
(2004). Moreover, a content analysis by Taylor and Bang (1997) found that Latinos are
significantly under-represented in U.S. magazine advertisements appearing in only 4.7%
of non-Spanish language ads.
The exclusion of Latinas in mainstream mass media and the stereotypical
portrayals of these women are elements of Gaye Tuchman's (1978) concept of symbolic
annihilation. Women in the media are symbolically annihilated when they are erased
from positions in which they would convey social power and when they are negatively
stereotyped (Caputi 1999). Using Tuchman's (1978) reflection hypothesis, the absence of
Latinas in the media has strong societal implications. Tuchman (1978) posits that media
reflections are actually reflections of the dominant values and hierarchies of a society and
that people may view media representations-or the absence thereof-as reflections of
reality. Consequently, negative representation of Latinas and/or their absence in
magazines may affect how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them
(Espinoza 1998, p. 6). Thus, there may be consequences to the negative media
representations or Latina absence (Calafell 2001; Duke 2000; Durham 1999b; Goodman
2002; Hedrick 2001; McRobbie 1978).
For years, media studies have explored and speculated how women negotiate
representations of women in the media and magazines (Adegbola 2002; Britt 2003; Duke
2000; Durham, 1996, 1998; 1999a,b; Ferguson, 1978; Frazer 1987; Goodman 2002;
McRobbie 1978, 1996; Pompper and Koenig 2004; Woodward 2003). Studies about how
women of color negotiate media, although less frequent, provide insight into media
representations of women of color and how these women negotiate media that targets
predominantly Anglo audiences and media designed for specifically for them.
Considering these media studies is essential to understanding how Latinas negotiate
Existing studies discuss how adolescent girls and women of various races and
ethnicities negotiate media and mainstream magazines that target predominantly Anglo
women (Britt 2003; Duke 2000, 2002; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002). Very few studies
address how women of color negotiate media and magazines that target them (Adegbola
2002; Gordon 2004; Woodward 2003). Most of the media research with women of color
involves African-American women (Adegbola 2002; Britt 2003: Duke 2000, 2002;
Gordon 2004; Woodward 2003). Only one study was readily available that involved
Asian-American girls (Durham 2004).
Media studies with women of color. Duke (2000, 2002) tackled the question of
how race influences girls' readings of mainstream teen magazines. Duke (2000)
conducted a qualitative study in which African-American female adolescents and Anglo
female adolescents were interviewed about how they used or ignored the notions of
feminine beauty present in the three most popular teen magazines, Teen, Seventeen, and
YM. Duke (2000) found that the African-American girls did not identify with the beauty
sections of the mainstream teen magazines because they did not resonate with the
African-American community's standards of beauty (Duke 2000). The African-American
girls did not notice the bias toward Anglo representation present in the teen magazines,
and they were less susceptible to the media messages about beauty than the Anglo girls
As part of a longitudinal study, Duke (2002) used in-depth interviews with
African-American girls ages 13 to 18 who regularly read three mainstream magazines
(Seventeen, YM, and Teen) to understand how they negotiate the dominant culture's
mediated ideals. Using Lincoln and Guba's method of categorizing data and Glaser and
Strauss' constant comparative method, Duke (2002) found that the African-American
girls typically assumed an anti-consumption role. That is to say, they recognized the texts
as targeting Anglo girls, and therefore, used it to gratify their needs but did not perceive
the magazine content as realistic or something to aspire to. Duke (2002) said that the
African-American girls perceived the "Euro-centric feminine ideals as not real and they
"preferred their reality to it" (p. 211). The African-American girls' beliefs, opinions, and
values regarding notions of femininity were guided by their culture rather than the
Britt (2003) conducted qualitative research with middle-class, African-American
women. Two focus group sessions were the held to gather perceptions about how the
women perceive African-American models in mainstream magazine advertisements. The
women were asked to construct two facial composites using facial features. One facial
composite was supposed to represent the features of women most likely to be seen in
magazine advertisements, and the other composite was comprised of features that
represented themselves. Britt's study (2003) showed that the African-American women
in the focus groups did not perceive themselves to look like the women portrayed in the
magazine advertisements. According to Britt (2003), the reason the African-American
women did not see themselves in the advertisements is because the images of Black
women in mainstream magazine advertisements portray them as having Eurocentric
features: light skin; long, straight hair; and thin noses. Features the women did not
perceive themselves as having. Britt (2003) says the results of her study indicate a
hegemonic effect, meaning these features are associated with an ideal image of beauty in
the United States.
Durham (2004) conducted in-depth focus group and individual interviews with
South Asian Indian American girls in an attempt to understand how the media (American
and Indian) influence their constructions of sexual identity. The focus group was
comprised of five teenage girls whose parents immigrated to the United States. The girls
were born in India, and their parents brought them to the United States as infants or
toddlers. Durham's (2004) analysis of the data revealed that the girls' parents relied on
the media as guides for their parental restrictions, and the girls' usage of American media
aided in their assimilation at school although they also consumed Indian popular culture.
The girls claimed to critically watch and perceive as unrealistic both American and
Indian media. However, the girls regarded the Indian media as their connection to the
Indian community, and they were less critical of it. Even so, overall, the girls rejected
much media content.
In her analysis, Durham (2004) says that the girls appeared as outsiders of both
worlds, Indian and American. Rather than their belonging to one world over the other, the
girls felt a need to assert a new identity position, says Durham (2004), "that, in a sense,
rejected the options offered by Indian and American media texts. As consumers,
therefore, their textual readings involve a radical questioning of the sexual mores
instantiated by the television shows, films, and popular music they consumed" (p. 155).
The girls' rejection of the media content should not be dismissed, says Durham (2004),
because it was born of their cultures. For instance, the girls did not view certain media as
realistic in terms of their lives because their of cultural cues that advise them they should
not act like the sexually active women portrayed in this media. The girls' opposition is
substantial, says Durham (2004), because their critiques of media "create the potential for
new sexual identities that have emancipatory possibilities for them as girls in-between, or
girls embarking on the project of forging new ethnicities" (p. 157).
African-American women negotiating Black media. Media studies about
women of color and the magazines designed for them are rare, although there are a few
notable studies (Gordon 2004).
According to Gordon (2004), her study was the first to link the media to African-
American girls' sense of self. Gordon (2004) said that the stereotypical images of Black
women in the media have the power to limit girls' conceptions of themselves and what it
means to be a woman. Using surveys, Gordon (2004) examined connections between
Black media and 176 African-American girls' self-concepts. Gordon (2004) hypothesized
that higher levels of media exposure amongst the African-American girls would be
associated with lower self-esteem, higher emphasis on physical looks and romantic
appeal, and endorsement of sex object attitudes. The findings of Gordon's (2004) study
indicate that media portrayals of Black women as sex objects contribute to African
American adolescent girl poor self-image. As a corollary to this main finding, Gordon
(2004) also found that some factors buffered the negative effects of the media such as
exposure to less objectifying media images of Black women, parental involvement, and
Adegbola (2002) conducted a study with African-American women at
Northeastern University to explore how they negotiated images of Black women in
Essence and Cosmopolitan magazines and to understand if they images in magazines
reflect their lived experiences. Adegbola (2002) sought to understand how Black women
interpret images of Black women in magazine advertisements, what influences their
reception of images of Black women in women's lifestyle/fashion magazines, and if there
were similarities between how the Black women and researchers interpret the images of
Black women in the media. According to Adegbola (2002), researchers have determined
that images of Black women in fashion magazines are stereotypical. Adegbola (2002)
said, "The stereotype identifies Black women in magazines as having Eurocentric facial
features, with small noses, thin lips, and long wavy hair" (p. 62).
Adegbola's (2002) study followed that the audience was active, the women in the
study were able to recognize dominant patterns in the media messages, and that each
individual's life experiences would influence how she read the magazines.
There were three parts to Adegbola's (2002) research method. First, a survey
questionnaire was given to participants, second, they were given journals to take home
and write in for a week. In the journals, the participants wrote about their impressions of
images of Black women in magazines. Third, focus groups were conducted.
During Adegbola's (2002) analysis of the data, she addressed how the women
comprehended the images, if/how they identified with the images, and if/how they would
change the images if they could. To analyze how participants comprehended the images,
Adegbola (2002) used Hall's encoding/decoding model and the three main reading
positions: dominant, negotiated, and oppositional.
Adegbola (2002) found that the participants' impressions of Black women in the
magazines were that they looked Eurocentric with White features (i.e., light skin, thin
noses and lips, and straight hair). Adegbola (2002) also compared how the participants
described stereotypical images of Black women in the media to the descriptions of
researchers. She found some similarities in how the participants and researchers
described stereotypical images of Black women; however, there were also differences.
For example, some participants said that they perceived the women in the magazines as
having brown skin tones. Adegbola (2002) notes that what may account for the difference
in descriptions is the lack of consensus about the definition of "brown skin."
And finally, when Adegbola analyzed how participants receive the images of
Black women in magazines, she found that the women assumed all three reading
positions, dominant, negotiated, and oppositional. Some of the women accepted the
dominant standards of beauty present in the magazine. Some of the women found the
images problematic and critiqued the images, and so they partially accepted the images.
Finally, some women had oppositional readings because they expressed that they do not
emulate magazines' standards of beauty and that they do not think that women should
buy the magazines or the products advertised in the magazines. In sum, Adegbola (2002)
found no consensus in how African-American women negotiated images of Black
women in magazines because their responses varied, but Adegbola (2002) does say that
the manner in which these women receive/decode magazine messages is determined by
their social and cultural contexts. Adegbola (2002) says that more research is needed to
understand how women conceptualize images and how their social and cultural contexts
and definitions influence their conceptualization.
In another audience-reception analysis, Woodward (2003) used focus groups with
African-American women to explore how they use Essence magazine in their everyday
lives. Specifically, Woodward (2003) sought to find out if the focus group participants
used Essence to combat sexism, racism, and other "isms" that Black women are faced
Woodward explored research questions such as "does Essence work as a
liberating feminist text/voice that dispels current and historical stereotypical images of
Black women or does it reproduce dominant meanings in a repackaged form that situates
Black women even deeper into a hegemonic powerless situation?" (p. 87).
Woodward (2003) conducted eight focus groups in California, Georgia, New
York, and Tennessee. Each focus group was comprised of four to six women. To analyze
the focus group data, Woodward (2003) used Hall's (1980) encoding/decoding model.
Woodward's (2003) analysis illuminated four themes that emerged during the focus
groups. First, she found that the women felt symbolic ownership of Essence. Even the
women who had discontinued reading it felt that it magazine portrayed them positively,
and they used the magazine as a educational tool for how to be middle-class Black
women and as a tool of empowerment. Second, the women did not "feel that the
magazine was tearing them down so that they would buy advertised products and feel
better." Woodward (2003) says of the third theme, the women found self-esteem and
knowledge about their identities in Essence magazine. The fourth theme came from
Woodward's (2003) deduction that the women were "homophobic, classist, and racist
towards each other and their inner selves," and Essence was concluded to be effective in
helping women cope with this and love each other and themselves (p. vii).
Woodward (2003) concludes that Essence does empower Black women, but it
also reflects a false reality; one that revolves around consumer capitalism. Woodward
(2003) said, "Essence is both a libratory and resistant site in the social construction of
meaning yet also as a hegemonic tool that reinforces structures of power" (vii).
Media studies with Latinas. As a whole, there is a paucity of published research
about Latinas and the media. Existing studies focus on Latina representation, visual
images of Latinas in the media, ethnicity and identity construction (Calafell 2001;
Calafell and Delgado 2004; Davila 2002; Durham 1999b; Goodman 2002; Johnson 2000;
Moran, 2000; Pompper and Koenig 2004; Rojas 2004). Media studies in terms of
television and Latinas/os are more common than studies with magazines (Davila 2002;
Moran, 2000; Rojas 2004). None of the research done to date examines how Latinas
negotiate a magazine designed to target them or specifically how they negotiate Latina
Rojas (2004) conducted 27 in-depth interviews with immigrant and non-
immigrant Latinas of various income levels to understand how they evaluate and
negotiate the representations of women on talk shows that air in the United States on the
Hispanic networks Univisi6n and Telemundo. The findings indicate that the women felt
offended by the representations, yet they did not convey that the television shows should
cease to exist.
Rojas (2004) said that she discovered four themes in her audience analysis. The
first was that the women criticized the over-sexualization of the Latinas on television.
Rojas (2004) says that the women felt "attacked, insulted, offended, and embarrassed" (p.
144). Rojas (2004) notes how her findings indicate that both Latin American women and
U.S.-born, English-dominant Latinas were equally appalled at the television
representations, which, she points out, contrasts Davila (2001) who contends that Latin
American women and U.S.-born Latinas view media representations differently. Rojas
(2004) cites Davila (2001) who said, "U.S. sensibilities about race and gender are
markedly different from those of Latin Americans" (p. 212).
The second emergent theme involved the class markers that the women used to
categorize other Latinas, especially those who watched the television shows outside of
the study. Rojas (2004) discovered that the women defined class in terms of material
capital and moral values.
Thirdly, the women contested the often-promoted mediated concept of Latinidad,
or cultural unity of Latinas/os of various backgrounds. The U.S.-born Latinas wished to
see more representations of people like themselves (non-immigrant) on Univisi6n and
Telemundo. Thus, while the television programming is aired in the United States, the
people on these talk shows typically do not represent U.S. Latinas/os. Rojas (2004) said,
"the perception of the Latinidad presented on the Hispanic television content is strongly
influenced by Latinos' national origin and their class location in U.S. society" (p. 145).
The final theme that emerged was that most of the women interviewed contested
the idea of the shows' abilities to promote Latina empowerment; rather they viewed the
representations as promoting stereotype, violence, the Latin American patriarchal
ideology, and criticized the White skin tone of the talks show hosts.
Davila (2002) conducted a study using focus groups to interview New York-based
Latinos about their views and opinions on Latino-oriented media (Spanish-language and
non-Spanish-language). Television and radio were the topics most discussed (Davila
2002). The focus groups enabled Davila to gauge how the participants negotiated media
representations of Latinidad. She examined their responses in relation to "how Latinos
position themselves within the all-encompassing category of identity in which these
representations are predicated" (Davila 2002, p. 26). The focus group participants often
commented on how representations of Latinos on U.S. television (Spanish and non-
Spanish language) are typically White. Davila (2002) comments on this:
... on the one hand, the dominance of Mediterranean Hispanic types in
Spanish TV negates and leaves no room for acknowledging Latinos' racial
and ethnic diversity, while diversity is accordingly reduced to iconic and
essentialist representations that are presented as 'belonging' neatly to
some groups but not others. (p. 29)
While the focus group participants criticized media representations of Latinos as
being too white and for not representing their heterogeneity, the participants ultimately
made clear that they had "internalized, or made theirs, particular dynamics and
conventions of Latinidad disseminated in the media" (Davila 2002, p. 35). Hence, while
it may be possible to contest the concept of Latinidad as represented in a medium, one
may still subscribe to it in their everyday attitudes, perceptions, and even behaviors. The
Davila (2002) study also found that internalizing the dominant definition of Latinidad
promoted by Spanish-language television, which involved being able to speak Spanish
and having Latin American connections, led to many questioning their authenticity as
Latinos (Davila 2002).
In a study with Latina adolescent girls, Moran (2000) explored how girls use
Mexican telenovelas (Spanish-language soap operas) in the construction of their
sexuality. The research question Moran posed was "What is the role of entertainment
television in Latina teenagers' understanding of romantic relationships in the United
States?" Moran (2000) research methods included content analysis, focus groups, and
interviews. Moran (2000) found that the girls involved their individual values systems
when interpreting the media messages. Factors integral to their values systems were
culture, family, friends, and religion. Moran (2000) discovered that the girls felt that the
telenovelas have the power to influence others positively and negatively, but they did not
express that the telenovelas directly influenced them. Moran's (2000) analysis of the
teens' interpretations of the messages in the telenovelas led her to conclude that the girls
did not react as previous studies suggest and adopt similar behaviors to those they see on
television. Rather they used the telenovelas to reaffirm their value systems and they
judged the television characters' promiscuous behavior as wrong.
Using participant observation and in-depth interviewing, Durham (1999b)
observed adolescent girls at two middle schools to understand how the peer context
influences the negotiation of media and sexuality by girls of different race and classes.
Many of the girls observed were Latina and many were Anglo. Durham (1999b) observed
the pop-culture media references that arose during the five months and noted that all
references were to television, magazines, and movies. Most of the girls at both schools
subscribed to Seventeen and YM magazines. Durham (1999b) says that the most notable
theme that surfaced during her research was that the girls exhibited that they understood
and constantly attempted to adopt the dominant sociocultural norm of heterosexuality,
and that their use of popular culture was tied to this understanding. Heterosexuality,
Durham (1999b) said, was observed as the core ideology of the girls' group interactions,
and it guided the girls' beliefs and behaviors.
The girls in one clique observed were categorized as underprivileged and
academic underachievers, and they were all Latina. These girls most frequently used
Seventeen, YM, and Glamour magazines when putting on makeup at school. The girls
compared themselves to the images in the magazines and expressed that they needed
certain products that were advertised. Durham (1999b) connected familiarity and
acquisition of beauty products with popularity. The girls demonstrated that they used the
media for guidance in the areas of clothing and makeup and eating habits. They also
appeared to highly regard images of motherhood and maternity. Teenage pregnancy was
a big problem at the middle schools where the Latinas were observed, and one Latina
ended up dropping out of school later in the year after she became pregnant. The girls
expressed disdain toward homosexuality.
Durham (1999b) concluded that the girls adopted the dominant ideology of
femininity and this was linked to their use of mass media. The peer and social context
was observed to be an important factor in determining how the girls defined ideal
femininity. Durham (1999b) says that individually girls may be able to more critically
examine media messages, but overall, when the girls were in peer groups their ability to
critically examine media messages was undermined.
Additionally, Durham (1999b) says that race and class influenced how the girls
negotiated media messages and their cultures "functioned to uphold different aspects of
dominant ideologies of femininity" (Durham 1999b, p. 211). There were differences in
how the Latina and the Anglo girls used the media in their lives. For example, the Latinas
demonstrated more interest in makeup, clothing, beautification, and maternity.
Goodman (2002) conducted a qualitative study using focus groups with Anglo
women and Latinas ages 18 to 24. The women were asked to share their opinions,
attitudes, and beliefs toward the body ideal pictured in magazines. Using Glaser and
Strauss' constant comparative method, Goodman (2002) demonstrated that Latinas and
Anglo women had primarily negotiated readings toward images of excessively thin
women and mostly hegemonic readings with regard to their everyday behavior. In sum,
both Latina and Anglo women criticized the ideal body shape in magazines although they
desired it and took measures to achieve it. Differences between the groups of women in
opinions, beliefs, and opinions toward the mediated ideal body shape may be attributed to
the Hispanic culture (Goodman 2002). Regarding Latinas, "They were more critical of
the mediated ideal, knowing that their physical differences excluded them from attaining
the ideal and that that Latino culture and Hispanic men appreciated a more voluptuous
female form" (Goodman 2002, p. 72).
Adding to Goodman's (2002) work, Pompper and Koenig (2004) conducted
another study that focused on the mediated body ideal. Guided by social comparison
theory, which describes the relationship between women and their motivations to mirror a
mediated body image, Pompper and Koenig (2004) examined the responses of two
groups of Hispanic women, who were separated by age, to the mediated body ideal found
in magazines. Focus groups were comprised of women ages 18 to 35, while telephone
interviews were conducted with study participants who were ages 36 and older. Using
these research methods, the researchers set out to explore a sector the U.S. population
largely ignored in the previous literature about media use and women-the Hispanic
Three research questions were central to this research: How do Hispanic women
regard magazine standards of ideal body image? How might Hispanic women's
perceptions of ideal body image change over time? And, what role might language and
culture play in setting standards for Hispanic women's perceptions of ideal body image?
The study participants were also given seven photographs and questioned about how the
images related to their perceptions of ideal body image. Some of the images were
extracted from Hispanic media such as People en Espahol.
Pompper and Koenig (2004) analyzed the perceptions held by the women toward
body image in the media and found that the women assimilated to magazine standards.
The researchers found, consistent with previous research, that the women viewed being
thin as ideal, regardless of their age. The behaviors of women ages 36 and older did
indicate that they strived to emulate the body ideal as much as the younger women. The
researchers also found that younger women, who were mostly born in the United States,
identified with images of Anglo women and tended to prefer English-language
magazines, suggesting that their perception of the ideal body image was Americanized
and perhaps unrealistic. Pompper and Koenig (2004) said,
They compare their physical appearance to magazines' stylized portrayals
and strive to achieve that image in order to fit into American society.
Surely, attempts to conform to English-language magazines'
representations of the "ideal" body image and U.S. social standards, while
clinging to a cultural heritage that focuses on food and dining, creates a
major conflict for Latinas living in the United States who in their everyday
lives negotiate between two cultures. (p. 100)
Media Analyses of Latino Media and Latina Magazine. There are a few
content and rhetorical analyses of Latino media and Latina magazine that are relevant to
my study, and these are summarized below (Calafell 2001; Calafell and Delgado 2004;
Espinoza 1998; Johnson 2000; Martinez 2004).
Calafell and Delgado's (2004) essay about Americanos, a photographic
documentary, examined Latino representations of life and cultural practices. In their
essay, Calafell and Delgado (2004) demonstrate how a text is capable of projecting an
imagined Latino/a community (i.e., the panethnic community) while underscoring the
diversity of Latinas/os by, for instance, broadening the visual concept of what Latinas
look like (Calafell and Delgado 2004). Calafell and Delgado (2004) assert that the images
in Americanos have the power to "articulate the experiences, aspirations, and ideologies
of given communities" (p. 5).
Similar to Calafell and Delgado (2004), who contend that a text may project a
panethnic community, Johnson (2000) found that English-language Latina magazines,
such as Latina, foster a panethnic identity while encouraging that Latinas preserve and
promote their cultures, heritages, and traditions. Johnson used a qualitative and
quantitative content analysis to examine the news and features sections of English-
language Latina magazines including Latina. Johnson (2000) discovered that the content
of these magazines is both pluralistic and assimilative in function. That is, the content is
designed to sustain one's heritage or culture, while encouraging them to be members of
Johnson (2000) says that there are four assimilative functions of ethnic media like
Latina magazine: promotion of Western consumption, focus on individual change, focus
on the future, and socializing to the modern. She lists as pluralistic functions of ethnic
media: preservation and transmission of ethnic culture, promotion of ethnic pride,
symbolic ethnicity and unification of subgroups, respite from general market media, and
culture transmission to non-ethnic groups.
In her rhetorical analysis of Latina magazine and another English-language Latina
magazine, Espinoza (1998) is guided by Rosaldo's (1994) theory of Latina cultural
citizenship. Espinoza (1998) contends that Latina and Moderna magazines create a space
for "Latina cultural citizenship" or Latinisma. Specifically, Espinoza discusses how these
magazines "serve as a site for construction, negotiation, contestation, and affirmation of
Latina identity-an identity which resonates with a panethnic Latina population in the
United States" (Espinoza 1998, p. 6-7). In her analysis section of Latina and Moderna
magazines, Espinoza (1998) describes each magazine's content and general layout.
Espinoza then discusses certain themes: health, family, contemporary social issues,
beauty/fashion, and career. Identifying these themes and citing specific articles under the
umbrella of these themes leads Espinoza (1998) to assert that these magazines are
"crafting a Latina cultural identity-Latinisma" (p. 59). She said that the articles are
culturally sensitive and therefore, call to Latinas. In her conclusion section, Espinoza
(1998) said that these magazines are a form of cultural production that indicate the first-
steps toward Latina representation as compared to the past when Latinas were virtually
non-existent in the media or continually portrayed negatively. She repeatedly says that
these magazines are beginning to articulate a Latina identity. Espinoza (1998) takes a
positive stance toward the magazines. For instance, Espinoza (1998) said that the
magazines empower Latinas.
As cultural forms of production, the magazines contribute to the
development and evolution of an emerging Latina consciousness-a
consciousness that allows Latinas to incorporate themselves into society
and maintain their Latina identity at the same time. As Rosaldo's (1994)
theory suggests, the creation of a "cultural citizenship" can then be
characterized as a means to create agency through empowerment. (pp. 62-
Espinoza (1998) also asserts that Latina is a counter-hegemonic text (p. 63),
meaning the magazine attempts to resist the hegemonic ideas of the dominant classes, and
that it allows Latinas an opportunity to become more visible in U.S. society and to create
agency (p. 65). Espinoza's (1998) thesis in contrast to my study, does not explore how
Latinas themselves negotiate Latina magazine, which is essential to understanding its
intended reading audience, how the reading audience's view of Latinidad and their
identities line up with that of the magazine producers', and if their newfound
representation is something viewed as positive or negatively by Latinas.
In her study of Latina magazine, Martinez (2004) incorporates a textual analysis
of six years' worth of articles and interviews with the editorial staff. Martinez (2004)
focuses on how Latina magazine invokes a panethnic Latino community via familial
identification and panethnic solidarity with Latino entertainment figures. Martinez (2004)
says that the magazine serves a purpose that mainstream magazines do not; Latina
critiques exclusionary practices in the U.S. entertainment industry and challenges
stereotypes of Latino men. The magazine also glorifies Latinos in the entertainment
industry and uses them as "tools that facilitate the emergence of a cultural citizenship" to
connect with readers, creating the familial bond. Martinez (2004) argues that although the
magazine's marketing and advertising goals have steered the content into an
entertainment-focused arena, the magazine should not be dismissed as it does serve to
reconstruct Latino images and address problems of representation.
Martinez's (2004) exploration of Latina magazine's construction of Latinidad
leads her to argue that readers are left with a decision: Latinas can use a magazine like
Latina to affirm a "positive self-definition to advocate for the equitable distribution of
resources and opportunities for all members of their panethnic family" or they can
"blindly celebrate social membership that is equated with the consumption of goods" (p.
In one of the few content analyses that exists using Latina magazine, Calafell
(2001), in a qualitative textual analysis, determined that the text empowers Latinas.
However, Calafell (2001) also contends that the text is rife with contradiction and that
this may negate positive and accurate characterizations and representations of Latinas.
For example, Latina magazine encourages Latinas to proudly own their brownness and
their curvy figures, yet advertisements and even the fashion pages designed by the
producers of the magazine portray very thin women with skin tones that one would
hardly consider brown. According to Calafell (2001), the image of what is Latina as
conveyed by Latina magazine marginalizes Latinas who do not fit the mold. Calafell
(2001) is a blonde-haired, blue-eyed Chicana. She says that there are Latinas, like herself,
who do not fit the paradigm of Latina beauty as defined by Latina magazine. Calafell
(2001) also acknowledges that Latina magazine reflects the cultural tug and pull that
Latinas may experience as a result of being Latin American and U.S. American.
Outside of physical appearance, Calafell (2001) acknowledges that Latina
magazine characterizes Latinas as women who are concerned with cultural and familial
expectations; Latinas' identities are shaped by expectations related to their sexuality and
religion. Calafell (2001) cites examples from Latina magazine in which authors discuss
the struggle between the desire to assume non-traditional roles influenced by U.S. society
and conforming to traditional roles as mothers, martyrs, and devoted wives (Calafell
2001, p. 26). Calafell (2001) said, "We are bombarded with media images, historical
images, and cultural images that define what we should be as Latinas. Many of these
racist and stereotypical images have been created and maintained by the dominant
society" (p. 39). Calafell (2001) says that Latina magazine does promote ideas similar to
that of the Chicano movement, which began in the mid-1960s and served to empower
Latinas/os; yet, she said, "much of the underlying sentiment is still informed by dominant
White standards" (p. 39). Theories on such dominant standards or ideology guide my
To better understand how Latinas negotiate Latina magazine, my study is
informed by theories on ideology and literature about audience interpretation of
Cultural studies. Cultural studies dates back to the Frankfurt School
when, during the early-to-mid 20th century, theorists in Germany began to analyze
and criticize the mass production of culture via media forms and the sociological
and ideological effects these media had on society (Kellner 1995). After the
Frankfurt School slowed in its development of significant theoretical media
culture models in the 1950 and 1960s, British cultural studies came to the
forefront of media culture studies with the University of Birmingham's Centre for
Contemporary Cultural Studies in England (Hall 1980; Kellner 1995).
The British view of cultural studies differed from the Frankfurt School in that
everything was not reduced to economics and class; rather, social relations became an
important factor in cultural studies (Curran et al. 1982). Race, gender, ethnicity, and class
began to be analyzed as well (Kellner 1995). As a result of the Birmingham School,
cultural studies became interdisciplinary, factoring in other fields like sociology, politics,
history, literary and cultural theory, philosophy, and economics (Kellner 1995, p. 27). In
sum, cultural studies address at how the interpretation of a text may have been influenced
by societal and cultural factors (Labre 2004, p. 50).
Cultural studies investigates the desire people have to consume media texts and
the meanings and pleasures the texts generate within people's belief systems (Lindlof and
Taylor 2002, p. 59). A prominent exemplar that demonstrates how women derive
pleasure from a medium is the work of Janice Radway (1984).
In a study of women reading romance novels, Radway (1984) found that
housewives viewed their readings as an escape and as a way to assert their independence.
A cultural studies perspective requires taking a critical stance in terms of why women
experience pleasure when consuming a mass medium. A pleasureful reading of a popular
text may result from identifying with the content, but Kellner (1995) says that
experiencing such enjoyment from reading a text is not completely innocent or without
consequence. Kellner (1995) said, "Pleasures ... should thus be problematized ... and
interrogated as to whether they contribute to the production of a better life and society, or
help trap us into modes of everyday life that ultimately oppress and degrade us" (p. 39).
Similarly, McCracken (1993) said that "the attractive experiences are ideologically
weighted and not simply innocent arenas of pleasure along with the pleasure come
messages that encourage insecurities, heighten gender stereotypes, and urge reifying
definitions of the self through consumer goods" (p. 8-9).
Hence, cultural studies emphasizes the ways in which the media serve to advance
the interests of dominant groups and how the media act as tools of empowerment and
resistance against the dominant groups (Kellner 1995, p. 31). The struggle between
dominant and subordinate groups-the dominant group typically being upper-class,
White-males and the subordinate typically people of color, women, and/or people of
lower economic status-is highlighted in cultural studies (Kellner 1995; Lindlof and
Taylor 2002, p. 58). According to Morley (1992), different groups in a society are vying
for the "'power to define' events and values," and these power relations influence
individuals' meaning construction (p. 91).
In sum, the media are viewed as ideological tools for upholding the views and
values of dominant, hegemonic powers (Kellner 1995). Italian Marxist intellectual
Antonio Gramsci (1971) is often credited with developing a notion of hegemony, which
describes how one dominant, social class can rule over others through political or
ideological means (Gramsci 1971; Kellner 1995). In line with Gramsci, Gough-Yates
(2003) defines hegemony as "a situation in which a class or class faction is able to secure
a moral, cultural, intellectual (and thereby political) leadership in society through an
ongoing process of ideological struggle and compromise" (p. 9). Thus, the values of the
dominant class are projected through the media and "others" accept that view as natural
or the norm, and this subordinates them (Kellner 1995).
Relating the concept of hegemony to the media, Morley's (1992) definition of
hegemony links how audiences construct meaning from texts to the hierarchies of the
society in which they live. This is why Kellner (1995) says that media researchers should
examine a text and the "culture and society that constitutes the text" (Kellner 1995, p.
28). The hegemonic view of the dominant class is believed to infuse media content and to
interpellate (i.e., hail) media audiences as their subjects (Althusser 1971; Caputi 1999;
Curran et al. 1982). That is to say, media messages attempt to speak directly to audiences,
influencing them to subscribe to the messages and manipulating their attitudes and
behaviors. When the media interpellate media audiences, cultural studies purports that the
media have contradictory effects on the audiences. That is, the media may simultaneously
oppress, subordinate, and marginalize while serving as an ally or a voice for oppressed
groups or those considered other (e.g., people of color or women) (Kellner 1995).
How the media may serve as an ally for those considered other is similar to
counter-hegemony. Counter-hegemonic practices encourage resistance and struggle
against dominant groups (Hall 1980; Kellner 1995, p. 31). Counter-hegemonic
alternatives (e.g., feminism or socialism) describe the forces that contest hegemony or the
dominant ideology. Hence, a text may encourage individuals of an inferior group to fight
the expectations of a superior group. For example, a feminist magazine may encourage
women to fight the expectations of patriarchal society. In sum, counter-hegemonic
practices serve to shatter the common-sense knowledge created by hegemony.
Ideology. Ideology is our collective understanding of what is the norm or
common-sensical. Antonio Gramsci (1971) broadly defines ideology as a specific
"system of ideas" (p. 376). But ideology is clearly more complex than the above
definition. There is no one "unified and stable" dominant ideology; rather, ideology is
constructed of the core assumptions in a culture or society that make certain beliefs,
values, and way of life seem normal or "common-sensical" (Kellner 1995, p. 58).
Ideology is of central importance to cultural studies because dominant ideologies
are said to reproduce social relations of domination and subordination (Hall 1980;
Kellner 1995). Ruling or dominant ideology refers to the ruling ideas or standards of
society that revolve around the ruling classes and institutions (Althusser 1971; Hall
1982). In the United States, for example, White men hold the most power and capitalism
thrives. Hence, the ruling ideas and standards are those supported by the Caucasian race,
patriarchy, and capitalism.
Ideology came to the forefront of cultural studies through the work of the
Frankfurt School, Antonio Gramsci, and other scholars in the 1920s and through the work
of British cultural theorists (Kellner 1995). Karl Marx first approached ideology as media
manipulation. Gledhill (1997) said of Marx's view, "those groups who own the means of
production thereby control the means of producing and circulating a society's ideas" (p.
347). The Marxian tradition was to characterize ideology as the ideas of the ruling class
that advanced their goals (Kellner 1995). For Marxists, ideology is about upholding an
economic base (Ballaster et al. 1991). "Hence, ideology is always dictated by dominant
material interests," say Ballaster et al. (1991).
Another figure to consider when dissecting the concept of ideology is Louis
Althusser, a French Marxist philosopher. Althusser's (1971) theory of ideology accounts
for how the ruling or hegemonic classes or institutions perpetuate our consent to the
dominant ideology. Althusser's (1971) perspective revolves around the State (i.e., the
government or legal system) and the subject (i.e., the citizen). According to Althusser
(1971), citizens of a State understand the rules of their government and behave
accordingly. They do so because of Repressive State Apparatuses (e.g., the police) and
Ideological State Apparatuses (e.g., schools, mass media, and religion), which work
together to ensure that people behave accordingly. Repressive States Apparatuses are the
forces (e.g., justice systems) that enforce people's behavior directly. In other words, our
physical behavior is dictated by Repressive State Apparatuses. Ideological State
Apparatuses are the institutions that corral us into understandings of how society works
or of what is normal, and these institutions help us to form our belief systems. Although
Althusser (1971) notes that the ideological State apparatuses are in the private sphere, he
still stresses that they buttress the agenda of the State (Althusser 1971). Both the
Repressive States Apparatuses and the Ideological State Apparatuses work together to get
us to submit to dominant ideology, but the Repressive State Apparatuses are more
physically compelling than the Ideological State Apparatuses, which sort of will us into
submission. Yet, the Repressive State Apparatuses like the police are not necessary for
securing consent; the ideological structures are powerful enough (Gramsci 1971).
Ideology has the power to enlist people into certain belief systems. Hence,
according to Althusser, we come to understand reality via messages of media institutions
which may reflect the ideologies of other institutions. Similarly, Gramsci's perspective
on ideology is that it is "essentially mystificatory, functioning to mask inequality and
injustice" (Ballaster et al. 1991, p. 19).
Again, this perspective of ideology and media institutions as architects of reality
is similar to Tuchman's (1978) reflection hypothesis, which holds that the media
representations we believe reflect reality actually reflect the values of the dominant
forces. Ideology is an imaginary representation that we understand in the context of our
realities (Althusser 1971). We never know what is real objectively because our realities
are constructed on the basis of our surroundings. Therefore, what is real to us is based on
our perceptions of reality, which are influenced by Ideological State Apparatuses like the
We may feel compelled conform to this false reflection of reality, and we do this
unconsciously, says Althusser (1971), as do the media. The media are not forced to
articulate the social norms that favor the hegemonic powers (Hall 1980); rather, it is the
consensus of the majority or dominant groups that guide and possibly subconsciously
pressure media producers to articulate such norms that ultimately marginalize and
oppress the others (i.e., non-Whites). Gough-Yates (2003) said that women's magazines
studies informed by Althusser viewed women's magazines as
"closed texts" that imprisoned their women readers within a dominant set
of ideologies. For some, such an approach offered an overly pessimistic
account of readers' relationships with their magazines, reducing the text to
little more than an agent in the service of patriarchal capitalism. (p. 9)
But for some researchers the audience was active. That is to say, media texts do
not have the power to imprison women readers.
The active audience. Historically, the lived experiences of magazine readers
were not often considered in the realm of cultural studies, which mostly focused on
representation and meaning (McRobbie 1996). However, the Birmingham School
stressed the importance of the audience and, as a result, cultural studies scholars are
concerned with how an audience may interpret a text (Curran et al. 1982; McQuail 1994).
Typically, audience research focused on how the media wielded ideological
domination via economic and class interests. However, contemporary perspectives
regarding media audiences differ from those of the past, which assumed that audiences
were passive absorbers of media messages (Morley 1992). The contemporary view is to
approach the media audience as an audience that does not passively absorb whatever
messages the media spit out. At the same time, the contemporary perspective is to not
award the media audience too much power; the audience does not have that much power
when it comes to interpreting and negotiating a text (Morley 1992).
According to Gough-Yates (2003), in the 1980s, textually based approaches to
women's magazine research evolved from solely looking at texts as ideological tools to
incorporating the Gramscian theory of hegemony, which approached women's magazines
as sites where women's oppression was debated and negotiated not just reinforced (p.
10). Such debating and negotiating implies that the media audience is active.
Audience-reception studies indicate that individuals may interpret a media
message in multiple ways (Alasuutari, 1999; Duke 2000; Goodman 2002; Morley 1992).
Readers absorb what they read, see, or hear; apply their prior knowledge, opinions, and
beliefs to that information; and form their own opinions about the text (MacLachlan and
Reid 1994). Philo (2001) said, "Some people believe and accept the message, others
reject knowledge from their own experience or can use processes of logic of other
rationales to criticise what is being said" (p. 26). Gough-Yates (2003) adds that another
reason to consider reader agency is that there has been a shift in the awareness of women
readers. That is to say, some magazine readers may be more accustomed to critically
reading magazines because of their educations (Gough-Yates 2003).
An individual's reading of a text may differ from another's based on his or her
social context making the message polysemic, meaning it is open to multiple
interpretations (Durham 1999a; Fiske 1986; Hall 1982; McQuail 1994; Philo 1999).
However, Kitzinger (1999) points out that just because an audience may interpret a text
in a variety of ways, that does not mean that the media are without influence or
ineffectual (Kitzinger 1999). Preexisting beliefs are powerful, yet "the 'active' audience
is not immune from influence" (Kitzinger 1999, p. 19). In sum, contemporary audience-
based studies view the media as powerful, but the audience still retains agency.
The work of Stuart Hall is appropriate when looking at the active audience
(Alasuutari 1999). Hall's (1979) encoding/decoding model purports to show that
the producers of a message encode it with a preferred meaning and that the
receivers of the message decode it, or interpret it, albeit often in a myriad of ways.
The receiver of the message will assume the dominant hegemonic position, a
negotiated position, or an oppositional position. Hall's (1979) encoding/decoding
model was developed with power in mind; the media exerted power and influence
over an audience by encoding preferred meaning into products to promote the
dominant ideology (Alasuutari 1999).
The dominant hegemonic position indicates that a reader has accepted what he or
she has read just as the text's producers intended; it is a preferred reading (Alasuutari
1999; Hall 1979). The reader does not question the media message. The dominant
hegemonic position or a preferred reading indicates that the audience interpretation is
predetermined, and receivers of the message accept the dominant ideology with which
the message is encoded without question (Duke 2000).
Hall's (1979) notion that texts' readings can be dominant or hegemonic is similar
to McRobbie's findings using the British magazine Jackie!, which was one of the first
studies (1978) to claim that magazines transmitted ideological messages to readers.
McRobbie (1978) said that Jackie! "is merely a mouthpiece for ruling class ideology" (p.
5). McRobbie (1989) also credited popular publications with the power to "define and
shape the woman's world, spanning from every stage of childhood to old age" (p. 203).
However, studies that have been conducted since Hall (1979) and McRobbie's
(1978) give credence that audiences are active (Goodman 2002). Hall (1982)
acknowledged that media came to be viewed as not as influential as previously thought,
and McRobbie (1997) acknowledged that some teen women's magazines promote not
just dominant, negative ideology but self-confidence. One might argue that the dominant
hegemonic position harkens back to the era of "cultural dupes" that audiences were once
believed to be.
Most people experience negotiated readings (Alasuutari 1999). In the negotiated
position, the reader criticizes the dominant or institutional ideology, although they accept
it (Goodman 2002; Hall 1979). MacLachlan and Reid (1994) said, "Writer and reader are
engaged (albeit unconsciously) in a power struggle through which each tries to control
interpretation of the text" (p. 109). Morley (1992) said that when there is a negotiated
reading, "the decoder may take the meaning broadly as encoded, but by relating his/her
position and interests, the reader may modify or partially inflect the given preferred
reading" (p. 89). For example, readers of women's magazines may criticize how thin the
models are even though they aspire to be thin and take measure to achieve thinness
(Goodman 2002). This supports Frazer's (1997) view, which holds that readers are not
passive and that ideological messages do not simply infiltrate every reader of women's
magazines. Rather, when young women read magazines, it is their interaction with the
textual content and with their peers that causes them to create meaning.
Currie (1997) formed an interesting sort of middle ground when she analyzed how
teenage women read advertisements in magazines and how they negotiated "what it
means to be a woman" (p. 453). Currie (1997) said that women who read magazines are
not "cultural dupes" as McRobbie originally suggested, however, they do not have the
power to reject completely reject or remain unaffected by what they read and see in
magazines (p. 474).
When readers adopt the oppositional position, they reject the producer's inherent
message (defy the ideology) in favor of their own alternative meaning (Goodman 2002;
Hall 1979. Morley (1992) said, "the decoder may recognize how the message has been
contextually encoded, but may bring to bear an alternative frame of reference which sets
to one side the encoded framework and superimposes on the message an interpretation
which works in a directly 'oppositional' way" (p. 89). Take, for example, a woman who
is presented with the image of a thin model in a magazine. Rather than adopt the
hegemonic attitude and desire thinness, she will recognize that the industry idealizes
thinness because it is associated with positive social characteristics (Goodman 2002).
This ability to resist media messages has been addressed by scholars (Duke 2000;
Durham 1999a; Frazer 1987). According to Durham (1999a),
There is a paucity of studies wherein girls' spoken voices are heard .. but
what there is provides little evidence that any girls are able to engage in
what Hall classified as oppositional readings of media messages--readings
that completely reject and change the dominant ideology carried in the
message. (p. 220)
It should be noted that Durham (1999a) bases her judgment on her study of
adolescent female readers of texts and resistance to media messages as related to the
patriarchal popular culture. According to Durham (1999a), being of adolescent age means
these young women are not able assume the oppositional position when faced with media
messages. However, a later study by Durham (2004) revealed that some adolescents were
able to read somewhat oppositionally. On the other hand, one might argue that older
audiences are better able to resist media messages. Gough-Yates (2003) said of older
audiences, "Keen magazine readers themselves, they were frequently graduates of
university degree courses that had encouraged a critical understanding of media texts" (p.
In terms of my study, which seeks to understand how Latinas negotiate Latina
magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina, audience-based theories suggest that
readers will interpret the magazine's content in a variety of ways. Each woman's cultural
and social experiences will influence how they negotiate the messages in Latina
magazine. Their experiences are influenced by the society in which they live in, and that
society already has certain ideas about what it means to be Latina. Therefore, the context
in which these readings take place-U.S. society-is important.
Additionally, in line with Hall's (1979) encoding/decoding model, when women
read Latina magazine, they will accept the Latina's ideology as reflecting reality and
subscribe to the messages in the magazine, disagree with or criticize the ideology but still
subscribe to it, or reject the ideology and the messages in the magazine.
This section describes the focus group as the primary means of qualitative data
collection for my study; it details the research design; summarizes the magazine content
used in the research and the moderator's guide; and explains the method of analysis.
The Focus Group
The focus group is a method of collecting data that has been used in the social
sciences for decades, often in marketing and politics when firms or consultants are
interested in how people respond to media messages or products (Lindlof and Taylor
2002, pp. 181-182). Morgan (1997) offers a broad definition of the focus group
describing it as a "research technique that collects data through group interaction on a
topic determined by the researcher" (p. 6). The key to the focus group is group interaction
(Lindlof and Taylor 2002). During the focus group, a structured group interview allows
for group interaction among focus group participants (Morgan 1997). As opposed to a
one-on-one interview in which the researcher interviews one subject at a time, once the
researcher poses a question to a group, participants discuss the topic freely among one
another. It is natural that the responses of the focus group participants will play off of one
another. As a result of this group interaction, a group effect may ensue (Lindlof and
Taylor 2002). That is, being in a group may influence how participants respond to the
topic at hand, for instance, the depth of their responses. Lindlof and Taylor (2002) said,
"In the group context, the members are stimulated by ideas and experiences expressed by
each other. What occurs is a kind of 'chaining' or 'cascading' effect-talk links to, or
tumbles out of, the topics and expressions preceding it" (p. 182).
The focus group may be used as a self-contained research method, meaning it is
the primary means of collecting data, or as a supplementary method, meaning the data
collected via the focus group is supplemental to other methods of research. My study uses
the focus group as a self-contained method because it is not a preliminary nor an
exploratory research method to be backed up with other methods (Morgan 1997, p. 18).
Advantages and disadvantages of using focus groups. As a qualitative research
method, the focus group has many benefits. As previously mentioned, a focus group
instigates group interaction in a reasonably naturalistic setting, which spurs greater
insight into the research question. Focus groups also allow for the observation of group
dynamics such as how being part of a group setting influences attitude formation and
attitude change. The researcher may gain insight into how participants negotiate issues
with one another. Another advantage is that intergroup comparisons of participant point
of view, attitude, and motivation are made possible with focus groups. In addition, the
focus group moderator has the power to keep the conversation on track so that the most
relevant information can be attained in a short amount of time (Morgan 1997).
As opposed to other methods of data collection such as surveys, the focus group
allows the researcher to question participants about unanticipated topics. Freedom to
posit follow-up questions or unanticipated, relevant topics may lead a researcher to a
more thorough understanding of the research topic. In addition, in the focus group setting,
sensitive topics may be broached with greater ease than during a one-on-one interview
(Lindlof and Taylor 2002), especially if focus group participants share similarities,
whether in sex, ethnicity, age, experiences or other traits.
On the other hand, the very presence of a group may negatively influence how
one responds during a focus group session. For example, one may feel she must conform
to the views of other participants (Morgan 1997). Thus, there are also disadvantages to
using the focus group as the primary means of collecting qualitative data. There is not
only of the possibility of participant conformity but also of polarization, which is when a
participant expresses extreme views more so than she would outside of the group setting
(Morgan 1997, p. 15). Also, there is the possibility that participants would not feel
comfortable speaking up in a group setting (Morgan 1997).
Another weakness of the focus group is, when compared to another method of
research, the individual interview, the focus group may obtain less depth and detail. As
opposed to a one-on-one interview in which the researcher talks in-depth with a subject, a
researcher who is moderating a focus group comprised of 10 participants will find that
participants do not have the opportunity to say as much as they would during a one-on-
one interview. Additionally, because the focus group moderator is steering the discussion,
this type of research method is less naturalistic than, for instance, observation. Steering
the discussion may be difficult for a focus group moderator, especially if the focus group
is large or if opinions are divergent.
According to Morgan (1997), a simple test for determining whether the focus
group is an appropriate research method is to "ask how actively and easily participants
would discuss the topic of interest" (p. 17). It was predicted that the women who would
choose to participate in the focus groups for my study would be willing to voice their
opinions, and therefore, the focus group would be an appropriate method of research for
Of course, there are more issues to consider when planning and preparing for
focus groups. Planning and preparing for focus groups are time-consuming and
sometimes costly ventures. There are three major factors to consider when planning a
focus group, says Morgan (1997). The first involves ethical concerns. However, privacy
issues were tackled early on in the preparation of focus groups when the Institutional
Review Boards (IRB) approved the protocol. In addition, all focus group participants read
and signed the approved informed consent, which specified that their responses will
remain anonymous and that the audio and video recording of the sessions will be kept
securely in the home of the researcher.
The second major factor involves budget issues (Morgan 1997). In comparison to
focus groups held for non-academic purposes, this study was not very expensive. Still,
there was no outside source of funding to aid in this study, so an inexpensive method of
research was required. The major costs involved purchasing audio recording equipment
and providing $5 compensation to each focus group participant and food and beverages.
It was determined that compensation should be provided to facilitate recruitment of
The third factor to consider when planning focus groups involves time constraints
(Morgan 1997). In academic research, time constraints may be personal to the researcher
and his or her thesis committee. Time may be constrained if the researcher works alone
on the project and divides her time between the research and other commitments.
After weighing the ethical, budgetary, and time factors and the advantages and the
disadvantages of the focus group as a method of research, it was decided that
interviewing many women at once would be a suitable method of research.
Next, and of great importance to consider, is how the data will be collected
(Morgan 1997). This stage of the planning process involves determining who will be
recruited for participation in the focus groups, the structure of the sessions, the level of
moderator involvement, the ideal number of participants for each group, and the number
of focus groups that will take place (Morgan 1997).
Selection of participants. The focus group participants in this study were self-
identified Latinas. The demographic composition of the focus groups was designed to be
as similar to the demographic composition of Latina magazine readership; however,
women were required to be at least 18 years of age to facilitate IRB approval. Because
Latina magazine readership is comprised of women of all ages, no cap was put on how
old participants could be, although it was assumed that most participants would be
between the ages of 18 and 24, the typical ages of students in a university setting. Each
focus group was homogenous because each group was comprised of women of similar
ethnic backgrounds (i.e., self-identified Latinas).
The goal of this study was not to achieve generalizations about Latinas but to
receive a range of opinions that would aid in answering the research question. The
findings would then be applicable only to the sample used in the study, although it was
predicted that the theory that would emerge would be applicable to future studies about
Latinas and the media.
Theoretical sampling was implemented in this study because the research was
driven by theoretical inquiry (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Theoretical sampling is used
when the researcher theorizes that a specific sample will satisfy the research question
(Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Hence, to answer the question of how Latinas feel about
Latina magazine, participants were selected if they met two requirements: (1) participants
were required to consider themselves Latina and (2) participants were required to be at
least 18 years of age (although this had more to do with facilitating IRB approval than
answering the research question). The sample was homogeneous in that it was comprised
of Latinas. Although the sample was homogeneous, the participants did represent various
nationalities, language abilities, ages, and Latin American cultural exposures and
experiences. Such a group composition was sought after because it was predicted that
these women would have something to say about Latina magazine and about being
Latina. Additionally, it was predicted that they would feel comfortable discussing the
topic amongst other Latinas (Morgan 1997).
Prior knowledge of or familiarity with Latina magazine was neither required nor
necessary because participants were presented with the text before they were asked to
comment on it. Nevertheless, to account for the possibility that Latina magazine readers
may having differing opinions from that of non-Latina magazine readers, an attempt was
made to separate Latina readers from non-Latina readers. To segment the sample in such
a way proved to be a difficult process that did not work. The reason being, for instance, a
non-Latina magazine reader would only be able to commit to the Latina-readers focus
group sessions because of schedule conflicts. Thus, the option of refusing a potential
focus group participant the opportunity to participate at all because she could not make
the proper session was not desirable, and mixing Latina magazine readers with non-
readers proved more efficient for gaining the ideal number of participants.
In addition, once potential participants showed interest in contributing to a focus
group session, an attempt to separate them into groups designated by generation was
made and is outlined as follows: first-generation Latinas, or those born in the United
States who have at least one parent considered Latin American in one group, and second-
generation Latinas, or those born to at least one Latino parent and Latin American-born
women in another group. Segmenting the population in this manner also proved to
eliminate participants all together, so this strategy was eliminated.
Nevertheless, a questionnaire presented to the women at the beginning of the
focus groups enabled the researcher to obtain knowledge about who read Latina
magazine and who was first, second, and so on, generation Latinas.
Recruiting. Two weeks before the focus groups were held, e-mails, phone calls,
and in-person requests were used to recruit Latinas from a major university. Information
about the focus groups was e-mailed to university-affiliated listservs, such as those in
connection with the Hispanic/Latino organizations and sororities. Phone calls, e-mails,
and in-person requests were made to Hispanic/Latino organizations and sororities so that
during organization meetings, leaders could inform members about the focus groups.
Advertising to recruit Latinas was vague enough so as not to give away the purpose of the
study. The main line of the flyer and e-mail read, "Seeking Latinas to participate in focus
Recruiting materials that were posted and e-mailed specified that Latinas would
receive $5 compensation and free food and beverages for participating. An incentive of
$25 was offered to Hispanic/Latino organizations and sororities if they could provide
participants, but no organizations accepted the offer.
When potential participants expressed interest, follow-ups were made via e-mail
and telephone to remind potential participants of the dates and time of the focus group
sessions. Participants were over-recruited to account for possible no-shows (Morgan
1997, p. 42). The strategy was to over-recruit by 20% to make up for possible no-shows.
Typically, 90% will show (R. Goodman, personal communication, February 17, 2004).
Size of groups. Ideally, focus groups are comprised of six to 12 participants
(Lindlof and Taylor, 2002; Morgan 1997). Less than six may hinder a sustainable
discussion, and with more than 12, some participants may not have an opportunity to
speak, they may talk over one another, or have side conversations (Lindlof and Taylor,
2002; Morgan 1997). In the event that greater than 12 potential participants showed, the
last ones to appear were to be given a list of questions to answer in writing away from the
group. Fortunately, focus groups for my study did not exceed eight participants.
Number of groups. Using the "rule-of-thumb," it was decided before the first
focus group took place that a minimum of three focus groups would be conducted
(Morgan 1997, p. 43). Yet, to reach theoretical saturation, more groups were planned just
in case. Theoretical saturation occurs when a researcher realizes that no new information
is being obtained and it is decided that additional focus groups will not result in new
ideas (Morgan 1997). For my study, theoretical saturation was achieved using three focus
groups. The focus groups were conducted for three consecutive days in a one-week
period in February 2005.
Structure. Each focus group was highly structured so that each question in the
moderator's guide was answered thoroughly. Each focus group lasted 90 minutes to two
hours, which is typical of focus groups (Lindlof and Taylor 2002; Morgan 1997).
Participants were informed of the anticipated time length. The focus groups were
structured similarly so that each group discussed the same topics. Structuring the sessions
similarly allows the data collected to be comparable across all groups (Morgan 1997).
An assistant moderator was present at two out of the three focus groups to pass
out materials, assist with late-comers, operate audio, video and projection equipment, run
last-minute or emergency errands, and to take notes. It was determined that an assistant
moderator would not be necessary for the third focus group. Before the focus group
sessions, the expectations for the structure of the focus groups were outlined for the
During the focus groups, the moderator and assistant moderator said as little as
possible so that participants discussed the topics freely. Participants were informed that
they were expected to have a free-flowing conversation amongst one another. They were
also told that they were not expected to direct their answers back to the moderator. The
moderator asked questions scripted in the moderator's guide and unanticipated relevant
or follow-up questions when they were warranted. Successful focus groups are those in
which participants initiate issues the researcher did not anticipate (Morgan 1997). Prompt
questions were used when participants did not initiate responses that were most relevant
to the research.
Given the provocative and debatable nature of the topics at hand and combination
of focus group participants (e.g., Cuban-American, Colombian, Dominican-American,
etc.), the group effect sought during these focus groups was argumentative interaction.
Lindlof and Taylor (2002) describe argumentative interaction as consisting of differing
and clashing opinions based on various personal experiences. This type of interaction is
beneficial because researchers are able to gain insight into what factors influence Latinas'
interpretations and how they form their points of view about the articles presented to
them during the focus groups (Lindlof and Taylor 2002).
Equipment. Most of the participants were expected to be local students;
therefore, an area on the university campus was sought because this area was thought to
be most convenient for the participants. The study site for the focus groups was a
conference room on the university campus where computer and audio recording
equipment could be assembled. This room has a bare, white wall to project the pages of
the magazine. The area accommodates at least 12 people and allowed the participants to
sit in a circle, facing one another. Such a seating arrangement was ideal because it
allowed for a more intimate and conversational setting.
This setting also allowed for the audio recording equipment to be placed in close
proximity to the participants so that it could record the conversations clearly. Audio
recording equipment was placed in the middle of a conference room table where the
participants sat. Each participant was informed via the IRB consent form that their names
would not be attributed to any information that they provided. A written seating chart was
made that identified each participant by name, age and country of family origin (e.g.,
Danielle, 23, Puerto Rican) so as to keep track of the participants and their responses.
Interview content. As participants entered the conference room to take part in the
focus group, they were given a questionnaire. They were asked to provide their name, e-
mail address, phone number, age, major in school, hometown, nationality, whether they
were first-generation, second-generation, etc. Latina, parents' educational levels, whether
they read Latina magazine, and a list of other magazines they read. Questionnaires were
used to get a sense of who comprised the groups and to make connections as to why they
felt the way they did. For example, if most of the women in the focus groups felt a certain
way about an issue, it may be attributed to the fact that they have mostly highly educated
parents or are mostly Cuban-American (Morgan 1997).
Once everyone was seated and the questionnaires completed, introductory
remarks were made regarding who the moderators were and why the participants were
there (see Appendix A). Guidelines and expectations were expressed. For example, it was
explained that there were no right or wrong answers, side conversations were to be
avoided, they did not have to raise their hands to speak, and the moderators present were
observers to their discussion. Participant confidentiality was stressed. They were asked to
remain on a first-name basis during the sessions.
Next, participants were informed about the contents of a large envelope they were
given. Each envelope contained six photocopied articles from Latina magazine. Giving
the participants the pages extracted from the magazine, rather than reading the excerpts
aloud to them, allowed them to see, read, and comprehend the text in English and in
Spanish and at their own pace. Participants were also told that two of the six articles
would be projected from a color transparency onto the wall in front of them. The purpose
of projecting the color copies were so that they could see more accurately how the
women pictured in the articles look in the magazine.
The photocopied excerpts from Latina magazine were used as an autodriving
technique to stimulate discussion (McCracken 1988). According to McCracken (1988),
autodriving is a technique that requires that participants be provided with a stimulus (e.g.,
a text) to elicit response. It should be noted that autodriving is a term frequently used to
refer to photo elicitation, which is a qualitative method that involves introducing
photographs into the interview context to provoke a response (Clark-Ibafiez 2004).
According to Collier (1979), photo elicitation has proved useful because "picture
interviews were flooded with encyclopeaedic community information whereas in the
exclusively verbal interviews, communication difficulties and memory blocks inhibited
the flow of information (p. 281). Citing one of his studies, Collier (1979) said that when
showing pictures an interview can go on indefinitely as long as new stimuli are shown. In
contrast, when doing an interview without such stimuli, interviewees seem to run out of
responses. In sum, this study would not be possible without the aid of excerpted images
and text from Latina magazine.
Finally, each participant introduced herself and said where she was from, what
nationality she identified with, her parents or grandparents country of origin, and whether
she read Latina magazine.
After introductory remarks were made, the participants were taken through an
eight-step interview process (see Appendix B). First, the participants were asked about
their general impressions of Latinas in the media today such as in magazines, television,
movies and advertisements. The purpose of asking this general question was to get a
sense of how they perceived the media as portraying Latinas. The participants were asked
about their impressions of mainstream mass media and Spanish-language media to see if
they perceived there to be differences in how Latinas are portrayed in both types of
media. When they did not address how these Latinas look or act in the media, they were
prompted to address these questions.
Second, the participants were questioned about their impressions of Latinas in
women's fashion magazines. They were prompted about what Latinas the magazines
feature the most, what these magazines have to say about these women, and how the
Latinas look in the fashion magazines.
Next, the participants were introduced to Latina magazine. Any content shown
during the group was chosen carefully because of its relationship to the research question
of how Latinas negotiate the magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina. For
example, these articles addressed what Latinas look like, their attitudes, beliefs, values,
and behaviors, and how they perceive themselves in U.S. society.
Next, the participants were introduced the inside content of Latina magazine.
They were shown a total of six articles from the magazine. The first article read by the
participants was from Latina magazine's beauty section, and it described different
makeup trends and how to apply makeup. The second article was excerpted from the
fashion pages of Latina magazine. Each month, this front-of-the-book section is devoted
to dressing real Latinas (i.e., not fashion models) and to discussing what looks they prefer
for their body shapes. Name and country of origin identifies the women pictured.
The third article addressed the positive aspects of biculturalism. The fourth article
discussed relations and expectations in Latino families. The fifth article spoke of religion
and the relation of Catholic saints to indigenous goddesses. And the sixth, brief article
encouraged Latinas to keep up a Latin American tradition of linking surnames once
married. There are two main reasons for choosing these articles: First, the topic, tone, and
purpose of these articles set them apart from articles in other women's magazines.
Second, these articles are suitable for a discussion of how Latinas negotiate the
magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina because these articles appear to be
attempting to reflect and define what it means to be Latina.
They were told they had a few minutes to read through each excerpt. After each
article, the participants were asked about their thoughts and opinions about the article.
Additionally, they were often prompted with the questions, "How does this article
resonate your experiences in life?" "How does this article reflect the Latina experience?"
"Is this article positive or negative, helpful or not, revealing, boring, etc.?"
The closing of each focus group session began with the question, "In your opinion
and experience, what does it mean to be a Latina?" The purpose of asking this is to get a
sense of whether the participants' views are similar or different to those in Latina
magazine. The last question of the session was, "Is there anything else you would like to
add before we wrap it up?" The purpose of asking the participants this question is to give
everyone an opportunity to say anything they may not have had a chance to say prior.
Focus group data compiled for analysis consisted of 105 pages of transcribed
audiotape recordings. All of the responses provided during the focus groups and during
time of transcription were categorized and coded for analysis by the researcher.4
4Because this thesis involves qualitative methods of research, the researcher is the research instrument.
Hence, the researcher's perspective influences how the focus group data is interpreted. How one researcher
interprets the data may differ from how another researcher interprets the data.
Grounded theory. This study followed Glaser and Strauss' (1967) grounded
theory method for generating theory, a widely used and influential model for coding
qualitative data (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Glaser and Strauss' (1967) comparative
analysis and its method of analysis, the constant comparative method were used.
Grounded theory came about as an antidote to logico-deductive theory, which
sought to verify existing theories that previously proved to already work. When the goal
is verification, Glaser and Strauss (1967) say that researchers attempt to verify a theory
by essentially collecting data and then tacking on a logically deduced theory that could
have come to mind through mere happen stance, conjecture, or common sense (pp. 4-6).
When using grounded theory, on the other hand, the researcher does not begin
with an assumption and then set out to verify it; it does not begin with an assumption
from which a logically deduced theory is derived. Instead, the goal is to generate a theory
(i.e., which explains or predicts something) as the data is collected and even after all the
data have been transcribed (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p. 31). The theory generated for this
research attempts to explain how Latinas negotiate Latina magazine's ideology of what it
means to be Latina.
To generate a theory entails a process of research that is on going. The
development of a theory does not end when the researcher has conducted his or her last
focus group. The theory that is discovered over time is continually and inextricably
linked to the data. This theory cannot be refuted because it is always linked to the specific
data systematically obtained by the researcher (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p. 4).
Using comparative analysis, the researcher may develop conceptual categories
and their conceptual properties. A category "stands by itself as a conceptual element of a
theory" (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p. 36). A property of a category is a "conceptual aspect
or element of a category" (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p. 36). Glaser and Strauss (1967)
point out that when constructing categories and their properties, it is important to
remember that both the categories and their properties are concepts indicated by the data.
They are not constructed of the data itself (Glaser and Strauss 1967, p. 36). For the
purposes of this research, comparative analysis was used to compare each response
obtained from each woman who participated in a focus group.
Constant comparative method. This study espouses the constant comparative
method of analysis (Glaser and Strauss 1967). This method enables the researcher to
code, categorize, and conceptualize the data collected (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). The
constant comparative method is comprised of four stages: (1) coding each response into
as many categories as possible (2) integrating categories (3) delimiting, reducing, and
saturating the categories (4) writing the theory.
First, the researcher codes each incident or response provided by each focus group
participant into as many categories as possible (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Lindlof and
Taylor 2002). During this process of open coding, notes were made in the margins of the
printed transcripts to acknowledge what category each response could fit into, and each
of the possible categories were listed in a computer file to create a codebook (Glaser and
Strauss 1967; Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Two codebooks were created. The first
codebook categorized the participants' responses into various topic such as "Recurring
words and statements," "Perceptions of Latinas in the media," "Their perceptions of what
is Latina," and "Perceptions of Latin American cultures versus U.S. culture."
When coding each response, it was compared with a previous response to
determine what category it would fit into. This measure is consistent Glaser and Strauss'
"defining rule" of the constant comparative method (p. 106). "This constant comparison
of the incidents very soon starts to generate theoretical properties of the category" (Glaser
and Strauss 1967, p. 106).
Categories that emerge during this first stage may be created by the researcher,
originate from the literature review, or be gleaned from terms the participants in the focus
groups used (in vivo coding) (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Lindlof and Taylor 2002).
Every so often, a break was taken from the coding process to record personal
ideas and to reflect on the emerging theoretical notions (Glaser and Strauss 1967). This
was useful for seeing the evolution of categories.
Hall's (1979) encoding/decoding model was used during the coding process to
determine whether the focus group participants' responses indicated they had a dominant
reading, a negotiated reading, or an oppositional reading. The second codebook is
comprised of all responses to the articles that fell into one of Hall's (1979) three reading
positions: dominant, negotiated, or oppositional, which indicates the type of reading each
woman had who interacted with Latina magazine. It should be noted that readers do not
always firmly remain in one reading position. For example, a dominant reading may give
way to a negotiated reading.
For the purposes of my study, Hall's (1979) encoding/decoding model is used as
follows. When presented with an article in Latina magazine, focus group participants
may accept what the magazine defines as Latina (e.g., appearance, attitude, behaviors,
etc.) as realistic and common-sensical, and they do not question the magazine producers'
preferred message. This describes a dominant reading. A dominant or preferred reading is
one in which a reader accepts and/or identifies with what the article is communicating,
and they do not question the message.
Others may find the messages in Latina magazine unrealistic, problematic, or they
may criticize them, but the key is that they do not expose any underlying dominant
ideology. Hence, a negotiated reading is one in which a reader challenges a message. A
negotiated reading may also be one in which a reader partially accepts a media message.
For example, when a reader's lived experiences run counter to the preferred messages,
but she recognizes that the content may reflect reality for other Latinas.
Finally, readers may reject what they read in favor of their own interpretation that
exposes the underlying dominant ideology. For example, a reader criticizes the magazine
for addressing Latinas as a homogeneous group, and she exposes the marketing or
capitalistic motives for addressing Latinas as one, similar group.
The second stage of the constant comparative method involves integrating
categories and their properties (Glaser and Strauss 1967; Lindlof and Taylor 2002).
Lindlof and Taylor (2002) refer to this integration process as axial coding, which refers to
"using codes that make connections between categories and thus result in the creation of
either new categories or a theme that spans many categories" (p. 220). Response is no
longer compared to previous response (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Rather response is
compared to properties of categories (Glaser and Strauss 1967). This process encourages
the researcher to make "some related theoretical sense of each comparison" (Glaser and
Strauss 1967, p. 109).
The second stage of the constant comparative method quickly evolves into the
third stage because the researcher delimits the categories and theories (Glaser and Strauss
1967, p. 110). It is during this third stage that the data becomes more manageable in the
sense that the number of categories is narrowed, and the nature of the categories is
refined (Lindlof and Taylor 2002). Glaser and Strauss (1967) sum up this stage as
"mainly on the order of clarifying the logic, taking out non-relevant properties,
integrating elaborating details of properties into the major outline of interrelated
categories and-most important-reduction" (p. 110).
It is at this juncture that theoretical saturation of categories occurs. After continual
coding, the researcher is eventually able to quickly determine whether a new incident
(i.e., response or statement) fits into an existing category or if it is distinct enough to be
coded for a new category (Glaser and Strauss 1967). Glaser and Strauss (1967) said,
After an analyst has coded incidents for the same category a number of
times, he learns to see quickly whether or not the next applicable incident
points to a new aspect. If yes, then the incident is coded and compared. If
no, the incident is not coded, since it only adds bulk to the coded data and
nothing to the theory. (p. 111)
The fourth and final stage of the constant comparative method involves taking in
all the coded data, the ensuing categories, the theory that emerged, and writing the
findings (Glaser and Strauss 1967).
This chapter presents the results of the analysis of focus group data. The results
include the themes that emerged from the data and supporting responses from the
transcripts. Exploring these themes and exemplars provide an understanding of how
Latinas negotiate Latina magazine's ideology of what it means to be Latina.
Focus Group Demographics
A total of 20self-identified Latinas attended three focus group sessions. There
were six women in group one, six women in group two, and eight women in group three.
The average age was 20. The age range of participants was 18 to 23. All women attended
a major Florida university. Of the 20 women, 11 were born in the United States and nine
were born in a Latin American country. These Latin American nations included
Colombia, Cuba, Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Of those born in a Latin
American country, most were raised in the United States. Two women moved to the
United States at age 17, and therefore were not considered raised in the United States.
All of the women had at least one parent who was born in Latin America. These
countries included Argentina, Belize, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic,
Honduras, Panama, Peru, and Puerto Rico. Of the 20 women, three said they read Latina
magazine regularly, two said they "occasionally" read it, one said she "sometimes" read
it, another said she "rarely" read it, and 13 focus group participants said they did not read
the magazine. Most of the women possessed fluent Spanish-language skills. One woman
expressed that she was not fluent but proficient, and the rest (three) had limited or
minimal Spanish-language skills. The demographics of the focus groups are outlined in
Table 4-1 Democraohics of focus srouns
Focus Groun 1
Focus Groun 2
Focus Groun 3
Age Range 18-23
1 grad student
Father's 3 high school
Education 2 Bachelor's degree
Mother's 1 high school
Education 1 technical
3 Bachelor's degree
Peruvian 2 Puerto Rican
Belizean-Honduran-American 3 Cuban-American
2 Master's degree 1 Ph.D
1 college (didn't specify) 1 Master's degree
1 Bachelor's degree 1 Bachelor's degree
1 high school or less 2 high school or less
1 general (didn't specify) 1 Law school
1 college or less
2 Bachelor's degree 2 Master's degree
1 college (didn't specify) 2 technical
1 high school 1 RN
1 general (didn't specify) 1 Montessori teacher
1 college or less 2 high school
1 don't read, used to
5 don't read
2 don't read
2 rarely read
1 occasionally read
4 don't read
1 sometimes read
1 occasionally read
Summary of Findings
The focus group participants were presented six articles from Latina magazine
regarding these topics: beauty, fashion, biculturalism, family, religion, and tradition. In
general, the women's attitudes and opinions regarding Latina magazine were largely
negotiated and, at times, oppositional at varying levels. Significant factors that influenced
their negotiations of the magazine were the topic of article at hand and their individual
life experiences, cultures, and nationalities.
This chapter begins by exploring the mediated Latina ideal in mainstream
mass media and how Latinas negotiate that ideal. Next, this chapter explores the
focus group participants' perceptions about Latina beauty, body type, culture,
family, religion, and tradition, as defined by Latina magazine.
The Mediated Latina Ideal
The focus group participants were asked about their impressions of Latinas in the
mainstream mass media. The participants described similar impressions of Latinas in the
media, and these descriptions indicate that they perceived the media to portray a Latina
The body. Their impressions tended to focus on physical appearance,
namely the body or the "Latina figure" as one participant called it. Women in all
three groups recognized that there was a mediated ideal Latina body, and they
criticized its existence. When discussing what Latinas look like in the mainstream
media, women in all three groups said that the mediated ideal Latina body was
curvy with a "big booty" yet slim. Many of the women also implied that this
mediated Latina ideal is unrealistic. Discussed below is each of the mediated ideal
Latina physical attributes: (1) "curvy" (2) "big booty" and (3) a "slim" body. Also
briefly discussed is how some of the women perceived the mediated Latina ideal
to be unrealistic.
Interviewer: So if you do see Latinas, what Latinas do the magazines
feature the most, and what do these magazines say about these women?
Ana5, Colombian-American: Their bodies. It's mostly like showing off
Claudia, Puerto Rican: "They're proud to have these curves." [says in a
Many participants used the word "curvy" to describe their impressions of Latinas
in the media. They seemed to associate being curvaceous with the rear end (Negr6n-
Muntaner 1997). According to Negr6n-Muntaner (1997), not only is the media obsessed
with Latinas and curves, but also Latinas themselves may see a curvy body-namely
having a "big booty"-as a desirable Latina characteristic.
Patricia, Puerto Rican: Girls do it all the time. "My butt looks big in these
jeans." I'm like, that's when I buy jeans. When my butt looks bigger, I buy
Carina, Peruvian: Exactly. I want my butt to look bigger. Yeah.
Laura, Cuban: Because, I mean [pause] Like no. Nobody wants to have a
flat butt. Like, there's people who get implants on their butt. It's
disgusting, but they do.
Both Patricia's and Laura's comments indicate that they perceive that there is a
strong desire for women in the United States have to have a larger rear end. One might
argue that buying jeans that make one's butt look bigger and getting buttock implants is
similar to investing in a Wonderbra or a tummy tuck to give the allusion of bigger breasts
and to achieve a smaller waist, respectively. In fact, buttock implants are on the rise in
the United States (Mundell 2004), and jeans are now sold with rear padding. Hence, one
might say that U.S. dominant standards for an attractive physique may be adopting a
characteristic that is arguably "Latina." Yet, it is interesting that one participant said,
"Black women had the curves before Latin women if anything." Nevertheless, the "big
booty" ideal is often associated with actress/singer Jennifer Lopez or J. Lo (Negr6n-
5 The participants' names were changed to maintain their confidentiality.
Muntaner 1997). One plastic surgeon is quoted as saying, "As many people that you
might have that criticize her [Lopez's] buttocks as being too big, she has impacted on
what is perceived to be an attractive buttock" (Mundell 2004). A few participants
supported this statement.
Patricia, Puerto Rican: Like the big booty I think came with J. Lo. She
kind of established that it was okay. Before that, big booty was you're fat,
Veronica, Cuban-American: Very true.
Patricia: And to us, big booty is Yes. You will lose weight, but you don't
want to lose the booty.
Many of the women expressed that they believed that Latinas in the mainstream
media are expected to have larger rear ends. All of the participants tended to accept
media portrayals of Latinas with larger rear ends, indicating that their more dominant
reading of mediated images of Latinas came from their experiences that larger rear ends
were desirable and attractive.
A couple women expressed that the "big booty" ideal may be rooted in their
cultures as well in the media (Pompper and Koenig 2004; Goodman 2002).
Patricia, Puerto Rican: But you know, I think here, it's not as big of an
issue. For example, in Puerto Rico, there's a word. Chumbo or chumba is
a word to describe somebody who doesn't have a butt. And it's an insult
[redirects thought] And it's something that a girl's self-conscious about-
not having a butt. And here, it's like, girls are always like, "I have to hide
Patricia's comment possibly indicates that the ideal Latina figure is reproduced in
the media and rooted in Latin American culture. Patricia also emphasizes the differences
she perceives between Anglo women and Puerto Rican women when she says that "here.
. girls are always like, 'I have to hide my butt,'" indicating that she may perceive the
acceptance or desire to have a larger rear as a cultural. Although she did not convey that
the media influences any dominant behavior on her part, her culture may influence a
dominant behavior within her culture. Negr6n-Muntaner (1997) echoes this sentiment
when she said that Caribbean ethnicities are associated with the "popular imagination of
big butts" (p. 185).
Like Patricia associated the desire to have a larger rear with her Puerto Rican
culture, another participant pointed out that a having a "big booty" was a Latin Caribbean
characteristic and not necessarily a Latin American characteristic.
Melissa, Colombian: Yeah. I was, I was going to say like uh, I notice like
also you know there is a difference in bodies between Latinas like from
the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. Like Caribbeans
think to have like a big butt, and uh, more curves and then in South
America we are not as curvy than Caribbean or like we tend to have like
maybe the upper part tends to be like bigger maybe than the lower part.
Melissa's more negotiated reading of mediated images of Latinas came from her
personal experience that, in reality, many Latinas do not have large rear ends. While
many participants recognized an ideal Latina body, criticized its ubiquity in mainstream
media, and some even expressed that they desired it, one recognized that it was not
realistic for some Latinas based on their country of origin-a generalization in itself. In
sum, their opinions tended to be more negotiated while their stories of buying jeans that
accentuated their rears and stories of being called chumba aligned with dominant
ideology that fosters Latinas as curvaceous with larger rear ends.
While the participants' impressions of Latinas in the mainstream media included
perceiving them as curvy and having large rear ends, they also perceived the ideal Latina
body as being slim at the same time.
Claudia, Puerto Rican: Curvy but skinny still.
Jennifer, Dominican-American: Curvy skinny.
Patricia, Puerto Rican: I think that Latinas are portrayed maybe now with
a bigger booty, but usually they [the media images] still go with the skinny
Penelope Cruz [pause] She's Spanish, but [voice trails off].
According to Pompper and Koenig's (2004) study of Hispanic women and the
ideal body, some Hispanic women are less concerned with weight loss. They cite Latina
magazine editors as saying that Latinas believe that there is "nothing wrong with a larger
body" and that "Hispanic culture offer a unique ideal of femininity" (p. 92). Yet,
Patricia's comment about how Latinas in the media may be portrayed with "a bigger
booty, but usually they still go with the skinny [Latinas]" also indicates her awareness of
the dominant ideology that prefers thin images of women in the media (Pompper and
Koenig 2004; Goodman 2002).
Mainstream mass media are overrun with images of thin women because thinness
is the dominant ideal and associated with success and happiness (Goodman 2002;
Pompper and Koenig 2004). Hence, not surprisingly, women in all three focus groups
perceived Latinas in the mainstream magazines as slim. A few of the women viewed this
ideal as unrealistic for most women including Latinas (Pompper and Koenig 2004). For
example, one participant called the typical mediated look in women's fashion magazines
"very stick-figure" and said that she believed Latinas are incapable of looking like the
women in fashion magazines. She added that she did not think, "the majority of Hispanic
women would be capable of being runway models with the height thing and the boobs."
She was referring to her opinion that Latinas tend to be shorter and without large breasts.
Similar to the participant who said she believed that Latinas are incapable of
looking like the women in fashion magazines, some of the participants conveyed that the
mediated Latina ideal is unrealistic.
Claudia, Puerto Rican: You don't see the everyday Latin woman. And like
magazines have been pretty good about getting a lot more realistic lately,
but not when it comes to Latin women.
Claudia questions the mediated images of Latinas and perceives them as
unrealistic because her lived experiences tell her that Latinas in real life do not look like
the women in the magazines. This indicates a negotiated reading of the mediated images.
Similarly, some of the other participants conveyed that they also perceived the Latina
ideal as unrealistic. Their perceptions of the mediated ideal as unrealistic may be the
reason that although they perceived the mediated Latina ideal as slim, none of them
conveyed that they desired it. Although most of the participants were born in the United
States or moved to the United States at a young age, research suggests that Latinas who
immigrate to the United States after age 17 are more likely to prefer a larger body as the
ideal because they are more accustomed to "certain cultural practices" that include food
"playing a central role in their culture" (Goodman 2002, p. 715; Pompper and Koenig
2004, p. 93). Yet, one might argue that even for those participants who were raised in the
United States, having Latin American parents may influence one's perception of the ideal
body. Overall, achieving a thin body was not something that the women talked about-
with one exception. Danielle said that pressure to be thin comes from her family. Her
response countered Patricia, another Puerto Rican woman.
Patricia, Puerto Rican: ... I think that white women have the stereotypes
to live up to be super-skinny this, but we have our mothers and our
abuelas. "Oh, those women are not like you. You don't have to be like
them." So, it's almost like we have a sense of pride almost thanks to the
fact that we haven't had an influence as strong from the media as other
women of other ethnicities.
Danielle, Puerto Rican: I would, I would disagree with that. I think that in
my family, weight is a huge deal. Um, especially my grandmother. She
thinks that what you look like is absolutely everything. Um, you know,
she thinks it's important to have an education, but whether I actually do
anything with it, eh.
Unlike previous research that says that Latinas feel less pressure to be thin
because of their cultures (Goodman 2002; Pompper and Koenig 2004), Danielle's
statement indicates that her Puerto Rican family is central to pressure to conform to an
ideal thin body. Danielle's and the other participants' responses indicate that while the
media play a central role in reproducing dominant ideology that support images of curvy,
slim Latinas, cultures also play a role in dictating how Latinas feel they should look.
Skin tone and facial features. Besides the participants awareness of an ideal
body in mainstream mass media, the women were aware of the media's tendency to
portray ideal beauty that emphasized Anglo features like "breasts, straight noses, blonde
hair, and (white) faces" (Davila 2001; Duke 2000; Negr6n-Muntaner 1997, p. 187).
Women in all three groups also described similar impressions of the skin tones and facial
features of Latinas in the mainstream media. They included having tan skin, dark, wavy
hair, and dark eyes.
The participants acknowledged that there is an ideal Latina skin tone in
mainstream mass media. For example, Negr6n-Muntaner (1997) says the ideal Latina
beauty, "that is, neither too dark nor too light" (p. 183). This rule of "not to dark and not
too light" is the dominant standard in Hollywood, according to Davila (2001, p. 112).
Patricia, Puerto Rican: I think the skin color is something big. Because it's
not that they're dark. They're not white. It's this kind of like trigueha
[dark-complected]. Like, it's like they're tan.
Laura, Cuban: They're tan.
Patricia: That's almost like a requirement to be Latina, which is wrong
because there's a lot of variety in Hispanic women.
Ana, Colombian-American: They're tan. They're usually tan and
sometimes with like usually dark hair and dark eyes.
The women expressed frustration at only seeing Latinas in the media with dark
skin; dark, wavy hair; and dark eyes. The participants spoke of how, in reality, Latinas
have different types of hair and various hair, eye, and skin colors.
Ana: And there's like, I mean my cousins, my aunt's like redhead, and you
know she's Colombian redhead with freckles. Like they usually don't
show [pause]. Everyone thinks like we run around as Indians and like
other countries. Like they don't show like that there's blondes and blacks
Ana: and everything else.
Claudia, Puerto Rican: And we don't all. OK, there's like what? Two of us
in here have curly hair. Everyone assumes that we have curly hair.
Their perceptions of Latinas in mainstream media did not include Latinas with
various hair, eye, and skin colors, and they criticized this as not accurately reflecting
reality. Rather, the women perceived mainstream media portrayals of Latinas as
stereotypical, consistently using "dark hair and dark eyes", "wavy hair," and "brown skin,
the same kind of skin." The participants' responses indicated that not only do the media
project a homogeneous image of Latinas (i.e., with dark, thick, wavy hair; dark eyes; and
tan skin), but this tendency to believe that Latinas look a certain way is also prevalent
within U.S. society and among non-Latinos. Furthermore, the participants' perceptions of
the homogeneity of mediated Latina beauty support Davila (2001) who says that within
the United States there is a "generic or pan-Hispanic 'look.'" (p. 109). Davila (2001) says
that this generic look is generated by the world of advertising and that it is a marketing
strategy designed to convey that advertisements are representing target consumers.
In sum, the participants were aware of an Anglo and Latina beauty standard in
mainstream mass media, and they questioned this standard, but they did not offer any
opinions as to why the standard may exist. In other words, their more negotiated reading
of mainstream media was a result of their tendency to not recognize nor expose any
underlying dominant ideology that stresses a homogenous or generic look for marketing
purposes. A couple women also expressed that the images of ideal beauty in mainstream
mass media excluded them (Calafell 2001; Espinoza 1998).
Katie, Cuban-American: Something that's just kind of interesting that I've
noted just as a little kid flipping through magazines particularly, all the
models I thought when I was growing up were blonde hair and they had
blue eyes, and even if they had dark hair, they had light eyes. It was like
exotic. I never saw a girl with like brown eyes in like a Maybelline ad.
Ever. Until recently after like J. Lo, and all that kind resurfaced.
Patricia, Puerto Rican: So for a long time, Hispanic girls, we didn't grow
up with any image. It was always blonde girls, so we don't compare
ourselves. We just go, "Oh, she's not like me."
These quotes show that these participants recognized an ideal standard of beauty,
and they also were aware that they did not fit the standard of beauty because they did not
have blonde hair and blue eyes. Most of the participants were aware of an absence in the
media of women that looked like them, and a couple of participants associated blonde
hair and blue eyes as representing Anglo women (Davila 2001).
Despite the criticisms of the stereotypical images of Latina beauty in mainstream
mass media, most participants themselves exhibited stereotyping. For example, one
participant said that Latinas featured in mainstream magazines looked Americanized if
they have blonde hair or blue eyes.
Carina, Peruvian: [speaking of Cosmopolitan magazine] There was
specifically like one cover I remember that the model looked white and
she had a tattoo that says sabor latino, which is Latin taste or something,
Latin flavor. And um, she said she had got that because she said people
kept thinking that she's white and white and white, but she's really
Mexican. And that she got that to show people that she's Hispanic. So, I
think like in other magazines, sometimes, maybe I could see one or two
[Latinas], but I'm not even sure because they're so Americanized.
Although most of the participants expressed that they would like to see more
variety in the mainstream mass media, Carina's quote exemplifies how some of them also
question the authenticity of Latinas who possess a spectrum of features, namely Latinas
who have blonde hair or blue eyes (Davila 2001). Carina's skepticism of the
Americanized Latinas in mainstream media parallels Davila (2001) who says that U.S.
advertisers targeting Latinos tend not to use "Blondes and Nordic types" in their ads
because they believe Latinos do not connect with these images even though many Latinos
are blonde-haired and blue-eyed. As Davila (2001) says, Carina's quote indicates that she
did question the image on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine and did not feel it
represented an authentic "Latina look."
Perhaps Carina's weariness of the authenticity of the Latinas she sees in
mainstream media comes from her awareness of Hollywood's tendency to alter Latinas'
features to make them appear Anglo (Hedrick 2001; Menard 1997). Conversely, another
participant mentioned how she was aware of how Hollywood influenced a Colombian
model to change her hair color to look more stereotypically Latina.
Melissa, Colombian: Yeah. Actually, I don't know if any of you know
Melissa: A Colombian model. And she is going to like Hollywood, and
she had to change her hair color. She has, um, how you call it? Rubia?
Melissa: Yeah. She's blonde. Naturally blonde. And she had to change her
hair color to dark to [inaudible] Latina.
While many participants criticized the media for portraying stereotypical images
of Latinas with dark hair, dark eyes, and dark skin tones, the participants' comments also
convey that they had internalized the assumption that Latinas look a certain way. In other
words, they contradicted themselves. For example, when the participants were asked,
"What do Latinas in the mainstream media look like?" They responded with comments
like, "There's no one [Latina] look," "There are so many different looks," and "I think
what's actually beautiful about Latinas is that they don't look the same." However, their
politically correct responses gave way to stereotypical comments during their free-
flowing conversations, indicating their attitudes contradicted their behaviors. For
example, one participant said, "A lot of Colombians look White;" another participant said
that the mediated Latina look is "almost like Brazilian;" and a couple of participants said
to another, "You don't look Hispanic." The latter comments exemplify the women's
tendency to stereotype just as they accused the mainstream media of doing.
Therefore, while their discussions and opinions surrounding mediated ideal Latina
beauty were more negotiated because they questioned the mediated image and said that it
did not reflect reality, their subsequent discussions indicated that their beliefs actually
aligned with the dominant ideology that fosters one, ideal Latina look. One explanation
for why their actual beliefs and behaviors would tend to align with dominant ideology is
that most of the participants (all but two) were raised in the United States. Because they
experience U.S. culture daily, one might argue that they learned and internalized the
Sexualization and exoticism. Many of the participants expressed that
Latinas in the media are also portrayed as "sex objects" and as "exotic." Their
acknowledgements of such portrayals paralleled those found in the literature
(Calafell 2001; Flores and Holling 1999; Menard 1997; Wilson et al. 2003).
Specifically, words the participants used to describe what they saw as common
portrayals of Latinas were, "Sexy. You have to be sexy," "caliente" and "hot-
blooded" (Menard 1997; Wilson et al. 2003).
Karla, Colombian-Argentinean-American: And I think most times the media
portrays them as like hot-blooded Latin women like just ready to have sex and
ready to order men around also.
Most of the women tended to be critical of such negative representations of
Latinas in mainstream media because they associated such representations with appearing
to be promiscuous, low-class, and uneducated. Nevertheless, even though the participants
acknowledged that the media emphasizes Latina sexuality, many of them did not convey
that they did not want to be portrayed as sexy.
Patrician, Puerto Rican: I think also with Hispanic women in a more
generic magazine are used usually for a message that has to do with-she
mentioned it-sensuality, seduction, wearing something more daring or
maybe things that we would consider more Hispanic like wearing red
lipstick. Things like seeing a Hispanic woman and when you see the
displays of a, um, of a fashion line and they have the cute pink dress that
you could wear and then they have the tight red one. You would most
likely see the woman in the tight red one. So it's kind of a little more
[pause] I don't know, I'm not complaining. I'm just saying.
Patricia's comment supports a quote from a Hispanic magazine article that reads,
"The basic attitude among Latinas seems to be, 'We know the stereotype exists, and we
like it"' (Menard 1997). In sum, because the women recognized what they perceived as
negative stereotyping, but did not expose any dominant ideology that supports it and
because many of the women conveyed that they are not opposed to being sexy, their
opinions reflected a more negotiated position of mediated images of Latinas.
Some of the women also expressed that people in the United States and the
mainstream mass media "associate like exotic things with Hispanic women." This
association may stem from early U.S. film depictions of Latinas that capitalized on the
supposed "exotic" looks of Latinas (Flores and Holling 1999). These women perceived
this as a prevalent stereotype.
Laura, Cuban: Exotic definitely is what they portray Latin women looking.
Claudia, Puerto Rican: They [the magazines] expect us all to be beautiful and
The participants' acknowledgement that the media portrays Latinas as being
exotic parallels the literature (Flores and Holling 1999). Although some of the women
expressed that they were aware of stereotypical portrayals of Latinas as exotic, they did
not explain why they thought Latinas were portrayed as exotic. To be exotic is to be
foreign to a place. Yet, according to Suarez-Orozco and Paez (2002), the term "Latina"
relates to U.S. experiences. Thus, in reality, Latinas are no more foreign to the United
States than others born and raised in the United States.
Summary of the Latina Ideal
Overall, during the discussions about Latinas in the mainstream media, the
women did not speculate about the absence of Latina representation or the presence of
negative representation; they merely noted this. Tuchman's (1978) concept of symbolic
annihilation holds that women in the media are "symbolically annihilated" when they are
negatively stereotyped and when they are erased from positions in which they would
convey social power (Caputi 1999). Similarly, Tuchman's reflection hypothesis suggests
that media reflections are actually reflections of the dominant values of a society and that
people may view media representations-or the absence thereof-as reflections of
reality. Hence, the participants' awareness of the negative representation of Latinas in the
mainstream media and their absence from the mainstream media indicate that these
women learned the dominant standards of beauty and femininity from the media.
Consequently, negative representation and/or absence in magazines may affect how
Latinas perceive themselves and how others perceive them (Espinoza 1998, p. 6). The
discussions are evidence that the participants are aware that they are often considered
other in U.S. society because of media representations (Tuchman 1978).
Negotiating Latina Magazine's Ideology of What It Means To Be Latina
After discussing the participants' impressions of Latinas in the media, they were
asked to read six articles from Latina magazine. Two significant factors that influenced
their negotiations of the magazine were the topic of the article at hand and their
individual life experiences, cultures, and nationalities. In general, the women's attitudes
and opinions regarding Latina magazine were mixed. Overall, their readings were
negotiated and, at times, oppositional at varying levels. Often, their more negotiated
reading gave way to a dominant reading, which was typically dependent on the article
topic at hand.
The women were asked to read an article that describes makeup and how to apply
it. Two major themes emerged from the focus group participants' readings. Most of the
participants conveyed that they were aware of Latina magazine's tendency to showcase
Latinas with "tan" or "brown" skin, and virtually all participants tended to resist the
Latina look that they perceived the magazine to endorse.
Celebrating brownness. Women in all three focus groups criticized what they
perceived as Latina magazine's tendency to portray a "generic or pan-Hispanic 'look'"
(Davila 2001, p. 109). The women expressed that they did not like the generalizations
and stereotypes about Latina physical appearance. The predominant criticism revolved
around skin tone.
Sonia, Cuban-American: Then here it says [reading], "Start by creating the
ideal backdrop to showcase those eyes: warm, bronzed skin." So, they're
saying like we all have warm, brown skin, the same kind of a skin, like a
homogeneous idea of what it is to be Latina or whatever.
Sonia's statement represents a common sentiment voiced during all three groups.
Their more negotiated reading came from their personal experiences that taught them that
all Latinas do not have the same skin tone even though some Latinas do have the shade of
skin the magazine describes. They were critical of what they perceived as a
Calafell (2001) also recognizes Latina magazine's tendency to showcase brown
skin, and she offers an explanation as to why the magazine does this: "Latina attempts to
counteract the dominant paradigm of 'whiteness' through its adoption of 'brownness'"(p.
33). The participants did not convey that they perceived Latina magazine's "adoption of
'brownness'" as a way to counter hegemony; they merely criticized the generalization
(Calafell 2001, p. 33).
If indeed Latina magazine does engage in this counter-hegemonic practice that
defies the dominant norm of portraying Whiteness, it may overcorrect. As a consequence
of emphasizing darker skin, Calafell (2001) says that Latina magazine marginalizes