TRACING PUERTO RICAN GIRLHOODS: AN INTERGENERATIONAL STUDY OF INTERACTIONS WITH BARBIE AND HER INFLUENCE ON FEMALE IDENTITIES

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Author:
Aguilo-Perez, Emily R
Graduate Program:
Curriculum and Instruction
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
June 16, 2016
Committee Members:
  • Jacqueline J A Reid-Walsh, Dissertation Advisor
  • Jacqueline J A Reid-Walsh, Committee Chair
  • Daniel Dean Hade, Committee Member
  • Courtney Desiree Morris, Committee Member
  • Christine M Thompson, Outside Member
Keywords:
  • girlhood studies
  • play practices
  • identity
  • Puerto Rico
  • Barbie
  • race class and gender
Abstract:
Since her creation in 1959, Barbie has become an icon of femininity and an important artifact in girls’ cultures. The doll has become a great part of children’s lives either through her presence or her absence in their play experiences. Moreover, the feelings and memories she evokes can provide insights to girls’ lived experiences in relation to a number of topics. As a result, Barbie becomes an important artifact of girlhood and an excellent site of interrogation about girlhood. While a large amount of research has examined Barbie’s role in girls’ lives, the scholarship has not included the experiences of Puerto Rican girls. This study examines the experiences of a group of multigenerational Puerto Rican women and girls who interacted with Barbie dolls during their childhood and the social and cultural implications these experiences may have on their lives in the present. Through qualitative research approaches that included individual and group interviews, as well as artifactual data, this study depicts the narratives of twenty-one participants who recounted stories of how Barbie became part of their childhoods and the meanings the doll held in their lives, showing how different those experiences can be for girls according to their contexts. Based on the these stories, this research raised questions about Barbie as a marker of class, accessibility to the doll and her accessories, representations of female body and image, race, and gender. The findings of this research demonstrate the important role Barbie played in the formative years of many Puerto Rican girls. Participants perceived interactions with the doll, however different, and whether entirely positive or not, as an important part of their girlhoods and in some cases even their adult lives. They also describe the often-complicated relationship girls and women have with the doll. More importantly, the study highlights how women and girls constructed their own identities in relation to femininity, body image, race, and nationalism through Barbie play.