Menarche is an exciting yet anxiety producing time in an adolescent girl’s life. Preparation can alleviate the anxiety. One possible source for preparation is teen magazines. Yet there have been no critical analysis of this source. The purpose of this study was to analyze lay articles written about menstruation to ascertain if the information is helpful to adolescent girls. The method guiding this study was content analysis. The theoretical frameworks were developmental and feminist theory.
This study examined five articles published in three magazines. Four patterns were found: abstract, concrete, negative images and self affirming. Four of the five articles focused on the physiological aspects of menstruation and were repetitious in content. Although some positive depictions were found, most examples perpetuated negativity about menstruation. By stressing negative attitudes towards menstruation, editors teach adolescent females to feel shame and embarrassment towards this natural life cycle event. Professionals should be aware of what is written in lay literature and promote the concept that menarche is a normal bodily function.
KEY WORDS: Adolescent; Content analysis; Developmental theory; Feminist theory; Menstruation.
Puberty may be a turbulent time in a young adolescent girl’s life. Many physical, cognitive, psychological, and psychosocial changes occur. One significant change for adolescent girls is menarche (McKeever, 1984; Swenson & Havens, 1987; Taylor, 1987). In American society, cultural depictions of issues that are uniquely female are viewed differently than male issues. Nowhere is this more apparent than in attitudes towards the menstrual cycle. In American society, girls are bombarded with messages by the media that menstruation is odorous, painful, embarrassing, and shameful. Advertisements for feminine hygiene products warn against leakage and odors. Doan and Morse ( 1985 ) contended that attitudes towards menstruation reinforce the historic belief that it is offensive and associated with dirtiness. McKeever claimed that “the existence of menstrual euphemisms attests to its negative imagery” ( 1984, p. 34). These attitudes lead to myths and misinformation that leaves those who are experiencing menarche uninformed and ambivalent about the menstrual experience (Andrews, 1985; Delaney, Lupton, & Toth, 1988; Golub & Catalano, 1983; Lee & Sasser-Coen, 1996). Furthermore, female adolescents are at risk for identity issues and diminished self esteem (Brumberg, 1997; Gilligan, Lyons, & Hanmer, 1990).
Previous researchers demonstrated that preparation for menarche is helpful for the adolescent girl (Dashiff, 1992; Koff & Rierdan, 1995b; Morse & Doan, 1987). Magazines that adolescent girls read are a potential source of preparation. There are few studies examining the popular literature as a source of menstrual information (Carvalho & Berg, 1997; Coutts & Berg, 1993). In clinical practice an understanding of the information provided by the popular media is necessary since health education is an important part of providing care.
The methodology used for this study was content analysis. The purpose of this study was to determine the quality and usefulness of menstrual information written in magazine articles for adolescent girls ages eleven to fourteen years.
Both Piaget’s developmental theory and feminist theory guided this study. Within Piaget’s theory, pre-menarcheal girls are concrete thinkers utilizing the five senses (McKeever, 1984; Piaget, 1978). Young adolescents have difficulty relating to abstract concepts and, so, ignore the information, choosing to wait until menses begins to seek information. Although menses itself is concrete, menstrual education causes it to be abstract for the readers. For example, usually only the physiologic aspect is discussed during menstrual education. In addition, utilizing two-dimensional pictures raises many questions in the minds of young women since internal body organs can not be seen and are not clearly understood by concrete thinkers. What would be relevant to these girls is experiential and logistical information, such as how to use menstrual supplies.
Along with Piaget’s theory, feminist theory guided this paper. This theory was used to uncover the lens of our beliefs and re-view these beliefs through and within the context of the adolescent experience (Campbell & Bunting, 1991; Chinn, 1989; Hall & Stevens, 1991; Hedin & Duffy, 1991 ). Menarche is one of the earliest experiences of womanhood. Unfortunately, in modern American culture, messages surrounding menstruation are predominately negative. Negativity about menstruation may contribute to the identity and self esteem issues seen in girls of this age.
Carney defined content analysis as “a systematic technique for analyzing message content… The analyst is not concerned with the message per se but with the larger questions of the process and effects of communication” (1972, p. 5). A major purpose of content analysis is the drawing of inferences. This distinguishes content analysis from an index. “Content analysis always involves relating or comparing findings to some standard norm or theory” (Carney, 1972, p. 5). Reinharz described it as studying “a set of objects systematically by counting or interpreting the themes contained in them” (1992, p. 146). The set of objects can be cultural artifacts, which include popular written works such as magazines, Content analysis interprets how an experience is presented by the “culture industries” (Reinharz, 1992, p. 145). In this paper the experience is menstruation as presented by the popular media. Analyzing lay menstrual information is important because “cultural documents .” shape norms; they do not just reflect them” (Reinharz, 1992, p. 151).