CJ 300 Article analysis

November 15, 1999


Girlish Images across Cultures

In the article “Girlish Images across Cultures: Analyzing Japanese versus U.S. Seventeen Magazine Ads,” Michael L. Maynard and Charles R. Taylor investigated the portrayal of female adolescents in both Japanese and American mass media.  The goals of their study were to compare the prevalence of both visual and verbal girlish images in the countries’ advertising, and to see what cultural factors influenced the depiction of young women, based on earlier literature and research. 

The authors’ goals developed logically from prior research on the subject.  Studies by Cathcart and Gumpert (1983) showed that by teaching readers to value the images media portrays, the readers will try to imitate those images, causing readers to develop a self-concept that confirms the image.  Kamins (1990) came up with the idea that pairing a celebrity with a certain product could enhance reader identification with the advertised product, since the reader could “see themselves” in both of the images, and would strive to include that product in their self-concept.  Solomon, Ashmore, and Longo (1992) did further research on this topic, called the “match-up” hypothesis, and found that specific types of models should be paired up with certain products. So for example, an advertisement for Oil of Olay skin cream should include a model with a flawless complexion.  

Since people tend to base their self-images on media images to some extent, it follows that the most effective advertising to a target audience would use a model of similar age and gender.  So in teen magazines, an ideal image of another teenager is portrayed to ensure that the reader will identify with the model, and therefore with the product being advertised. The study by Maynard and Taylor, then, focused on how teen magazine advertising established this “relating to the ad,” called rapport.  

To examine how advertisers appeal to and establish rapport with teenage girls in Japan and the United States, Maynard and Taylor studied the verbal and visual girlishness of ads in Seventeen magazines.   Since the researchers’ goals were evaluated using content analysis and knowledge of the Japanese and American cultures, there was no experimental design that required the investigation of a relationship between independent and dependent variables.  However, concept explication was needed to relate the high level concept of girlishness in advertisements to the lower level indicators that were used to test whether girlishness was present in the ads.


High (concept)



Moderate (dimensions)

Verbal rapport

Visual rapport

Low (indicators)

Gender-specific vocabulary

Intimate/conversational tone

Handwritten appearance


Girl of similar age

Girl as focal point of ad

Girl smiling

Girl facing the camera


Upon forming their hypotheses, Maynard and Taylor clearly identified their terms.  At the highest level, the concept of girlishness needed to be defined. After studying the definitions of girlishness in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Feminist Dictionary, Maynard and Taylor decided to define girlishness as “a socially constructed, often playful childlike pose, spoken or acted out, that explicitly displays the vulnerability of approval seeking,” (40).  At the moderate level, girlishness was broken down into visual and verbal rapport. To qualify as having visual rapport, an ad had to depict a girl of similar age to the target audience (an adolescent), the girl had to be the focal point of the ad, she had to be smiling, and she had to be facing the camera.  To decide whether an ad contained verbal rapport, the researchers used the criteria that the ad must position the model as a person carrying on a conversation with the reader as though they were good friends sharing advice or a secret. Gender-specific vocabulary or a handwritten appearance may also be evident as indicators of verbal rapport.  By using specific indicators to evaluate the verbal and visual rapport of an ad, the researchers were able to assess the overall girlish rapport of the ads (match-up between the magazines’ imagery and the readers’ self-concept).   

Maynard and Taylor developed their hypotheses based on what they already knew about the cultures of the two countries and the appearance of the indicators in advertising.  They considered the social positions of men and women, notions of femininity, and typical styles of communication in both societies. According to Fujimura-Fanselow, in Japan there is greater gender distinction, since the man’s role is usually that of corporate employee, while the woman has the more traditional role of homemaker and mother.  Although some women in Japan work part-time, most are hesitant to seek a higher education, and instead follow the traditional role given to them. Yet most women do not seem to mind this, since both sexes are seen as having alternative positive value, and equality of the sexes is viewed as a threat to family structure (Smith 1987).  

In the United States, by contrast, equality of the sexes is desirable, and many young women plan on having a career outside the home. Since gender roles are emphasized in Japanese culture, the researchers concluded for their first hypothesis that, as girlishness is a desirable trait for young women, the Japanese magazine ads would contain more visual girlish rapport than the American ads.  

Because of these different views of gender in the two societies, the type of language used is different.  Japanese people tend to use different words and means of expression depending on their gender. As Horiuchi and Oomori (1994) pointed out, Japanese young girls’ speech has a questioning, tentative, tone-emphatic elongation, uses a lot of slang expressions, and contains peer phrases.  Specific vocabulary words, direct quotation, and onomatopoeia are all associated with the speech of Japanese teenage girls (Horiuchi and Oomori 1994).  

On the other hand, in the United States, although language pertaining to gender and age is used, there is less distinction between what expressions are expected of a male versus a female.  So, for their second hypothesis, Maynard and Taylor predicted a higher level of verbal rapport in Japanese advertising. Since their first and second hypotheses predicted that the Japanese magazine ads would have a higher level of girlish rapport, both verbal and visual, in their third and final hypothesis, the researchers estimated that the Japanese ads would have a higher degree of girlishness overall than the American ones.  

To evaluate their hypotheses, Maynard and Taylor performed a content analysis and chi-square test on ads found in teen Seventeen magazines in both countries.  These methods were appropriate because they went right to the source to evaluate how the mass media was portraying teen girls in advertising, rather than doing a survey to see what people thought the depiction might be.  

To ensure that their research had external validity, the researchers controlled the magazine used, the target audience, and the time of issue.  They used eight issues of Seventeen, four from the United States, and four from Japan.  The Seventeen magazines were independently operated, and no translated articles were used in either one.  They both targeted an audience of female adolescents, 12 to 20 years of age.  

To control the validity factor, history, the issues used were paired according to date.  So there were two issues of the June 1995 issue from each country, two from July 1996, two from January 1997, and two from June 1997.  Only ads using models were used, since the indicators depended on the presence of a model. In the Japanese issues, 104 ads qualified for the project, as did 159 ads from the American ones, for a total of 263 ads.  The ads fell into the categories of cosmetics, shoes, shaving-related, medical, food/water, contact lens-related, education/army/model recruitment, audio/music, and clothing.  

Also, to further validity, and avoid experimenter bias related to language and cultural frame of reference, two coders analyzed each ad.  One was from Japan; a woman who had a graduate degree from an American university, and the other was a native-born American who had worked in Japan.  Both were fluent in Japanese and English. The ads were analyzed first according to the indicators for visual rapport, and then based on signs for verbal rapport.  

Maynard and Taylor found that all of their hypotheses were supported.  70.2% of the Japanese ads conveyed visual rapport, while only 40.2% of the U.S. ones did.  This verified the first hypothesis; Japanese ads had more visual rapport. The second hypothesis, that Japanese ads had more verbal rapport, was also confirmed, since 43.3% of the Japanese ads had verbal rapport, while 24.5% of the American ads did.  Finally, to verify the third hypothesis, chi-square measurements evaluated how many ads contained both visual and verbal rapport, and there were a significantly higher number of Japanese ads that qualified (31 ads compared to 19 American ones).

The researchers accomplished their second goal; evaluating what cultural factors affected the portrayal of young women in advertising, by tying what they knew from previous research into what they learned from their content analysis.  As discussed earlier, Japanese and American societies place different emphasis on gender roles, which has influenced the goals and language of young women in those countries. In evaluating their results, Maynard and Taylor focused on the view of self in both cultures.  

The United States is a society that places a great deal of emphasis on individuality, i.e. making oneself unique from others.  As a result, American ads use images of independence, determination, and defiance to get the reader to relate with the ads. In Japanese culture, on the other hand, both genders strive for a self-identity that is consistent with others in their society, i.e. a shared identity.  Since femininity and the woman’s role are more distinct in Japanese culture, girlishness in advertising is more popular. A happy, childlike image in advertising is consistent with the society’s emphasis on youthful innocence for young girls. Therefore, the researchers’ results were congruous with each society’s concepts of self.  It was logical for Japanese ads to have a higher degree of girlishness. 

Maynard and Taylor’s research had several implications for future research.  By analyzing in detail the communication methods used in the advertisements, cultural differences in communication were found.  This analysis, particularly that of any text used, could provide insight on the philosophical views, self-concept, and cultural perceptions of a specific segment of society (in this case, that of teenage girls).  Evaluating the ads on both a visual and a verbal level would strengthen such research.  

Maynard and Taylor’s study on girlish images across cultures evaluated the use of girlish rapport to establish reader identification with an ad.  By performing content analysis and using a chi-square test to compare ads in teen magazines in both Japan and the United States, the researchers were able to evaluate the girlishness of the ads.  Their findings supported their three hypotheses, which predicted that the Japanese ads would have greater visual and verbal rapport, and more ads combining the two kinds of rapport. 

 In evaluating the second goal, to see what cultural factors influenced the depiction of young women in advertising, Maynard and Taylor found out why their hypotheses were true.  Due to the greater gender distinction in Japan, young girls are more conscious of their girlishness, which is viewed as a positive trait. They also use more gender-specific vocabulary and phrasing.  Since Japanese culture tends to value the concept of shared identity rather than individuality, teenage girls want to be seen as girlish, like their peers. Therefore, Maynard and Taylor found that their two goals coincided by showing that cultural factors influence the kind of rapport used in teen advertising. 


Maynard, Michael L., and Charles R. Taylor.  “Girlish Images across Cultures: Analyzing Japanese versus U.S. Seventeen Magazine Ads.”  Journal of Advertising 28 (1999): 39-47.