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Who Do They Think They Are?

Teenage Girls and Their Avatars in Spaces of Social Online Communication


Connie Morrison

Who Do They Think They Are? Teenage Girls and Their Avatars in Spaces of Social Online Communication documents a descriptive case study of teenage girls who created autobiographical avatars for their social online spaces. It explores the complex and often conflicted negotiations behind girlhood identity and representation in a cyber-social world. Comparisons are drawn between autobiographical avatars and the profile pictures that teenage girls use on their social networking sites as they consider the manner in which identity is negotiated, constructed, co-authored, and represented. The contradictions and expectations of online social and popular culture make representations of identity simultaneously limitless and limiting for the girls who create them. Given the nature of the identity-defining and social act of creating an autobiographical avatar, a critical media literacy frame provides a pedagogical opportunity for bringing avatar construction into the secondary English language arts classroom.
This book provides guidance for educators and researchers interested in the social construction of identity in an increasingly visual world, and will be valuable in courses ranging from literacy studies, media education, cultural studies, youth studies, educational research, teacher education, and popular culture to feminist, gender studies, and women’s studies courses.


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1. Introduction 1


Chapter One Introduction Evolution of a Question ne morning in the spring of 2008, an interview on a TV network morning show caught my attention. British photojournalist Robbie Cooper was promoting his new book, Alter Ego, by providing a “gallery of portraits” to look at the physical relationship between gaming avatars and their creators. As Cooper explored the relationships between the virtual and real-life identity of online gamers who had assumed alternative personas as a condition of the games they played, the graphics behind him displayed split screen images of the 3D monster warriors beside images of the actual people who had created them. While compiling his collection, Cooper found that, initially, individuals seem to create online personas under the guise of anonymity, and that the identities of online characters tend to be “less ordinary” than individuals are in reality. Cooper revealed that he had deliberately set out to find someone who played a “fat avatar,” but his search was unsuccessful. With this admission, I stopped dead in my tracks. No fat avatars. This chance encounter with Cooper’s interview and his observation made me wonder about the online world and virtual identities. At around that same time, my oldest daughter, Lauren, made an avatar for my Rogers Yahoo account. A headshot of the avatar appears as a personal icon each time I log on. It is embedded in my toolbar and it appears alongside any blog posting I make from that account. It can appear in full body, and it...

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