Adult Girls: Televisual Female Author-Stars’ Power, Freedoms, and Feminisms

Christina Kappel

Advisor: Denise Albanese, Angela Jean Hattery, University of Delaware

Committee Members: Alison Landsberg

Online Location,
December 03, 2020, 02:00 PM to 04:00 PM


Examining women who create, executive produce, and star in semi-autobiographical television series – what I call ‘adult girls’ – this dissertation analyzes constitutions of neoliberal femininity produced on narrative television and on the social media site Instagram in the 2010s. Neoliberal gendered power inscrutably works through the body; eternal girlhood, a construct promulgated through postfeminist media, operates as a corporeal feminine ideal that promises self-fulfillment if maintained through adherence to disciplinary techniques characteristic of governmentality. I contend that postfeminist media has coopted girlhood as an aspirational way of being, a construct predicated upon maintaining an adolescent body and refiguring youthful insecurity as an everlasting opportunity to perfect the project that is the feminine self. This dissertation asserts that adult girls similarly embrace the instability of bodily and psychic femininity as foundational to their constitution and continued success. However, this instability is not viewed as an opportunity for self-improvement or growth as a neoliberal regime would advocate; it is, instead, acknowledged as an unyielding state-of-being that signals freedom and vitality. In examining discourses of sex and sexuality, girlfriendship, race, and motherhood I contend that adult girls, in narrativizing private stories in public and visualizing their everyday lives on social media, expose the impermanence and futility of postfeminist girlification through permeating its thinness, its fitness, its whiteness, its libidinal desire, and its elasticity from their distinct positions of power. As televisual autobiographers and celebrity personas marked by authenticity and intimacy, I contend that adult girls convincingly articulate bodily chaos as a shameless, mutual material experience through which women can discover a sense of generality and sameness. However, in creating personal televisual and social media content, adult girls endeavor to authenticate their unmitigated realness, to contribute to the establishment of a cohesive brand built around their personas, and to ultimately glean emotional and economic capital through fostering an intimate connection with their fans. I argue that, in rebuking corporeal disciplinary practices, adult girls rely on proper affective management and emotional self-surveillance to remain visible and viable entrepreneurs of visual media.