Hatfield, Elizabeth Fish (2011-08). Motherhood, Media and Reality: Analyzing Female Audience Reception of Celebrity Parenthood as News. Doctoral Dissertation. | Thesis individual record

The growing cultural commodity of celebrity news and its increasing focus on celebrities' families is examined by this project to determine what consequence communications about celebrity pregnancy and parenthood have on readers most likely to identify with the stories - new mothers. While gossip magazines are not meant to provide parenting advice, their editorial focus on parenting may position celebrity parents as role models for audiences. Guided by theories of media effects, this project sought to understand why and how that might happen. Using narrative thematic analysis, two complementary data sets were analyzed: 36 issues sampled from the leading gossip magazines, People and Us Weekly, during 2007-2009, and five focus groups with recent mothers.

Gossip magazines positively framed celebrity family life, idealizing the experience by avoiding talk of parenting's daily challenges. Resources such as nannies and personal trainers define celebrity parenting by affording celebrities, especially women, the ability to continue work while maintaining the identity of primary caregivers. A gendered act, consumption was intrinsically part of good celebrity parenting. Expectations for celebrity postpartum weight loss communicated that bigger bodies are a work-in-progress rather than an acceptable new body type. Fathers were visually depicted more often than in conventional parenting media, though these images similarly showed parents performing normative, gendered behaviors.

Participants reported escapism as their main reason for reading gossip magazines and parasocial relationships existed with both liked and disliked celebrities. For liked celebrities, a parasocial dialectical tension emerged defining role models as both special and ordinary. For disliked celebrities, negative frames portrayed their parenting behavior as unacceptable and served as the strongest form of social learning from gossip magazines as readers internalized media criticism. Celebrity role models were selected based on feeling similar, serving as fantasy role models whose parenting lifestyles were simultaneously interpreted as aspirational and unattainable. Participants' social comparisons usually evaluated their own parenting experience as preferred to the demands and media environment faced by celebrities. Situations interpreted as incomparable attributed celebrities' success to external factors rather than internal characteristics. Overall, gossip magazines do provide parenting information that expands and impacts the real experience of mothers.

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