Imagining la Chica Moderna

Women, Nation, and Visual Culture in Mexico, 1917–1936

Imagining la Chica Moderna

Book Pages: 216 Illustrations: 68 illustrations Published: June 2008

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, Latin American Studies > Mexico

In the years following the Mexican Revolution, visual images of la chica moderna, the modern woman, au courant in appearance and attitude, popped up in mass media across the country. Some of the images were addressed directly to women through advertisements, as illustrations accompanying articles in women’s magazines, and on the “women’s pages” in daily newspapers. Others illustrated domestic and international news stories, promoted tourism, or publicized the latest Mexican and Hollywood films. In Imagining la Chica Moderna, Joanne Hershfield examines these images, exploring how the modern woman was envisioned in Mexican popular culture and how she figured into postrevolutionary contestations over Mexican national identity.

Through her detailed interpretations of visual representations of la chica moderna, Hershfield demonstrates how the images embodied popular ideas and anxieties about sexuality, work, motherhood, and feminine beauty, as well as class and ethnicity. Her analysis takes into account the influence of mexicanidad, the vision of Mexican national identity promoted by successive postrevolutionary administrations, and the fashions that arrived in Mexico from abroad, particularly from Paris, New York, and Hollywood. She considers how ideals of the modern housewife were promoted to Mexican women through visual culture; how working women were represented in illustrated periodicals and in the Mexican cinema; and how images of traditional “types” of Mexican women, such as la china poblana (the rural woman), came to define a “domestic exotic” form of modern femininity. Scrutinizing photographs of Mexican women that accompanied articles in the Mexican press during the 1920s and 1930s, Hershfield reflects on the ways that the real and the imagined came together in the production of la chica moderna.


Imagining la chica moderna, a book rich with illustrations, carefully contextualized close readings of individual images, and clearly defined, theoretical language, is a wonderful addition to the growing canon of books on Latin American Cultural Studies. It will also be of great interest to scholars interested in gendering modernity, Mexicanists, Latin American and feminist historians, and a whole range of students of popular visual culture.” — Francine A’Ness, e-misférica

“[D]raw[s] extensively from primary sources and advance[s] original readings, and make[s] significant contributions to the expanded field of visual study through . . . rich use of a range of media. [Hershfield] see[s]k to tease out profound cultural meanings embedded in images and [her] particular contribution is to combine creative approaches to archival material with theoretical rigor, yielding fresh perspectives that will surely prove to be models of scholarship for years to come.” — Alison Fraunhar, Woman's Art Journal

“Dissecting an impressive array of photographs, picture postcards, illustrated advertisements and films, Joanne Hershfield examines the ‘place and importance of the visual in the project of modernization’ in early twentieth-century Mexico in this fascinating and richly detailed book (p. 4). . . . This slim volume is packed with critically powerful readings of a major cross-section of Mexican visual culture and illuminates the complex gendering of cultural nationalism and consumer capitalism in post-revolutionary Mexico.” — Deborah Toner, History

“Hershfield’s book is a welcomed contribution to the field of Mexican cultural history. She gives the reader much to ponder and students of history much to discuss.” — Dina Berger, Enterprise & Society

“[A] detailed and comprehensive study.” — Georgina Jimenez, Latin American Review of Books

“[S]everal aspects of Hershfield’s study recommend it for classroom use. . . . [She] writes clearly, carefully avoids jargon and cumbersome theoretical digressions, and assumes no prior knowledge of Mexican history. Her book might be productively used in any class that seeks to explore the relationship between visual culture and social life.” — Jocelyn Olcott, American Historical Review

“Joanne Hershfield’s intriguing monograph, Imagining la Chica Moderna reminds readers of an era following the 1910-1920 Mexican revolution in which multiple cultural experiments emerged. . . . Imaging La Chica Moderna is as insightful as it is suggestive.” — Marjorie Becker, Journal of Social History

“Richly illustrated, this book provides a smart, engaging and accessible study of Mexican modernity through the lens of popular visual culture.” — Freya Schiwy, Bulletin of Latin American Research

“This interesting volume approaches a very important topic: the changes in visual culture relating to middle- and upper-class women in Mexico during the years immediately following the violence of the Mexican revolution. . . . [T]his introduction to the topic of changing visual culture related to women in a time of political, economic, and social change is well conceived and fascinating.” — Linda B. Hall, The Americas

“With Imagining la Chica Moderna, Joanne Hershfield has made another important contribution to our understanding of popular culture in post-revolutionary Mexico.” — Stephanie Mitchell, Social History

Imagining la Chica Moderna is an engaging book that both demonstrates the role of gender in fashioning the Mexican nation and underscores the primacy of popular culture in that enterprise.” — Ann Marie Stock, editor of Framing Latin American Cinema: Contemporary Critical Perspectives

“Joanne Hershfield’s book will become an essential reference guide for unpacking la chica moderna as a central trope of postrevolutionary Mexican society. By demonstrating the ways that ‘the modern girl’ was simultaneously cosmopolitan and native, Hershfield makes sense of the seemingly out-of-place phenomenon of the ‘Mexican flapper’ and her multiple meanings within the project of Mexican nationhood.” — Eric Zolov, author of Refried Elvis: The Rise of the Mexican Counterculture


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Joanne Hershfield is Professor of Media Studies and Chair of the Curriculum in Women’s Studies at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She is the author of The Invention of Dolores del Rio and Mexican Cinema/Mexican Woman, 1940–1950 and a coeditor of Mexico’s Cinema: A Century of Film and Filmmakers.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Illustrations ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction 3

1. Visualizing the New Nation 21

2. En México como en París: Fashioning la Chica Moderna 44

3. Domesticating la Chica Moderna 73

4. Picturing Working Women 102

5. La Moda Mexicana: Exotic Women 127

Conclusion. Imagining "Real" Mexican Women 156

Notes 163

Bibliography 173

Index 195
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4238-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4221-2
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