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Study: Young Women Who Post Sexy Photos On Facebook Seen As Less Competent

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View of the Facebook homepage. (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

View of the Facebook homepage. (credit: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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CORVALLIS, Ore. (CBS Seattle) – According to a new study, young women who post revealing photos on social media sites are seen by their peers as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks.

“This is a clear indictment of sexy social media photos,” Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology who studies the effect of media on girls’ body image, and a researcher in this study, told Phys.org.

The findings are based on an experiment Daniels conducted using a Facebook profile she started for the purpose of this study.

“There is so much pressure on teen girls and young women to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive,” Daniels said.

Daniels found that young women were in a “no-win” situation when it came to posting photos on social media sites.  She found that those who posted sexy photos were at risk to receive negative reactions from their peers; while those that posted more wholesome photos may lose out on attention from males.

“Social media is where the youth are,” she said.  “We need to understand what they’re doing online and how that affects their self-concept and their self-esteem.”

Daniels created tow fictitious Facebook profiles under the name of Amanda Johnson, who Daniels made 20-years-old.

In both profiles, Johnson liked musicians, books, and movies that are typical for a 20-year-old female.

The only difference between the two profiles was the profile photo. The photos were of a real high school senior who allowed her photos to be used for this study.

One profile picture was a female wearing a low-cut red dress with a slit up one leg to mid-thigh and a visible garter belt. The other profile picture the female was wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt, and a scarf around her neck, covering her chest.

Almost 60 teenage girls between 13 and 18, and 60 young women over 18 were shown the profiles and asked questions based on that profile.

The participants were asked to assess “Amanda’s” physical attractiveness, social attractiveness, and task competence on a scale of 1-7.

The non-sexy profile scored higher in all three areas, which indicates that those who viewed that photo thought Amanda was prettier, more likely to make a good friend, and more likely to complete a task.

The largest disparity was in the area of competence, indicating that a young woman’s capabilities are knocked by a sexy photo.

Daniels wants children and young people to understand the long-term consequences posting something online can have on them.

“We really need to help youth understand this is a very public forum,” Daniels said.

Daniels knows there is a need for more discussion about gender roles and attidues regarding girls and young women.

“Why is it we focus so heavily on girls’ appearances?” she asked.  “What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life.”

Daniels says that girls and young women should use social media to show their identity rather than their appearance.

The research was published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture.

Daniels received two Circle of Excellence grants from Oregon State University-Cascades to support the study.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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