Social Media: Women Judge ‘Sexy’ Pictures as Sign of Incompetence

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

It’s been official for a while, but between Facebook (NASDAQ:FB), Twitter (NYSE:TWTR), Vine, Instagram, and SnapChat, social media is taking communication by a storm and it’s going nowhere. In this context — where people post racy pictures and sexy selfies on various social media platforms — a new study has made an interesting finding about how your social media behavior is being perceived.

The former researcher at Oregon State University, who published her findings in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, has found that women find other young women who post ‘sexy’ pictures as less competent and less physically and socially attractive.

“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,” psychologist and study author Elizabeth Daniels, who is currently an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, in a university press release.

In her study, she polled 58 teenage girls and 60 young women between the ages of 17 and 25 about a select 20-year-old woman’s Facebook profile picture named Amanda Johnson. Half the subjects were shown a picture of Johnson sporting jeans, a short-sleeves shirt and a scarf, while the other half was shown a picture with a low-cut red dress with a visible garter belt. Non-sexy Amanda was perceived as prettier, a better friend and more subjects voted that they “have confidence in her ability to get a job done.”

“This is a clear indictment of sexy social media photos,” explained Daniels. “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.”

The way women perceive other women — and the disparity in perception between genders — is nothing new. Earlier this month, a study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women are threatened by other women who wear red. Meanwhile, previous research has provided empirical support that men are attracted to women wearing shades of red. The recent University of Rochester study concluded that women saw women who wore red as more sexually promiscuous, less likely to commit to a monogamous relationship, more sexually interested, and perhaps most interestingly, women divulged they would be less likely to introduce women wearing red to their husband or boyfriend.

According to Daniels, the findings of her study suggests that girls and young women are placed in a ‘no win’ situation where they miss out on social rewards from men and boys with wholesome pictures and they lose out on the same rewards from their peers with sexy photos. Ultimately, Daniels advises more discussion about gender roles and attitudes and advises young girls to do what they want without seeking the approval of anyone.

“Why is it we focus so heavily on girls’ appearances?” she said. “What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life. Don’t focus so heavily on appearance. Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”

On the same train of thought, let the findings of this study serve as a guide for young women contemplating a picture for their LinkedIn profiles and career-related profiles — opt away from racy pictures for professional profiles and reconsider the color red.

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