Psychologists Found a Troubling Trend Among Young Women Who Post "Sexy" Facebook Photos


The news: They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder — and apparently, we are all pretty judgmental beholders.

A new study conducted by Oregon State University has found that when it comes to Facebook photos, women who post sexy pictures are judged as less physically and socially attractive, as well as less competent, by their female peers. The study, published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture, zeroed in on what researchers describe as a "no-win" situation for young girls and women.

"This is a clear indictment of sexy social media photos," researcher Elizabeth Daniels said in the university press release. "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 findings: For the study, researchers created two Facebook profiles for a fictitious 20-year-old named Amanda Johnson. Both profiles listed the same interests, but while one posted a modest photo of Amanda with a scarf covering her chest, the other had a photo of Amanda in a low-cut dress with a mid-thigh slit and a garter belt.

Researchers then asked 58 girls between 13-18 and 60 young women between 18-25 to answer questions on one of the profiles regarding physical attractiveness, social attractiveness and task competence. In each category, the "modest" Amanda scored higher and was considered prettier, friendlier and more competent by her peer group.

The cards are stacked against girls. At a time when 37% of employers are screening the social media profiles of their prospective hires, the idea of maintaining a professional-seeming Facebook profile is relevant to everyone. But for young girls and women especially, their social media presence may impact how they are perceived by their peers and may carry some real-life consequences as well.

The Oregon researchers said that they hope their findings will spark some important conversations about how much young girls are under the social microscope. "Why is it we focus so heavily on girls' appearances?" Daniels said in the press release. "What does this tell us about gender? Those conversations should be part of everyday life."

While the lazy takeaway from this research might be that people should be more careful about what they post on social media, it might be good for us to examine just why we have certain preconceived notions about certain images of women and how that might affect young girls today.