Sexy Facebook profile pics make women seem less competent to other females, study finds

Could women with a sexy Facebook profile photo be hurting their chances to be hired for a job by another female? That's among the implications of a new study by Elizabeth Daniels, currently an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. The analysis, entitled "The Price of Sexy," found that women tended to see those who put flirty pics front and center as both less attractive and less competent. Get details and see the report below.

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The article was originally published by the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture. In it, Daniels, who launched the study while on the Oregon State University faculty, and co-author Eileen L. Zurbriggen of the University of California, Santa Cruz explain a methodology that involved the creation of a mock Facebook profile for a fictional person: Amanda Johnson, described as a "twenty-year-old, European-American woman attending a state university in Oregon."

In one version of the profile, the main photo was "non-sexualized;" it depicted "a young woman dressed in jeans and a short-sleeved shirt with a scarf draped around her neck covering her chest." The other sported a "sexualized" photo featuring "the same young woman in a low-cut red dress with a slit up the leg to the mid-thigh and a visible garter belt."

The shots featured a young woman known to a research assistant who volunteered to let the images be used in the study; the first was a senior-class photo, while the second was from senior prom. The rest of the profile was filled out with references to "popular musicians (e.g., Lady Gaga), books (e.g., Twilight), movies (e.g., The Notebook), and television programs (e.g., Project Runway)" plus "favorite quotations in the philosophy section (e.g., a quote from Gandhi), and the interests and activities section (e.g., music and the outdoors)."

Next, Daniels and Zurbriggen recruited 58 adolescent girls in middle or high school and sixty post-high school women between the ages of seventeen and 25 to eyeball one of the profiles, as determined at random. Afterward, they were asked a series of questions about Amanda in which she was ranked on physical attraction ( "I think she is quite pretty"), social attraction ("I think she could be a friend of mine") and task attraction ("I have confidence in her ability to get the job done").

Results varied to some degree by age group, but in all three areas, the non-sexualized profile scored higher. Sans the garter belt, Amanda was seen as prettier, a better friend prospect and likelier to be competent, with the latter rankings showing the largest disparity between sexy and more serious.

The co-authors' advice based on the findings? Here's an excerpt:
Given the widespread engagement in social networking among young people in the U.S., it is essential that educators, parents, and adults working with youth help young people develop critical and abstract thinking skills to consider carefully how they portray themselves in new media. Further, young people need specific educational curricula about the various social factors, for example, gender stereotypes prioritizing sexiness for girls and women, related to the phenomenon of sexual objectification more broadly. Discussing structural factors related to sexualization with young people is important because it is short-sighted and unfair to simply instruct adolescent girls as individuals to avoid using sexualized profile photos.
Daniels and Zurbriggen acknowledge that "such an approach does nothing to address the underlying problematic issue of the widespread sexualization of girls and women in our culture. That is the problem that must be corrected."

Continue to read "The Price of Sexy."

The Price of Sexy

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts