Thursday, February 4, 2016

Posting Sexy Facebook Photos: Objectifying as Flesh or Revealing as Beauty?

If you engage in social media, you likely have seen photos of young women in sexy or revealing poses. To these females, it must be very flattering to receive all the attention afforded by these pictures, yet a concern about posting such sexy images is that the selfies simply contribute to "a benevolent form of sexism." What do sexy online photos reveal about their subjects?

A team of social psychologists headed by University of Mary Washington’s Mariam Liss (2011) wanted to find out whether women feel more empowered or more oppressed by their identification with a sexualized image. Liss reports the following:

"The problem is two-fold. On the one hand, if a woman fits the narrow definition of how a sexualized woman looks in terms of attractiveness and body shape, then she should be happier if this is a valued set of attributes. However, in reality, few women actually do look like Victoria’s Secrets models (if even their non photoshopped bodies even do). They may also put themselves at risk for a precipitous drop in self-esteem should the attention they crave and enjoy goes away."

Liss's research found ...

"Women who scored high on enjoyment of sexualization were more likely to agree with sexist views of women.  They endorsed more statements reflecting overt or hostile sexism (such as “There are many jobs in which men should be given preference over women in being hired or promoted”). In addition, they also were more likely to agree with statements reflecting benevolent sexism, which also takes a stereotyped view of women, but in a way that seems positive ('women should be cherished and protected by men'). 

"The women who reported that they enjoyed the positive attention of men for their appearance were also more likely to view their own bodies as 'objects,' to base their self-esteem on how they look, to engage in self-sexualizing behaviors (such as pole dancing), and to worry about their appearance during the day and feel ashamed about themselves when their appearance didn’t measure up to some standard view of female beauty. These are hardly a set of positive attributes."

(Susan Krauss Whitbourne Ph.D. "Do Sexy Women Really Feel Good About Themselves?" Psychology Today. October 16, 2012.)

Further research by Elizabeth Daniels published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture found that girls and young women who post sexy or revealing photos on social media sites such as Facebook are viewed by their female peers as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks.

(Elizabeth A. Daniels, Eileen L. Zurbriggen. "The Price of Sexy: Viewers’ Perceptions
of a Sexualized Versus Nonsexualized Facebook Profile Photograph."
Psychology of Popular Media Culture. 2014.)

Daniels says 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.
She explains ...

"Girls and young women are in a “no-win” situation when it comes to their Facebook photos. Those who post sexy photos may risk negative reactions from their peers, but those who post more wholesome photos may lose out on social rewards, including attention from boys and men."

Daniels’ advice for girls and young women is to select social media photos that showcase their identity rather than her appearance, such as one from a trip or one that highlights participation in a sport or hobby.

“Don’t focus so heavily on appearance,” Daniels says. “Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”

My Take

There is nothing wrong with sharing an appropriate photo that displays physical beauty. However, the temptation for young women to "go overboard" with posting revealing photos that emphasize raw sexiness or party-animal behaviors may cause unforeseen problems. Those who choose to portray images of their overt sexiness should consider potential concerns in future relationships, career opportunities, and even in their own appropriate self-image.

The psychological term objectification refers to the tendency to treat an individual not as a person with emotions and thoughts, but as a physical being or "object” to provide pleasure to others. An objectified image often portrays a semi-clothed woman's body intended to emphasize her sexuality.

Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne says a byproduct of women’s objectification can occur when certain women become reluctant to look too competent -- potentially threatening the men in their lives -- and so dress in ways that they think men will find sexy. Whitbourne explains ...

"When self-esteem becomes largely dependent on how sexy one looks—and not how intelligent, kind, friendly, or inwardly attractive one is—other problems result, especially in their interactions with the men in their lives, who themselves may have become conditioned to objectify women. Men might treat them with less respect, showing outright or subtle forms of sexism that can range from patronizing mannerisms to verbal or even physical attacks."

(Susan Whitbourne. "Your Body on Display: Social Media and Your Self-Image."
Psychology Today. December 03, 2013.)

Thus, it is recognized that sexy and reckless narcissistic display can objectify females and, over time, actually make them less attractive to the men they hope to attract and to please.

A photo is a powerful symbol of an individual's self-image. How about men who love to post plenty of their own skin? When I see social media pictures of men who consistently show off their physique, I can't help but wonder about their intentions beyond self-gratification. Naturally, maintaining a good self-image is very important, and a fit body helps confirm that positive self-image, but I think constantly promoting a sexy physique in image after image overemphasizes the brute at the expense of building humanity. Isn't the honest male dedicated to “dis-objectifying” himself as simply a sexy body?

Men and women engage in posting sexy photos on Facebook. Yet, Michael A. Stefanone, PhD, and his colleagues found that females who base their self worth on their appearance tend to share more photos online and maintain larger networks on online social networking sites.

Stefanone says the results suggest that females identify more strongly with their image and appearance, and use Facebook as a platform to compete for attention. He reports ...

"Although it's stereotypical and might have been predicted, it is disappointing to me that in the year 2011 so many young women continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance -- in this case, by posting photos of themselves on Facebook as a form of advertisement. Perhaps this reflects the distorted value pegged to women's looks throughout the popular culture and in reality programming from 'The Bachelor' to 'Keeping Up with the Kardashians.'"

(Michael A. Stefanone and Derek Lackaff. "Contingencies of Self-Worth and Social-Networking-Site Behavior." Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. 2011.)

It is evident to me that most young women want both to look sexy and to be respected for their positive, strong personality traits. Traits traditionally cited as feminine include gentleness, empathy, and sensitivity. Virginia Woolf, , writes "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size."
This subsex image still exists. Perhaps time will lead to its demise.

Amber Pawlik, author of  Objectivist Sexuality: An Outline for Happily Ever After, believes as far as sexuality goes, nothing is more alluring to men than a woman who embraces her femininity, i.e., loves and embraces the fact that she is a woman. Pawlik says a sexual woman is not in denial of her nature as a woman, and she embraces it, plays it up, and accentuates it. Pawlik calls this a heightened sense of her femininity, and she admits even having ideal characteristics is not as powerful in alluring men as embracing femininity.

(Amber Pawlik. Objectivist Sexuality: An Outline for Happily Ever After. 2010.)

So, here I am. Once again, I am in the fog about females -- comfortable territory that I've become extremely familiar with after all of these years. I'm typically lost without even a slippery grip on the nature of the mind of women.

What did I learn about posting sexy photos from this elementary research? Allow me to summarize:

1. Many women post sexy, revealing photos on social media. A number of them feel great pressure to do so in order to attract men.
2. Women who post these photos think this sexualization increases their self-image, which, in actuality, may or may not happen. It may even cause men and other women to view them as less physically and socially attractive and less competent to perform tasks.
3. Men like sexy women (with much connotation as to the line between "trashy" and "sensual"), and men enjoy looking at online photos of these females.
4. Although men like sexy women, they may also objectify them as pieces of flesh and even disrespect their attempts to be more appealing.
5. Despite all of the potential problems associated with sexy and revealing photos, women continue to post these photos and continue to assert their self worth via their physical appearance.

Confused? You bet. Both sexes love sexy, sensual partners. I know that. Still, I have no idea how a woman, especially a young lady, deals with portraying an image that is just right -- not too revealing and cheap but also not too stodgy and prudish. Men, at least those with warm blood, are going to look at all photos of females, no matter the composition of the poses. Will women look too. I imagine they will. And, I guess the viewers' emotions dictate their approval or disapproval of what they think they have seen. I believe it is best for a well-intentioned woman to err on the side of caution and choose not to reveal too much flesh or too much overt and extremely suggestive sexuality.

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