According to a new study from Oregon State University, young women who post sexy pictures on social media are seen by other women as less attractive and less competent. In the study, which is ominously titled “The Price Of Sexy,” 118 ladies between the ages of 13 and 25 were shown two Facebook profiles for a fictitious 20-year-old woman named Amanda Johnson. In one profile, she was pictured wearing a modest short-sleeved shirt and jeans, with a scarf draped over her chest. In the second profile, she wore a red low-cut dress, with a slit up one leg and a garter belt. Aside from the profile pictures, the pages were identical and included typical interests for someone her age, like Lady Gaga and “The Notebook.”
Participants rated whether they thought Amanda was pretty, whether she seemed like friend material, and whether they believed she could get a job done. The more modest profile scored higher in every category. The widest gap was in the task competence category — participants were seemingly convinced that the sexier Amanda was fairly incapable. The judgment call was consistent among all ages of participants. The pictures used in the study were actual the senior portrait and prom photo of a girl who allowed the research team to use her photos for the experiment. In real life, would she have been judged so harshly by classmates for posting her prom picture on Facebook?
The results grimly remind us that young women lose no matter what choice they make. If they post revealing pictures online, they could receive the stream of haterade from peers that “sexy Amanda” did. If they don’t post sexy photos, they could miss out on social rewards like male attention — for better or for worse, is of value to most teenage girls. The research team suggests that parents and teachers make girls aware early on about what a gendered issue this is. Double standards aren’t fun to talk about, but it may help girls to better understand why the world seems so hung up on their appearance. Researchers also suggest that young women post Facebook pictures that have more to do with their identity than looks, like photos of themselves on a trip or participating in a hobby, which is kind of a loaded recommendation, but it’s a start. Unfortunately, nothing will make this lose-lose situation disappear overnight. It’s a bummer, but at least awareness is a step forward.