Add another item to the endless list of things adolescent girls have to worry about. A new study in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture highlights one of the ways technology has ramped up old pressures about sexuality, and it shows that girls are damned if they do, damned if they don’t when it comes to presenting a sexualized version of themselves online.
The researchers assembled a group of 118 girls and women between the ages of 13 and 25 and showed them one of two Facebook profiles for a (fake) 20-year-old woman named Amanda Johnson. In one version, she was wearing a modest outfit; in the other, not so much (yes, the sexy outfit was in fact red). Otherwise, the profiles were identical.
The women were then asked to fill out something called the Interpersonal Attraction Scale. Overall, they found the sexier version of Amanda Johnson less physically attractive (which the researchers said they found surprising), less socially attractive, and less competent in general. Age didn’t appear to affect the young women’s responses to the more sexualized photo.
This study hints at a pretty brutal catch-22 for young women. As the researchers point out, there’s all sorts of social and cultural pressure to present a sexualized version of themselves from a very young age. But then when they do so, their peers judge them for it — as you’ll probably recall from whatever horrible bullying case you’ve read about most recently, girls of a certain age have a tendency to gang up on other girls who are seen as overly or inappropriately sexual. It’s a can’t-win situation.