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Know Thy Selfie

Student seeks meaning and motivation in the online posting of revealing photos

Story Series
News Feature

Selfie Pic.jpg

Why do young women take and post selfies to social media? Is it because it’s empowering? Are they seeking positive feedback? Is it for attention?

Dr. Laura Ramsey, associate professor of psychology, and alumna Amber Horan, ’16, teamed up to tackle these questions.

They initiated a study to explore the extent to which young women post sexualized photos of themselves on social media, the reasons why, and the consequences resulting from downloading these types of photos.

The study resulted in the article, “Picture this: Women’s self-sexualization in photos on social media,” published by ScienceDirect.

“We have seen many journalists, concerned parents, and other interested parties asking how and why young women post sexy photos of themselves,” Dr. Ramsey said. “We wanted to see how often it was happening and maybe try to tap into the reasons why women are posting these photos.”

Sixty-one Bridgewater State University undergraduate students participated in the study. Ramsey and Horan looked at the ten most recent photographs the women posted to social media to complete a variety of survey measures.

The results were surprising.

“One thing we found was that sexy photos (on social media) are not as common as you might think, given how much discussion there is around it being a social issue,” Dr. Ramsey said. “I think the reason is because when we see a photo that is sexualized it really sticks out and you remember it. Most of the young women in our sample were not posting that many (sexualized) photos.”

The study also found that most of the young women posting selfies are not gaining a sense of empowerment.

“It doesn’t translate to actually being in more control of your life — that doesn’t mean it can’t happen for some. But based on the averages, self-sexualizing photos do not translate to any real social power or agency in their life or relationships,” Dr. Ramsey said.

Another interesting result shows that the more self-sexualizing photos a woman posted did not equate to having control over her sex life off-line.

“We found that a woman posting self-sexualizing photos is less likey to be able to communicate effectively her sexual desires,” Dr. Ramsey said. “It could be because you are viewing yourself as an object and not going to honor your agency in a way that you would if you were honoring your personhood.”

After completing the study, Horan hopes the results raise awareness.

“Women need to be aware of how they are portraying themselves,” she said. “If they feel good about themselves and want to post sexualized photos then by all means, if you’ve got it, flaunt it — but do so because you are a strong, independent beautiful woman who knows their worth, not to objectify themselves to others nor to achieve receiving likes or comments for attention to give themselves a sense of worth.” (Story by Heather Harris Michonski, photo by Carl Hollant, University News and Video)

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