Women who post sexy pictures of themselves on social media may be hurting their job chances, particularly if the hiring manager is a woman. This shouldn’t come as a total surprise, but just a quick look around Facebook shows that some people might need a reminder.
A new study from Oregon State University has found that young women judge other young women in sexy, revealing pictures – as opposed to images in which they are clothed and not posing in a sexy manner – as less physically and socially attractive, and less competent to perform tasks.
Less physically attractive? Yes. Lead study author Elizabeth Daniels, an assistant professor of psychology who studies the effect of media on body image, was surprised by that one too.
Daniels called the findings a “clear indictment of sexy social media photos.”
Daniels created two fake Facebook profiles for a 20-year-old woman named Amanda Johnson, who likes Lady Gaga and the Twilight book series. The profiles were identical except for the profile pictures. One picture featured “Amanda” wearing a low-cut red dress, slit to mid-thigh with a visible garter belt. The other showed her in jeans, a t-shirt and scarf. (You can see the images here. They are actually the prom photo and senior high school portrait of a young woman who allowed them to be used for the study, and I have to say that I think that is a crazy amount of side-boob for a high-school photo. But maybe I’m just old and crotchety.)
One hundred and eighteen participants, girls and women aged 13-25, were then randomly assigned one of the profiles, and asked to assess Amanda’s physical attractiveness (I think she is pretty), social attractiveness (I think she could be a friend of mine), and task competence (I have confidence in her ability to get a job done) on a scale from 1-7, with one being strongly disagree and 7 being strongly agree.
According to the press release, the non-sexy profile scored higher in all three areas, “indicating that those who viewed that photo thought Amanda was prettier, more likely to make a good friend and more likely to complete a task.”
When it came to physical attractiveness, Daniels told The Oregonian, “Because there’s so much pressure in the culture for women to be sexy, I actually expected that maybe she would be considered more attractive because she was sexualized. But that’s not what I found.”
The most significant difference was in the area of task competence, which is most pertinent to our interests here. In other words, that sexy pic can really hurt your credibility, and you should think twice before posting it.
Daniels points out that young women may find themselves torn over this, as they are often under pressure to portray themselves as sexy, but, she says, “sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive.”
The thing young people need to realize is that we have so much to be responsible for these days when it comes to our images. Twenty years ago, you were what you were in person and on paper. Now, everyone lives out loud, online, and all of that representation becomes a part of your identity as others see you. You have to be aware of that. Your privacy settings won’t necessarily protect you. In an era when we don’t personally know many of our online friends and followers, you never know who is looking.
Anticipating the potential argument that this suggestion is sexist, and that men aren’t subject to the same scrutiny: I think they probably are. A man won’t often post a picture of himself wearing a bikini and making duckface. But he might post one of himself with a sideways baseball cap, tongue hanging out and making finger guns, which would probably also make people question his task competence.
The solution is simple: don’t post anything you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see.
Daniels’ research was published today in the journal “Psychology of Popular Media Culture.”
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