Young Women Objectify Themselves

A recent post in SNfW received some heated reader criticism for publishing "bad science" with what some felt were conclusions that perpetuated a sexist viewpoint.

Stereotypes, like clichés, are useful in our day to day lives.  We simply do not have the time or mental resources to get to know every person we meet or see and to make value judgments based on that individual's personality. 

In the movies, television or the theater, the writer doesn't have the time to flesh out every character in a story, so we all use stereotypes to help the reader or viewer understand what a character is about and the role they play.

We share stereotypes about good guys, bad guys, gang members, clowns, politicians, welfare recipients, bureaucrats, and on and on.  It helps us organize and understand the world around us.  We see a white hat on the screen, it's a good guy.  We see a black hat, it's a bad guy.

For a writer, stereotypes save a lot of backstory time on minor characters.  If we had to flesh out every character in a novel or script we'd lose our audience's attention if not our own minds.  The trick I suppose, is to know when you're using a stereotype to communicate and to not use stereotypes in your main characters.  Use of a stereotyped main character is creating a caricature, and except in action films where you can drop the hero from one film into any other and have the same result, caricatures rarely make it past producers and editors let alone landing in front of an audience.

Stereotyping in your real life may help you understand what's going on around you, but you need be aware of it and keep it in its place.  Stereotyping as a writer is a way to communicate to your audience what a minor, or occasionally, a major character is about.  Sort of a creative shorthand used to save time and keep people's attention.

When anti-heroes became the big thrill, many audience members were confused and put off by them, though over time most enjoyed the idea of a main character with issues.  It freshened up the art form.

Now the anti-hero is the main stereotype, and is expected.  Want to throw your audience a curve? Reintroduce a Tom Mix or Randolph Scott.  Manly men, good hearted through and through. (Notice the cliché?  A short-cut to help you follow my point.  Oops.  Short-cut is a cliché.)

Using a stereotype has its place just using a cliché can be a convenient way to get information across in the least amount of time.

Now, today's post.  The following bit of research is fascinating in that it explores how some people, in this case, young women, tend to objectify themselves - which is a form of stereotyping. It's something we all do.

It's interesting, and may be something you can use in a story
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Young women objectify themselves more
browsing Facebook, magazines than media types

"Women diminish themselves by constantly comparing their bodies to others."

Though it is widely believed that the media objectifies women, women further diminish themselves by constantly comparing their bodies to others'. Regardless of how much time young women devote to viewing television, music videos and using the internet, they will compare their appearances more frequently to photos in magazines and on Facebook, finds a new paper published today in Psychology of Women Quarterly.

"Our research shows that spending more time reading magazines and on Facebook is associated with greater self-objectification among young women and these relationships are influenced by women's tendency to compare their appearance to others, particularly to peers on Facebook," the researchers commented.

Surveying 150 female college students and staff ages 17-25, researchers Jasmine Fardouly et al., also found the following connections between type of media, comparing the way women look, and self-objectification:
  • Magazines, though significantly related to self-objectification, are infrequently read by women.
  • On average, the women spent about two hours a day on Facebook, accounting for 40% of daily internet use, and check the site every few hours.
  • Facebook users compare their appearance most often to their own images, then to those of their peers, and rarely to images of family members and celebrities.
Whistling Vivaldi:
How Stereotypes Affect Us
and What We Can Do
by Claude M. Steele

Click on image for details
The researchers discussed reasoning for this finding. For example, unlike TV and music videos, on Facebook, users can compare pictures of themselves with their peers or past images of themselves.
The researchers also note that self-comparisons may lead to greater self-objectification for women as they look at themselves literally as an observer. They wrote, "Furthermore, self-comparisons to images of a previous self might engender a greater focus on specific body parts, also contributing to self-objectification."

To help young women stop comparing themselves and promote wellness, the researchers recommend that young women post fewer images of themselves on Facebook and follow people on Facebook who post photos less frequently.

The researchers continued, "This was one of the first studies which shows that appearance comparisons partially account for the relationship between media usage and self-objectification. Young women report spending long periods of time on Facebook and this research highlights some of the potential negative influences that Facebook may have on how young women view their body."

Related stories:

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Story Source:  Materials provided by SAGE Publications. Jasmine Fardouly et al. The Mediating Role of Appearance Comparisons in the Relationship Between Media Usage and Self-Objectification in Young Women. Psychology of Women Quarterly, April 2015

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