What do you think when you see young women posting provocative photographs of themselves on social media?
Have you ever perhaps thought the women were being exploited, that they were objectifying themselves, or that they had low self-esteem?
One Sydney academic argues that women who post sexy selfies are often mischaracterised and the benefits of such actions are overlooked.
Dr Khandis Blake is an evolutionary social psychologist at the University of NSW.
She has been researching the relationship between the prevalence of sexy selfies, income inequality and gender inequality.
“One way of interpreting selfies is that they’re something women do when they’re being forced to sexualise and objectify their own bodies,” Dr Blake told ABC Radio Sydney.
“We often have this view of these kinds of behaviours that they’re disempowering, that women who turn Instagram into a full-time job who are putting lots of selfies up are vacuous and they’re just narcissistic.”
Counting the selfies
The research has been studying women’s selfie photographs posted over social media platforms. (Flickr: Onward Style)
Dr Blake and her research team have been studying women’s selfies on social media platforms including Instagram and Twitter.
They have been looking at how aspects of social, economic and political environments tend to predict more sexy selfies in some locations over others.
“The idea, from a feminist framework, is that what you should find is that in places where women lack power then they should be doing more sexy selfies,” she said.
“What I have found so far is that sexy selfies don’t actually tend to happen most in the areas where gender oppression is a really big deal.
“You actually see more sexy selfies in areas where there’s more income inequality.”
While her team looked at selfie trends from more than 100 countries, they also focused on data from the United States which revealed income inequality was a significant factor.
“It seems to be very much that in developed nations, the more unequal your city is, your suburb is, your county is, the more likely you’re going to see sexy selfies in that location.”
What ABC listeners thought about sexy selfies
“This is pathetic and sad; your body is not a brand, it’s totally exploitative.” — Jane
“Porn stars also invest plenty of time and effort to make money but that doesn’t make it OK.” — Anonymous
Personally, Dr Blake thought societies moralised the sexy selfie phenomenon.
She argued the photographs were just one way for women to climb the social hierarchy, particularly for those who had found a way to monetise their images as social media influencers.
“If you have a million followers on Instagram, you can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars for a well-placed post.
“What we forget is that this can be a really competitive strategy with enormous payoffs.
“When somebody goes and invests a lot of time and effort in their education so they can benefit themselves, you don’t think that’s narcissistic.
“But if someone goes and invests a lot of time, effort and resources in getting themselves to have a brand online and make extraordinary amounts of money, we do.
“Ultimately they can be fulfilling the same aims in different ways.”