“Sexy selfies”. The role of social media in adolescents’ (self-)sexualization

  • Auteur(s):
    Annemarie van Oosten

There has been an increasing amount of attention in the literature for sexualization in the media. Sexualization occurs when “a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified—that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person”. Recently, scholars have started to pay attention to how sexualization may occur in social media, where adolescents are said to self-sexualize through posting sexy pictures of themselves (sexy self-presentation). Based on an overview of recent research on adolescents’ social media use and online self-presentation, it can be concluded that some aspects of sexualization, such as self-objectification and the increased emphasis on physical and sexual attractiveness, also occur in social media. However, we still lack knowledge on other aspects of online (self-)sexualization, such as the occurrence of sexual objectification and whether sexual content is inappropriately imposed upon adolescents in social media. Moreover, although there is initial evidence that the use of social media decreases self-esteem and sexual satisfaction, we still lack knowledge on whether the same consequences that are said to occur for sexualization in traditional media also occur for self-sexualization in social media. Suggestions for future research on (self-)sexualization in social media are given, which also pertain to the unique aspects of social media (i.e., peer norms and self-perception) compared to traditional media platforms.