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Choosing A Sexy Picture Of Yourself On Social Media Probably Won't Get You Taken Seriously

Kim Hookem-Smith
#ICYMI
15 July 2014

Choosing a social media profile picture is one of modern life's great decisions.

We may joke 'this one's for my Facebook profile' and pretend we're being ironic, but really, it's not joke. This is a carefully thought out process.

Copying celebs could be harmful to women's image (Instagram)
Copying celebs could be harmful to women's image (Instagram)

And it's not just frivolous vanity - the way we are perceived by our choice of profile pic is actually a serious issue.

Most employers will have a quick look (even if they can only see a tiny version of your profile picture on Facebook) before making a job offer, friends will judge you the image you've chosen, and aquaintances and friends of friends will form opinions on you without having ever met you all by the power of a single picture.

And new research has discovered (or proven what we all could have guessed), that sexy profile pictures don't make people think you're particularly competent. Or even likeable.

Pouting pics, what are we doing here? (Instagram)
Pouting pics, what are we doing here? (Instagram)

Bikini pics, pouting selfies and come-hither staring down the camera proliferate on social media and in a world were women are constantly bombarded with sexual images and given the impression that to be liked you have to be hot, it's hardly surprising that younger and younger girls are trying to trade on their burgeoning sexuality.

But in more ways than the one, it's likely to do them more harm than good.

It puts women in a tough spot, which is something we're used to. We're judged so much on our appearance that the obvious answer, particularly to young girls and teens, is to look as stereotypically 'hot' as possible and publicise provocative photos on Facebook, Twitter et al.

And a study at Oregon State University has confirmed that the profile picture really is all-powerful.

It investigated the reaction of women to two Facebook profiles of 20-year-old Amanda Johnson, that were identical in all ways apart from the profile picture.

In the first "Amanda" is wearing a low-cut red dress with a slit up one leg to mid-thigh and a visible garter belt.

In the second, 'non-sexy' photo, she's wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt and a scarf draped around her neck, covering her chest.

Reactions found that women felt the Amanda in normal clothes was prettier, more likely to be their friend and more competent than the Amanda in the red dress.

But though the study focused entirely on women this issue is more about humans, than one particular gender.

Not that we'd take him any more seriously... (Instagram)
Not that we'd take him any more seriously... (Instagram)

Reimagine the study to use a man and no doubt the normal-looking bloke would garner a more positive opinion than a half-naked one flexing his guns for the camera.

It's hardly rocket science to suggest that if you want to be taken seriously then keep the sexy shots for your private enjoyment, rather than putting them out there for a world of people you don't know to oggle at and judge you by.

Assistant Professor of Psychology Elizabeth Daniels said: "There is so much pressure on teen girls and young women to portray themselves as sexy, but sharing those sexy photos online may have more negative consequences than positive."

She suggests women try to represent their personalities rather than their appearance in profile pictures.

"Focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world," she says. Which sounds like good advice.

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