A study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), has revealed that women tend to post attractive selfies in places with greater economic inequality. The findings suggest that women take attractive selfies to compete with peers and climb the social ladder.
“The argument is usually that when you see sexualisation, you see disempowerment,” said lead author Khandis Blake from University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney in Australia.
“What we found instead is that women are more likely to invest time and effort into posting sexy selfies online in places where economic inequality is rising, and not in places where men hold more societal power and gender inequality is rife,” Blake stated.
In the study, the team took stock of scores of social media posts in 113 countries. The posts which had been tagged ‘sexy’, ‘hot’ or with similar keywords were taken into account.
Explaining their findings, the researchers said that income inequality increases competitiveness and status anxiety among people at all levels of the social hierarchy, making them sensitive to where they sit on the social ladder and wanting them to do better than others.
“That income inequality is a big predictor of sexy selfies suggests that sexy selfies are a marker of social climbing among women that tracks economic incentives in the local environment,” Blake said.
“Rightly or wrongly, in today’s environment, looking sexy can generate large returns, economically, socially, and personally,” she added.
The researchers said that they found an identical pattern in real world spending in other appearance-enhancing areas.
“So, when a young woman adjusts her bikini provocatively with her phone at the ready, don’t think of her as vacuous or as a victim. Think of her as a strategic player in a complex social and evolutionary game. She’s out to maximise her lot in life, just like everyone,” Blake said.