Social media are part of our life, most people use it on a daily base, especially adolescents and young adults.
The kind of use changes from person to person.
20% to 50% of adolescents show sexually revealing images of themselves on their online profile.
What are the basis for this sexualization of their online profiles?
Is it the easy access to Internet pornography? 10% of adolescents report a frequent use of it.
But there must be other factors playing their role, including peer imitation.
The journalist and food writer Nigella Lawson affirmed in an interview that, according to her, the problem to body dissatisfaction is not due to fashion models, who are supposed to be fit and dress in a certain way on magazines. She thinks it’s movies and series who play a major role: when it’s a female president of America with a size 0 and fabulous looking, lawyers, scientists, historians, architects all looking fabulous, it makes you think you’re not allowed to do or become anything unless you look like a model.
Lawson is no scientist, but scientists seem to agree with her theory. Just like Internet pornography, also reality television mass media portray ideal bodies emphasizing the sexual appeal of the characters.
According to the social cognitive theory, we are inclined to behave accordingly to the environmental incentives we are exposed.
Therefore a group of researchers of the University of Amsterdam hypothesized that exposure to sexual reality television content and Internet pornography influences young users to show a sexual self-presentation on social media.
The result of their research indicates that most adolescents who choose a sexual profile picture on social media are exposed to sexual messages in sexual reality show. And reciprocally, in the sense that these adolescents may seek out mainstream sexual media content on television, according to the cognitive dissonance theory. It’s a circular relation, where exposure, behavior and choice of exposition influence and strengthen each other. No difference has been found between boys and girls.
Exposure to Internet pornography doesn’t have the same effect; the reasons may be that while tv representation of sex is most of the times just suggested, pornography is explicit and offers socially inappropriate exemplars.
The reality shows used in this research were MTV’s “Jersey Shore” and “Geordie Shore”, where young guys and girls are filmed during their summer vacation.
The work of these researchers help parents think critically of and pay attention to what their young children watch. Even though code red is on pornography, there is a more subtle presence of sex even on tv. We may be used to nudity or sexualized use of presenter’s assistants on tv, but we also need to stop and think what it means for the youngest of us, those whose identity is forming and need the appropriate stimuli to develop in the right way.
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