Beware the dangers of getting too caught up with your online look.
Sharing pictures of yourself in various stages of dress, or undress, can result in significant threats to your future relationship and career opportunities, as we know from studies of Facebook exhibitionism.
To understand why, we need to take a look at the process of "objectification."
In psychology, this term refers to the tendency to treat an individual not as a person with emotions and thoughts, but as a physical being or “object.” In most cases, it refers to thinking of a person not as a door stop, but as a sexual object, there to provide pleasure to others.
An objectified image in this sense would be one that emphasizes the person's sexuality, usually by showing a fair amount of skin. In the majority of cases, objectification refers to the portrayal of a semi-clothed woman's body intended to emphasize her sexuality.
Such depictions raise the hackles of those who bemoan that the objectification process is far more pronounced with regard to women than men. You only have to look at ads for women’s clothing, lingerie, and, well, almost anything to recognize that advertisers believe that the more skin the model shows, the more products they can sell. Heterosexual men are attracted to depictions of the semi-clothed female body and heterosexual women, the thinking goes, want to look like those women who attract those men. A byproduct of women’s objectification can occur when certain women become reluctant to look too competent—potentially threatening the men in their lives—and so dress in ways that they think men will find sexy.
In a world peopled with semi-clothed female models, being sexy to a woman too often means showing more of her skin. When self-esteem becomes largely dependent on how sexy one looks—and not how intelligent, kind, friendly, or inwardly attractive one is—other problems result, especially in their interactions with the men in their lives, who themselves may have become conditioned to objectify women. Men might treat them with less respect, showing outright or subtle forms of sexism that can range from patronizing mannerisms to verbal or even physical attacks.
Even if you’re not trying to promote yourself in one of these online environments, when you share pictures on Facebook or Instagram, you’re putting yourself on visual display. In doing so, you might try to imagine what your audience is thinking about you. Choosing to upload a photo in a formal suit or a skimpy bathing suit almost begs the question of how others will respond to the way you look. Just sharing your witticisms and insights online is unlikely to carry the same degree of pressure.
In objectification, someone’s human qualities recede into the background and the utility that they can provide moves to the foreground. Sexual objectification specifically means that one starts to view others, and perhaps themselves, as, at some level, existing to provide physical gratification. The process is particularly damaging to young women vulnerable to such influences on the development of their identities.
People don't only become likely to engage in self-objectification online through the way they portray themselves to their audience. In social media circles, we witness others consistently commenting on outward qualities of appearance, attractiveness, clothing, and makeup. All of these reinforce the evaluative nature of social media. – Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PH.D.
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