Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Vox pop with students Siobhan O'Brien and Alex Bissell: Both have had Facebook throughout their high school years

A sixteen-year-old schoolgirl’s critique of the phenomenon of sexualised ‘selfies’ online has sparked fresh debate over the reasons and ramifications for teenage girls posting sexy selfies on social media websites.

Olympia Nelson sent an essay on the online popularity contest for ‘likes’ driving girls’ to post sexualised images online to The Age.

The essay was published in July and generated an immediate and ongoing response online across social and mass media.

Debate has continued among teenagers and adults about the causes and consequences of these images.
Primary and secondary school teacher Debbie O’Shea has worked closely with teenage girls for over twenty years.

Peer pressure is a significant factor

Like Ms Nelson, she says peer pressure is a significant factor in the decision to take and post sexy selfies.

“I think the mind set of these girls is that it is easy to do and everyone is doing it so it must be okay. They think ‘What harm can it do?’ They are under great social pressure to conform by posting the selfies. They get more attention; they are more popular with the cool girls and many of the boys. Their self-concept is often tied to this,” Ms O’Shea said.

Nineteen-year-old Siobhan O’Brien has grown up alongside her peers in an online environment where sexual images are common.

She also says conformity is the driving cause for the images.  

“I think we live in a really sexualised culture so I think that the drive comes from the girls wanting to fit into that culture…

“It’s a very kind of predetermined type of sexuality so it might not work for all girls and they might be boxed into this one idea perpetuated by the selfie culture,” Ms O’Brien said.

Concerns about long term consequences and safety

The practice of posting sexy photos on social media has also raised concerns about safety and privacy and long term consequences.

Ms O’Shea says once something is on the internet it is there forever, something that girls may come to regret in the future.

“It may work against them to create a ‘slut’ reputation; it may prevent them getting a job as most employers search social media to vet future employees; family and close friends may be hurt by the image. The future consequences could well be quite serious,” she said.

Ms O’Brien says her problem was not the images themselves, but rather strangers accessing them.

“I think that it’s a new way of girls interacting with sexuality and owning their sexuality but I think there is an issue with posting online where people that they might not want to see them can see them and access them. They don’t have a lot of control over who sees them,” she said.

Nineteen-year-old Greta Nelles has also watched her peers mature online, and like Ms Nelson she says the increasingly sexualised selfies can cause competition between girls.

“It makes girls really competitive with one another and think that they have to outdo each other in terms of how they look and how they dress … that opens up a whole other world to bullying,” she said.

Ms O'Shea says she hopes the trend will fade.

"It's one of the current very strong forms of peer group pressure ... In the long run respect, friendship and even sexuality is something that's not reliant on particular selfie images.”

TWEET: Schoolgirl’s critique of sexual selfies sparks fresh debate over reasons and ramifications for teenage girls posting sexy selfies on social media.

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