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‘Am I Pretty?’ Rutgers professors give insight on effects of self-objectification

Mirrors date back to 6,000 B.C., when people in Turkey carved obsidian into round reflections, but only recently have the mirrors been able to talk back. 

Now, prominent sites like YouTube and Reddit allow the curious to learn how they appear to the rest of society. The most frequent contributors are adolescents between 13 and 15, who create “Am I Pretty?” videos and post photos asking for the world’s opinion on them, according to an article in The New York Times. 

“Today, one could spend hours clicking through short clips of insecure young girls and the occasional boy, imploring the Internet to judge their appearance,” the article said.

Laurie Rudman, professor in Rutgers Department of Psychology, said the reason these videos are common is that young girls are realizing how important attractiveness is in modern society.

“How could they not?” she asked. “Images of scantily clad, preternaturally thin women abound throughout our culture, selling everything under the sun.”

Experimental research has linked self-objectification to poor cognitive functioning, Rudman said. An experiment in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology demonstrated how self-objectification could begin when women try on a swimsuit. 

College students were randomly assigned to try on either a swimsuit or a sweater alone in a room with a full-length mirror and then asked to take a math test. 

Results showed both men and women were more prone to self-objectification after mirror viewing, while women often felt disgust, revulsion and body shame. Women who tried on a swimsuit rather than a sweater scored worse on the math test.

“The upshot is that in contemporary society, it is normative for women to suffer from poor body esteem,” Rudman said. “To the extent that Rutgers is interested in promoting their students’ mental health, [we] should fight against female objectification through education and reform.”

Edward Selby, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, has worked with a number of young women who experienced anxiety about their physical appearance and suffered from eating disorders. 

“I wouldn’t say the trend is increasing, but it’s an issue that’s becoming much more noticeable thanks in part to social media and other online presences,” Selby said.

Women with eating disorders may be more prone to making “Am I Pretty?” videos or being influenced by them. But it will most likely take years before psychologists can determine whether the prevalence of these problems increased with the creation of social media, Selby said. 

Students with body image issues or eating disorder concerns can visit the Counseling, Alcohol (and other Drug Assistance Program) and Psychiatric Services program. 

Kendra Avinger, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior, said she has used CAPS in the past to help a friend. 

“The last thing I would ever want to do is spend the rest of my life feeling responsible for the loss of someone else’s,” she said.

Avinger believes the media should display more positive images of women to young adults. 

Rutgers needs to continue graduating strong female role models to change the world, she said.

“Everyone is insecure about something,” Avinger said. “It’s an emotion we can’t control. It’s whether you feed into those emotions or not. I try not to and have friends who try satisfying varying gradients of the same hunger.”

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