Title: Sexualizing sitcoms, self-objectification and the sexual double standard: A longitudinal study among adolescents
Authors: Vandenbosch, Laura
Eggermont, Steven
Issue Date: 7-Feb-2013
Conference: Etmaal van de Communicatiewetenschap location:Rotterdam, Nederland date:7-8 februari 2013
Abstract: During the last decade, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the level of sexualization in contemporary Western society (Moradi & Huang, 2008). This sexualization is expected to occur both in personal interactions and in mass media (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). For instance, sitcoms have repeatedly been shown to emphasize the sexual appeal of characters and to value appearance ideals strongly (Kim et al., 2007; Ward, 1995). Several studies have reported that exposure to such messages may cause an experience of sexualization among media users (e.g., Aubrey, 2006; Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012).
These sexualizing experiences have been found to trigger a three-step process that encompasses the internalization of appearance ideals, self-objectification and body surveillance (Moradi & Huang, 2008). In turn, these components have been shown to adversely affect one’s sexuality (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Steer & Tiggemann, 2008). Consistent with the research tradition on patriarchal gender stereotypes (Fromme & Emihovich, 1998; Reiss, 1956), objectification scholars hypothesize increased adherence to traditional sexual gender roles as a result of self-objectification (e.g., Gillen, Lefkowitz, & Shearer, 2006). In turn, adherence to traditional sexual scripts or the so-called sexual double standard has been shown to be harmful for the developing ability of adolescents to engage in authentic, rewarding sexual interactions (Sanchez, Fetterolf, & Rudman, 2012, p.17)
The current study aimed to propose and test an integrative model that organizes prior research on the relationship among exposure to sexualizing media, the three-step process of self-objectification, and gender-stereotypical sexual attitudes. This study expands prior research on this topic in three ways.
First, the dominant design that has been used to examine relationships between media exposure and increased endorsement of gender-stereotypical sexual attitudes is the cross-sectional survey (Ward, 2003). Likewise, cross-sectional surveys have primarily been used to explore associations between media exposure and internalization, self-objectification and body surveillance (Grabe & Hyde, 2009; Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012). However, although both lines of research focus on the effects of media, studies have rarely applied a longitudinal design to test assumptions regarding temporal order (Moradi & Huang, 2008; Ward, 2003). This study aimed to address this gap by using data from a three-wave panel study (N = 1,041).
Second, because of the profound changes that teenagers experience, scholars in this field have called for greater attention to the effects of sexualization on adolescents (e.g., APA, 2007). The extensive developments in adolescents’ body image (Markey, 2010) and sexuality (Ward, 2003) have been hypothesized to increase adolescent awareness of their appearance and sexuality and thus highlight the need for more research on how the sexuality and body image of young people may be influenced by exposure to sexualizing media. The current study therefore focused on 12- to 18-year-old adolescents.
Third, the hypothesized relationship between media use and the endorsement of gender-stereotypical sexual attitudes has been supported by empirical evidence (Ward, 2003) but has also been challenged with null findings (e.g., Ward & Friedman, 2006). In addition, some researchers have considered the theoretical basis for such sexual media effects to be inadequate (Collins et al., 2004), partly because those effects have commonly been explained by wide-ranging media effect theories, such as cultivation theory (e.g., Zurbriggen & Morgan, 2006). Although this criticism neglects to consider that studies of sexual media effects have sometimes developed more specific theories, such as the media practice model (Steele, 1999) or the heterosexual script theory (Kim et al., 2007), this view also indicates the need to test new theory-driven models. From this perspective, this study therefore explored whether objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) and, more specifically, the three-step process of internalization, self-objectification and body surveillance may offer valuable insights into the effect of the media on sexual attitudes.
To address our research goals, longitudinal data derived from adolescent boys and girls (N = 1,041) were used to test an integrative model on the relationships among the viewing of sexualizing sitcoms, internalization, self-objectification, body surveillance, and acceptance of the sexual double standard. This structural equation model showed that viewing sexualizing sitcoms (time 1) predicted internalization and self-objectification (time 2). In turn, internalization positively predicted body surveillance and self-objectification (all time 2). Self-objectification also predicted body surveillance (all time 2). Finally, internalization (time 2) positively predicted acceptance of the sexual double standard (time 3). The discussion focuses on the implications of these findings to explain the relationships among sexualizing media, self-objectification and the developing sexuality and body image of adolescents.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: AMa
Appears in Collections:Leuven School for Mass Communication Research
Formerly "Subfaculteit Antwerpen/Taal & Communicatie - TM A"

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