`Girls in skimpy outfits judged as less competent`

Last Updated: Mar 26, 2012, 15:52 PM IST

Washington: Parents please note: Preteen girls who dress in sexier outfits are judged as less competent and less moral than those who wear age-appropriate clothings, a new study has claimed.

Earlier studies have found that adult women who dress in revealing clothing are seen as less competent than women who are more buttoned-up.

Now, a team at Kenyon College in Ohio found that young girls who dress in sexualised clothings -- or those with suggestive writing, slinky material or a revealing cut -- are perceived as less competent than their modestly dressed peers, LiveScience reported.

For the study, published in the journal Sex Roles, Sarah Murnen, a psychologist at Kenyon, and colleagues recruited 162 students, 106 of them women, to view photos of a prepubescent blonde white girl wearing one of three different outfits and rate them on traits such as competence and intelligence.

In the "childlike" condition, the girl wore a gray shirt with ruffled sleeves, jeans and Mary Jane-style shoes. In the "ambiguously sexualised" condition, she wore a modest-length
dress with a leopard-print pattern and in the final condition, the girl wore an obviously sexualised outfit -- a very short dress with a leopard-print cardigan and purse.

In some photos, the girl was described as an average fifth-grader who enjoys reading and is a member of the student council. In others, she was described as being a top reader at the top of her class and president of the student council.

Describing the girl as a higher achiever did prompt people to rate her as more intelligent and capable, as you might expect, Murnen said.

But across the board, people`s rankings of the girl`s capability, competence, determination and intelligence dropped when she wore the obviously serialising outfit.

They also ranked her as having lower self-respect and less morality than more modestly dressed versions.

"They did see her as less competent and less moral and less self-respecting, as if we are blaming the girl for wearing that clothing," Murnen said.

Most likely, Murnen added, preteens who pick these clothes aren`t doing so out of a desire to appear sexual, but out of a desire to fit in and look stylish.

"I don`t think they necessarily think, `This might make me appear not very serious to an adult`," Murnen said.

But if teachers or other authority figures make these negative judgements, she said, they may write them off as bad students and pay them less attention.

In fact, when the researchers asked participants for feedback after the experiment, many were quite aware of their judgements.

"I formed my assumptions based on her outfit even after being aware of her accomplishments," one woman wrote.

"Seems like a caricature of a Bratz doll," wrote another man, referring to a line of sultry-eyed, mini-skirted fashion dolls. "Overall first impression isn`t strong."

Sexy clothing may also be a problem for reasons internal to the girl, Murnen said.

"Monitoring your body in terms of how it looks -- self-objectification -- has been found to be unhealthy in terms of increasing body dissatisfaction and putting people at risk for depression and eating disorders," Murnen said.

"I think that this monitoring of the body starting so early is putting girls at risk."

PTI