Off-campus UNL users: To download campus access dissertations, please use the following link to log into our proxy server with your NU ID and password. When you are done browsing please remember to return to this page and log out.

Non-UNL users: Please talk to your librarian about requesting this dissertation through interlibrary loan.

The drive to be sexy: Belonging motivation and optimal distinctiveness in women's self-sexualization

Jill M Allen, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This line of research aimed to identify the core motives, mechanisms, and consequences of women's self-sexualizing behavior. Self-sexualization is characterized as any action taken by a woman which highlights her sexualized features, actively engaging in objectifying behavior (Allen & Gervais, 2012). Furthermore, by integrating literature on core social motives (Baumeister & Leary, 1995; Fiske, 2004) and optimal distinctiveness theory (Brewer, 1991) I proposed that self-sexualization allows women to differentiate themselves from other women. Five primary hypotheses were tested in three studies using a multi-method experimental approach. First, Studies 1A-1C were validation studies assessing validity of self-sexualization measures, an initial test of the proposed model, and a measurement study to validate the In-Group Assimilation and Differentiation Scale. Next, Study 2 employed a high impact lab experiment directly manipulating social exclusion, appearance-focus, and target audience, measured in-group assimilation and differentiation concerns and self-sexualization, and assessed whether self-sexualization led to increased feelings of state belonging. Results suggested that women engaged in stereotypically feminine and high-status self-sexualization behavior to transition from an excluded status to inclusive status when the target audience was men. In contrast, women self-sexualized to maintain their inclusive status when the target audience was women. However, assimilation and differentiation concerns did not mediate the relationship between exclusion and self-sexualization. Finally, Study 3 manipulated differentiation and measured self-sexualization in a community sample with diverse characteristics. Women with curvaceous body shapes, currently employed, and not in a committed relationship were most likely to self-sexualize when excluded (vs. included). Across all studies, subtle measures of self-sexualization showed consistent findings yet more blatant and socially prohibited versions of sexuality (e.g., provocative, promiscuous) revealed a different pattern. Overall, my research suggests that women do engage in strategic self-sexualization to feel more included, but the nature of the exclusion experience, target audience, and women's personal characteristics all influence the extent to which women self-sexualize. Limitations of the current research and critical next steps for objectification, belonging, and self-presentation theories and research are discussed.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Womens studies|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Allen, Jill M, "The drive to be sexy: Belonging motivation and optimal distinctiveness in women's self-sexualization" (2013). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3559213.