Study examines how women “look” at each other

07 March 2017

Dr Sarah Riley (left) and undergraduate student Audrie Schneller who asked a number of female students to text her when they ‘received’ or ‘gave’ a look.
Dr Sarah Riley (left) and undergraduate student Audrie Schneller who asked a number of female students to text her when they ‘received’ or ‘gave’ a look.

A glance is all it takes to send some people into a spiral of doubt.

Now, a project led by Aberystwyth University is examining how women look at each other and the long term impact that can have.

Students at Aberystwyth have been taking part in real time research to give some valuable insights into “looking” and being “looked at”.

The study is led by Dr Sarah Riley, Reader in Psychology at Aberystwyth University.

“When we think of body image concerns more generally we often think of an individual young woman suffering alone. Perhaps with low self-esteem or someone who has distorted perception – a thin woman looking in the mirror and seeing a fat woman”, said Dr Riley.

“Within the psychology department at Aberystwyth University we are looking at body image development as a social process and one aspect of this is looking at ‘looking’. In a recent study we found that looking was important in how young women understood themselves and was central to being recognised as women.”

“This can often be tied in with the pressures women put on themselves when dressing up for a night out, for example, and how they then feel they are perceived by others”, she added.

Taking the work further, psychology students have been collating information from their peers in order to get some real time experiences.

Audrie Schneller based her undergraduate project around this research and asked a number of female students to text her when they ‘received’ or ‘gave’ a look.

Audrie said: “When the other students discussed their experiences it made them realise how often they looked or felt looked at in a judgmental way. They were really surprised to see what a critical culture we live and participate in.

“Even though I expected it, it’s still shocking to see the pressure young women put on one another.”

It is these insecurities from feeling judged on a day to day basis that can trigger body issues and potentially lead to a variety of eating disorders.

Sarah Riley suggests small steps women can practice to reduce feelings of self-doubt when feeling judged.

“Try and assume the best,” said Sarah. “For example, looks aren’t necessarily negative, they could be admiring, or simply someone lost in thought. Remember to give yourself and other women positive looks and comments, and enjoy a compliment if it comes your way, and challenge an idea that dressing up is where women’s power lies.”

Contacts

Dr Sarah Riley
Department of Psychology
Aberystwyth University
01970 628482 / scr2@aber.ac.uk

Arthur Dafis
Communications and Public Affairs
Aberystwyth University
01970 621763 / 07841 979452 / aid@aber.ac.uk