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Beautiful and Aggressive Characters Might Be Bad For Women

Why Beautiful and Aggressive Female Characters Might Make You Less Confident

The sexual objectification of female superheroes sends the unfortunate message that women are defined by their sexuality. But could the mere fact that a character is beautiful negatively impact how we view women? Research from UC Davis suggests so.

According to the study, college women who watch clips of beautiful and aggressive characters, like Angelina Jolie or Uma Thurman, are more likely to buy into the "superwoman ideal" — the idea that women should excel in traditional feminine roles, as well as traditional male areas. At first, that sounds like it might be a good thing, right? Appealing and empowered action figures broadening society's ideas of what women can do, and furthering the notion that a woman can have style and substance.

But the study's main researcher says the superwoman ideal might not be so super. When women put pressure on themselves to live up to superwoman standards, i.e. excelling at home and at work, various studies have found it can lead to eating disorders, as well as bad self-esteem and low confidence.

Still, the college students in the study appear to believe being feminine and strong is something worthy of aspiring to. When asked which characters made better role models for young women, they cited Angelina Jolie's conventionally hot character Lara Croft over Kathy Bates's aggressive character in Primary Colors. Do you find that problematic?

Bettye-Wayne Bettye-Wayne 6 years
I find this study to be 100% accurate. My only aspiration is to be a mega-babe crime-fighting spy in spandex. And if I can't get it... I guess I'll have no choice but to develop anorexia. Cruel world.
Pistil Pistil 6 years
What about Barbie? Girl is a Rock Star Fairy Princess with a PhD and big plastic boobs. How do you think that makes me feel?
bryseana bryseana 6 years
I agree with Pistil. I don't think girls aspire to be like fictional characters such as Lara Croft except for Halloween. I enjoyed watching SheRa as a kid, but never wanted to be her.
Pistil Pistil 6 years
Does aspiring to be Lara Croft lead to low self esteem, or is someone with low self esteem more likely to covet the life of a fictional character? None of these heroines or superheroes exist in reality. Watching Angelina Jolie doesn't make me feel like I need to be a sexy international spy putting a stop to drug trafficking and none of the people I admire run around in spandex shooting people.
Elise-Marie Elise-Marie 6 years
Yes, this is very problematic, but the problem is much bigger than young women just aspiring to be like sexy super hero figures they see on the big screen. This particular image of a woman has been built into a genre structure so that we have come to accept that this kind of character is "true" or "ideal." I also have a feeling that these strong sexy female characters were created to please men. I truly wish the entertainment industry could provide women with real and imperfect female characters/actresses. We are constantly bombarded with this ideal picture of what a woman should be like and look like, but that ideal doesn't necessarily reflect reality, and so for young girls especially, it's difficult to deal with these contradictions. It's going to take a long time, if ever, to change these projected standards of beauty. As someone who battled with an eating disorder in high school, I suggest not reading tabloids and constantly reminding yourself that what you see on the screen isn't real- it's there for entertainment and nothing else (of course there are exceptions, but just some general advice).
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