The Online World and Appearance


Research has shown female sexualisation to increase in highly unequal societies (Blake, Bastian, Denson, et al., 2018), where the effects of status anxiety appear greater (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2010). Status anxiety is defined as the pervasive worry that one cannot conform to societal ideals of success, and consequently, one is denied of respect and dignity (de Batton, 2004). Unequal societies are more likely to breed greater levels of status anxiety as individuals become obsessed over class differentiation, social comparisons, and status competition (Wilkinson and Pickett, 2006, 2010). Status anxiety may then incentivize individuals to adopt a range of self-objectifying strategies to elevate or maintain their status (Blake and Brooks, 2019). For example, females may engage in different beautification processes to enhance their physical beauty and potentially attract a high-ranking male partner (Blake & Brooks, 2019). Despite previous research demonstrating female sexualisation to increase in highly unequal income environments (Blake & Brooks, 2019), whether these effects extend to males remain largely unexplored. To better understand the conditions driving self-objectification, it is important to identify potential socio-economic drivers underpinning self-objectification for both males and females.

Research Questions / Hypotheses

The aim of the present study is to test whether income inequality increases self-objectification by exacerbating status anxiety for both men and women. Moreover, we aim to distinguish the different domains of status anxiety where effects on self-objectification are greatest for both males and females.


68 REP participants completed the study in Semester 1. The pre-screening criteria included ages 18 to 45, either in a non-monogamous relationship or unmarried relationship status.


Participants were told to imagine that they are members of a virtual society, “Bimboola” (adapted from Jetten, Mohls, & Postmes, 2015). Participants then read about the income distribution in their society, presented via five income tiers (corresponding to quintile representing the poorest 20%, 20-40%, 40-60%, 60-80t%, and 80-100%). They were then assigned into a tier and chose a car, house, phone, and holiday destination, according to their income. The earnings within each tier were manipulated to give an impression of economic inequality in Bimboola with some individuals allocated to a scenario where their Tier earns very little compared to others, and some allocated to a scenario where their Tier earns a lot more than others.


Using linear regression, we plan to examine whether income inequality predicts the 6 status anxiety indices measured: physical attractiveness, nurturance, job competence, material wealth, education, and general status anxiety. We will then compute a global average of all indices, resulting in a total of 7 status anxiety indices. Using linear regression, we then plan to examine whether the effect of income inequality on the status anxiety indices is moderated by sex (7 separate analyses). A series of meditational analyses will then be conducted to investigate whether status anxiety mediates the effect of income inequality and status anxiety.


We predict income inequality to increase status anxiety across all domains; that males will experience greatest status anxiety in material wealth and job competence domains, whereas women will experience greatest status anxiety in physical attractiveness and nurturance domains; and that status anxiety will mediate the effects of income inequality on state self-objectification. Definitive conclusions will be made upon completion of participant recruitment. Planned communication of results will be in the form of an honours thesis and a short conference presentation.