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An abundance of research has shown that sexualized and stereotypical portrayals of women in the media have a negative impact on women’s body image overall. However, previous research has not primarily focused on lesbian women. There is a gap in the literature regarding the portrayal of lesbian relationships in media, specifically in the eyes of the lesbian population. Limited research has shown that lesbians portrayed in the media are sexualized and stereotyped, falling into one of the six following categories: the hot lesbian, the out lesbian, the closeted lesbian, the butch lesbian, the feminine lesbian, and the bisexual lesbian. The aim of this study was to assess how (and whether) lesbians see themselves and their relationships portrayed in the media and whether cultural messaging which sexualizes lesbians leads to body image issues among lesbians. A sample of 178 lesbian women were recruited via an online survey platform titled ‘Prolific Academic’ to participate in a mixed-method study with correlational, experimental, and qualitative components. The independent variable was exposure to sexualized media portrayals of lesbians via a video clip from a popular television show. Body image, self-objectification, mood, and self-esteem were then assessed in order to determine whether exposure to sexualized lesbian media affects these variables among lesbians. It was hypothesized that upon exposure to an objectified portrayal of a lesbian in the media, the lesbian participants would report lower body image satisfaction, mood, and self-esteem with higher levels of self-objectification. Additional qualitative and quantitative measures were collected in an attempt to assess how lesbians are portrayed in the media, and to test for an inverse correlation between long-term exposure to sexualized lesbian media and body image: the higher the rate of exposure, the lower the body image. It was hypothesized that the hot lesbian would be the most common media portrayal of lesbianism. This could prove problematic for young lesbians looking to model their actions after lesbian portrayals seen on television, due to the pervasiveness of media in sexual identity development. Results indicated that the hot lesbian was the most frequently portrayed, and the idea of lesbians moving too quickly was the most frequent portrayal of a lesbian relationships. Participants in the experimental condition reported lower body area satisfaction in comparison to the control, but no effects were found on any of the other dependent variables. Exposure to lesbian media was significantly correlated with positive mood; however, analyses uncovered a nonsignificant trend which correlated exposure with negative mood. These mixed results suggest the need for future research.



Thesis Comittee

Dr. Laura Ramsey, Thesis Advisor

Dr. Elizabeth Spievak, Committee Member

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Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.

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