Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 47, Issue 7, pp 1440–1455 | Cite as

How Social and Mass Media Relate to Youth’s Self-Sexualization: Taking a Cross-National Perspective on Rewarded Appearance Ideals

  • Jolien Trekels
  • Kathrin Karsay
  • Steven Eggermont
  • Laura Vandenbosch
Empirical Research


Although media exposure has been related to cognitive preoccupation with appearance, research rarely investigated adolescents’ behavioral self-sexualization. To address this gap, the present study among 12- to 16-year-olds (N = 1527; 50.2% girls) in Austria, Belgium, Spain, and South-Korea (1) investigates whether different types of media use relate to self-sexualization, (2) explores the explanatory value of rewarded appearance ideals, and (3) considers culture and gender as moderating factors. Despite cultural variation, a general trend of increasing self-sexualization with social media use and magazine reading appeared across the countries. Moreover, women’s magazine reading and rewards were related to self-sexualization among all the girls across the countries, which suggests that girls may be more vulnerable to the examined effects. Overall, this study provides a better understanding of the unique contribution of specific media genres to youth’s self-sexualization and points at the importance of social media use in girls’ and boys’ engagement in sexualizing appearance behaviors across four countries.


Traditional media Social media Internalization Rewards Self-sexualization Cross-cultural 


Authors’ Contributions

J.T. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, collected data, performed the statistical analyses, interpreted the results, and drafted the manuscript; K.K. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, collected data, and critically revised the manuscript; S.E. conceived of the study, participated in the design and coordination of the study, interpreted the results, and critically revised the manuscript. L.V. conceived of the study, participated in its design and coordination, collected data, and critically revised the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.


The research groups in the participating countries funded the research project with their own research funds.

Data Sharing Declaration

The datasets generated and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

The ethical committees of each host university approved the research project.

Informed Consent

Active consent was obtained from both the parents and adolescents before the respondents filled out the paper-and-pencil surveys.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School for Mass Communication Research, Faculty of Social SciencesKU LeuvenLeuvenBelgium
  2. 2.Department of CommunicationUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria
  3. 3.Research Foundation Flanders (FWO-Vlaanderen)BrusselsBelgium

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