You are on page 1of 11


Button-Ups and Breasts: High School Dress Code and the Objectifying Gaze on Females

Nycollette Helms

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Lab Instructor: Dillon Brock


A woman’s attire can garner both negative and positive attention, and when a woman knows

others are objectifying her, her performance can decrease. This study will determine if there is a

correlation between type of attire and number and length of times high school students spend

looking at a female’s sexualized body parts. The hypothesis predicts that dress code attire

reduces high school student’s attention on female sexualized body parts. 150 high school

students will participate in a study using eye tracker technology to measure point of gaze and

gaze duration. Since elementary school-aged children have objectified and sexualized women, it

is important to study how this phenomenon grows and how outlying variables, such as student

attire, can affect these actions.

Button-Ups and Breasts: High School Dress Code and the Objectifying Gaze on Females

Adult women receive more visual evaluation than men do in simulated social situations

(Amon, 2015). This focus is primarily on female appearance, and could be due to viewers

sexualizing the presented woman (Amon, 2015; Gervais, Holland, & Dodd, 2013). The

American Psychological Association task force defined sexualization of women as others

believing a woman’s worth comes exclusively from her sexual attractiveness and viewing

women only as a means of sexual satisfaction (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Sexualizing women to

define their worth is a key component to objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997;

Gervais et al., 2013).

Objectification theory proposes that, in general, society separates women from their

humanizing characteristics and views them solely as bodies for others to use and be pleased with

(Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). One of the most common forms of objectification by others is

the sexualized or objectifying gaze. The objectifying gaze occurs when women are visually

observed in an objectifying manner to evaluate how satisfying a woman’s body is (Gervais, et

al., 2013; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). When women internalize society’s view of them as

objects, they may begin to treat themselves like objects needing judgment based on their

appearance and sexual value (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). This phenomenon is self-

objectification, and women who objectify themselves constantly monitor how they look to

outsiders as a means of adapting to the social pressure objectification puts on them.

Many studies have associated negative outcomes with objectification, self-objectification,

and the objectifying gaze. Females subjected to objectification showed a reduction in cognitive

abilities (Gay & Castano, 2010). Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) proposed that depression,

shame, anxiety, loss of motivation, and eating disorders are results of objectification. A study

using an eye tracker to detect objectifying gaze showed that, when focused on appearance, both

men and women stared longer at women’s waists and breasts for longer periods of time than their

faces (Gervais et al., 2013). However, when researchers disguised a female’s sexual body

parts using pixilation, objectification of the woman decreased (Bernard, Gervais, Allen, Delmée,

& Klein, 2015). This finding indicates that concealing sexual body parts could decrease

objectification of women, which in turn could decrease the negative effects the process has upon


Researchers viewed objectification theory as especially significant in Western cultures,

where media often portrays sexualized views of women (Gervais et al., 2013). Hatton and

Trautner (2011) showed an increase in the sexualization of women on magazine covers in the

United States from the 1960s to the 2000s, while nonsexualized ads of women simultaneously

decreased. Of the 83% of covers that showed sexualized women, 74% showed hypersexualized

women, meaning they had a multitude of sexualizing factors present in one cover. These

sexualized portrayals are not only aimed at adults; much of sexualized media targets young

children (Stone, Brown, & Jewell, 2015). A study of images in magazines for adolescent girls

showed an increase in images depicting sexualized females, including children (Graff, Murnen,

& Krause, 2013). In three decades, one magazine tripled in the average number of sexualizing

factors present in images of girls, while another magazine’s average was 15 times higher than

when the magazine first began.

Objectifying media can have a prominent effect on young girls, as they attempt to

replicate the sexualized women they see in movies, advertisements, music videos, and video

games (Zurbriggen et al., 2007). Clothing for children also embodies the sexualized woman,

from thongs meant for 7 to 10 year olds to miniskirts and low cut shirts that come with toy dolls.

A study showed that elementary school-aged children categorized female dolls based on how

sexualized their clothing was (Stone et al., 2015). This included viewing dolls in modest clothing

as nice, athletic, and smart, while viewing dolls in sexualized or revealing clothing as popular.

This stereotyping based on clothing became more prominent with an increase in age among the

elementary students. Raby (2015) also noted that high school girls’ attitudes on what style of

dress is appropriate changed with age. Many teenaged females focused on how revealing

clothing could distract others, especially male students. Female students labeled other female

students who wore revealing and non-dress code clothing as sleazy, slutty, and disgusting.

Negative attitudes based on the dress of female students has led to dress codes in high

schools becoming a point of discussion and concern in the United States, especially among

students (Raby, 2010; Stone et al., 2015). There is increasing concern about the effect high

school dress code has on self-expression, and the double standard it may subject on females

(Raby, 2010). Schools cited a less distracting and safer learning environment as means for dress

code, and Raby’s findings showed that wearing non-dress code clothing could lead to sexualized

bullying from fellow students. Typical high school dress codes specified that students must wear

modest cuts of clothing, including no midriff baring shirts, no clothing with holes, and no shorts

that are shorter than fingertip length.

Since the media exposes children to sexualization at an early age, there is cause to study

how this affects children as they age (Stone et al., 2015). High school attire’s link to

sexualization needs to be further examined since both elementary and high school students

showed signs of objectifying women based on their clothing (Stone et al., 2015; Raby, 2015), but

do so in different ways. There are also implications of negative effects on a female’s cognition,

motivation, and mental state, which could have significant effects on female students’

performance in a learning environment (Gay & Castano, 2010; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997).

This study aims to discover if there is a link between type of attire and focus on sexual body

parts. Specifically, researchers will analyze the amount of time high school students spend

paying attention to female sexual body parts in dress code attire versus more revealing clothing.

My hypothesis is that modest, dress code attire clothing reduces high school students’

objectifying gaze on female sexualized body parts.



Male and female students from Marion County High School in Tennessee will make up

the sample population. All students in the school will receive the appropriate paperwork

containing the basic premise of the research and informed consent. Students must turn

in completed paperwork before they are considered for the study. Students will have a one-week

deadline to return the paperwork. Researchers will take a random sample of 150 students from

those who return the paperwork allowing their research participation. To participate, the students

must identify as a 9th through 12th grade student who is 14 to 18 years old. Students diagnosed

with mental disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, cannot partake in the

experiment. Students will not receive extra credit or other incentives for research participation.


Participants will view 20 images of a female in modest or revealing outfits. Researchers

will use a digital camera to take pictures of one teenage female in 10 modest outfits and 10

revealing outfits. Using one female will reduce confounding variables on participants’ gaze, such

as body figure, physical attractiveness, age, and race. A computer will display the images for the

participant to view. A SMI Red-M eye tracker will measure each student’s point of gaze and

gaze duration.


Prospective participants will receive take home parent permission forms, student

informed consent paperwork, and an overview of the study. This is necessary because

researchers are conducting the experiment in a high school, and some participants will be under

the legal adult age of 18. The paperwork will inform students and parents that the student has the

opportunity to participate in research on school dress code. It will also notify them that students

will not leave the school premises to participate in the research, that participation is not

associated with any risks, that all information gathered will be confidential, that students can

cease participation at any time, and that it is not possible to link results to a specific participant.

The overview will advise parents that student participants will view images on a computer

screen, and that researchers will use eye tracking technology to measure liking through pupil

dilation. This deceit is necessary because if parents and students know that researchers will track

participant’s gaze, student’s may be more conscious of where they look while taking the study or

the parent and student may be able to determine the reason behind the study. Students chosen to

participate in the study must review and resign informed consent paperwork on the day of the

study to indicate that they still wish to participate.

Researchers will test each student individually in a computer lab at their high school.

Participants will think that they are looking at outfits that match different dress code standards

from high schools around the state. Researchers will then calibrate students to the eye tracker and

will remind participants that the eye tracker is tracking pupil dilation to measure their liking of

the outfits. Researchers will inform students to not look away from the computer screen so they

will not have to recalibrate the device. Students will view each of the twenty images one at a

time for thirty seconds. The computer will display modest and more revealing outfits in random

order to reduce the effect of presentation order on students. Once the student has viewed all

twenty images, they will complete a demographics form.

Point of gaze and gaze duration will measure the number of times and length of time that

each student looks at the chest, hips, groin, and thighs of the female for each image (Amon,

2015; Gervais et al., 2013). Researchers will record these numbers and use them to compare

differences in point of gaze and gaze duration for each image, and for modest versus revealing

outfits. Once all participants have completed the study, researchers will debrief the student

participants. They will reveal the true purpose of the experiment and explain why deceit was

necessary. Researchers will thank students for their time and participation, and will give them

contact information in case they have further questions.

Proposed Analysis

I will test my hypothesis using a t test to determine the significance of attire to high

school students’ attention to female sexualized body parts.


Amon, M. J. (2014). Visual attention in mixed-gender groups. Frontiers in Psychology, 5(1569).

doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01569

Bernard, P., Gervais, S. J., Allen, J., Delmée, A., & Klein, O. (2015). From sex objects to human

beings: Masking sexual body parts and humanization as moderators to women’s

objectification. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 39(4), 432-446. doi:


Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding

women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly,

21(2), 173-206. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x

Gay, R. K., & Castano, E. (2010). My body or my mind: The impact of state and trait

objectification on women's cognitive resources. European Journal of Social Psychology,

40(5), 695-703. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.731

Gervais, S. J., Holland, A. M., & Dodd, M. D. (2013). My eyes are up here: The nature of the

objectifying gaze toward women. Sex Roles, 69(11-12), 557-570. doi: 10.1007/s11199-


Graff, K. A., Murnen, S. K., & Krause, A. K. (2013). Low-cut shirts and high-heeled shoes:

Increased sexualization across time in magazine depictions of girls. Sex Roles, 69(11-12),

571-582. doi: 10.1007/s11199-013-0321-0

Hatton, E., & Trautner, M. N. (2011). Equal opportunity objectification? The sexualization of

men and women on the cover of Rolling Stone. Sexuality & Culture, 15(3), 256-278. doi:


Raby, R. (2010). “Tank tops are ok but I don’t want to see her thong” Girls’ engagements with

secondary school dress codes. Youth & Society, 41(3), 333-356. doi:


Stone, E. A., Brown, C. S. & Jewell, J. A. (2015). The sexualized girl: A within-gender

stereotype among elementary school children. Child Development, 86(5), 1604–1622.

doi: 10.1111/cdev.12405

Zurbriggen, E. L., Collins, R. L., Lamb, S., Roberts, T. A., Tolman, D. L., Ward, L. M., & Blake,

J. (2007). Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. American

Psychological Association: Washington, DC. Retrieved from