Feeling On Display

Are girls and guys judged differently when they post photos online?

Students explore the pressures many teen girls and boys face to keep up appearances online.

Students watch a video in which teens candidly discuss the atmosphere of judgement and criticism they associate with photo sharing on social network sites, and the double standard that applies to boys and girls. Students then reflect on their own experiences with photo editing, posting, commenting, and tagging – and draw connections between these experiences and broader social messages about gender.

Students will be able to ...

  • identify examples of teens evaluating one another’s photos online.
  • compare and contrast attitudes toward boys and girls regarding editing, posting, and commenting on personal photos that are posted on social network sites.
  • analyze broader gender norms and media messages that may frame the way people use and interpret photos on social network sites.

Note: This lesson centers on photos on social network sites, specifically sites that allow users to choose profile pictures and upload personal images. Before starting this lesson, you may want to take an informal survey of the kind of social media that your students use. For students who do not have social network profiles, you can ask similar questions about students’ headshots or “senior pages” in the school yearbook. Or, alternatively, have them imagine what it would be like to upload personal photos to an online profile.


Materials and Preparation

  • Review the Gender and Digital Life Teacher Backgrounder  (High School) .
  • Preview the video, “Feeling On Display,” and prepare to show it to students.
  • Copy the Video Discussion Guide Student Handout, one for every four or five students.


Teaching Plans


Warm-up (10 minutes)

ASK: On social network sites, how do you decide which picture should be your profile picture? What do you think makes a “perfect” profile picture?
If time allows, consider directing this question to female students first, then to male students. Encourage all students to describe and debate the criteria that they use to decide whether a photo is “worthy” of being a profile picture.

ASK: Who sets the standards for what is considered a “good” profile picture? Where do these standards, or ideas, come from?
Students’ answers will vary. They may have a difficult time articulating where these standards come from. Some may argue that it’s entirely a matter of personal self-expression. Some may argue that the more feedback you receive on your profile picture, the more “successful” it is.

ASK: What would happen if you posted a profile picture and you didn’t receive any “Likes” or comments on it? What would be going through your mind? What would you do?
Students may acknowledge that it feels good to receive attention from friends online. People may feel validated, flattered, and supported when they receive feedback on photos, status updates, etc., or feel neglected when they don’t.

DEFINE the Key Vocabulary term image.

DISCUSS how the two meanings of the term relate to one another. Guide students to understand that they may choose images of themselves, such as photographs on social network sites, based on the kind of image they want to present to the world.

TELL students that they are going to watch and discuss a video of teens their age having a real, open discussion about the way they and their friends manage their online images, especially with photos.


teach 1

Video Viewing and Discussion (15 minutes)

DISTRIBUTE the Feeling On Display Video Discussion Guide Student Handout, one for each student.

SHOW students Part I and Part II of the Feeling on Display” video: “Pressure” and “Judgment.”

INSTRUCT students to work in groups to answer the discussion questions for Parts I and II on their handouts.

ASK: Do people create online images of themselves? Do they try to look, act, or be viewed in certain ways? Why or why not?
Students’ answers will vary. Encourage students to discuss people’s intentions when they post a photo. Do they expect people to see and comment on it? Do they have certain people in mind that they are trying to impress when they post the photo? Why or why not?

SHOW students Part III and Part IV of the Feeling on Display video: “Comments” and “Double Standards.”

INVITE students to define the Key Vocabulary term double standard and describe how it was used in the video. Then provide the definition. (In the video, Claudia says, “There’s absolutely a double standard – in every aspect of life, I think, for boys and girls, but online absolutely.” By this she means that, given the same situation, there are different expectations for girls than there are for boys.)

INSTRUCT students to work in groups to answer the discussion questions for Parts III and IV on their handouts.

INVITE volunteers to share and debate the answers to the questions on their handouts.


teach 2

Decoding the Double Standard (15 minutes)

DISCUSS the following questions as a class:

ASK: Are girls known for posting certain kinds of photos or albums? If so, what kinds? Why do you think that is?
Answers will vary. One common belief about girls is that they are more popular when they look pretty, cute, or “hot.” Students may describe how some girls strike poses for the camera. They may also talk about “selfies”: shots that people take of themselves. Encourage students to recognize that girls often learn at an early age that their appearance is important, and that it will be scrutinized by other people.

ASK: Are there certain ideas, or social messages, that influence the kinds of photos that girls typically post? How might these attitudes affect the kinds of photo comments girls post amongst themselves?
Help students recognize that the messages we receive about how women are supposed to look and act can influence how girls treat online photos, and how they judge the online photos of others. For example, girls tend to show affection to their female friends on social network sites by complimenting the way they look in their photos (“You look adorable!” or “SO pretty!”). This doesn’t happen as much with guys.

ASK: Are boys known for posting certain kinds of photos or albums? If so, what kinds? Why do you think that is?
Students will likely say that boys are expected to appear tough, stoic, and/or popular with both girls and other guys. They may also note that boys may feel that its legitimate for them to be critical of girls’ appearance. Students should recognize that these messages come from the people they know, from the media, and from their online experiences.

ASK: Are there certain ideas, or social messages, that influence the kinds of photos that boys typically post? How might these attitudes affect the kinds of photo comments boys post amongst themselves?
Boys may be less expressive when commenting on one another’s photos, because boys are often taught that they shouldn’t show emotion and should be independent. Consider discussing where these kinds of expectations come from, and whether they could be restrictive for boys.



Wrap-up (5 minutes)

You can use these questions to assess your students’ understanding of the lesson objectives. You may want to ask students to self-reflect in writing for one of the questions; use journals or an online blog/wiki.

ASK: Are people aware of their online images? Do they try to make themeslves look certain ways? Why or why not?
Students should acknowledge that many people are indeed aware of how they look online, and how they might be perceived by others. But the time and energy people spend on shaping their online image varies.

ASK: Do we have different expectations for how girls and guys should look or act online? If so, where do we learn these attitudes? If not, why not?
Perhaps girls and guys share a similar consciousness about their online appearance. Guys, however, arguably face less outward pressure regarding feedback on how they look in photos. Students may argue that girls are judged more harshly than boys for their appearance. These ideas and attitudes stem from many sources: family, friends, the media, culture, etc.

ASK: How aware are you of how you comment on other people’s photos? Do you think this differs for guys and girls?
Answers will vary.

At-Home Activity

Have students read The New York Times blog post, “For Teenage Girls, Facebook Means Always Being Camera-Ready." Students should recognize that this article was written from the perspective of a parent. Have them explore, from a teen’s point of view, what they agree with and what they don’t.


Alignment with Standards

Common Core & NETS•S
Common Core State Standards Initiative ©2012 & National Educational Technology Standards for Students ©2007, International Society for Technology in Education

Common Core:

  • grades 9-10: RI.1, RI.2, RI.4, RI.6, RI.10, SL.1a-d, SL.2, SL.3, SL.6, L.6
  • grades 11-12: RI.1, RI.4, RI.6, RI.10, SL.1a-d, SL.2, SL.6, L.6

NETS•S: 1a, 1d, 2a, 3a-c, 4a, 4c-d, 5a-d, 6a-b, 6d