Self-Objectification in Women: What It Means and How We Can Stop Doing It

A fascination with the female body has been prevalent throughout the ages in different cultural and geographical regions. Since the introduction of the age of social media, we’ve blamed many women for their numerous uses of filters for beauty, accusing them of conforming to unrealistic standards of beauty that perpetuate sexist standards and promote body image issues in their female followers.

An over-obsession with the female form without regard to personhood is self-objectification. Many of us are familiar with the notion that men view women as objects by engaging in actions like catcalling or pornographically engaging, but what about women who self-objectify?

What is Self-Objectification

Self-objectification is a mental process in which an individual considers themselves an object first and a human being second. This means that the person may be hypercritical of their body and other parts of their body.

The latest research published by Psychology of Women Quarterly examines the connection between how women present themselves on different social media platforms and their tendency to self-objectify. Researchers Shilei Chen and her colleagues conducted four research studies on various social media platforms, looking to confirm this relationship and possible cause.

The results show that as women are more deliberate in their self-presentation through social media, their self-objectification increases. Their research also suggested that motivation for approval could be the key factor in this connection.

Strategic self-presentation refers to altering the self to present a pleasing version of oneself to the public. Before social media, this could have been applying makeup or lying about your economic or romantic status. On social media, you can create a face, body and lifestyle that’s fake and requires users to repeat blatantly false behaviour in every interaction online.

Self-Objectification Theory

The theory of objectification could help clarify the motivations behind an effective self-presentation. The theory suggests that women who live in objectifying cultures are socialized to prioritize hegemonic femininity norms that emphasize beauty, appearance, pleasing others, and sexual appeal. Self-objectification implies that one is compelled to objectify behaviour internally instead of merely due to external pressure.

Self-objectification is viewed in two ways, as a state or trait. Self-objectification in a state is when someone is prompted to temporarily alter their appearance to satisfy women’s expectations in a particular circumstance. 

Self-objectification in the trait occurs when the urge to conform to feminine expectations is a general inclination. 

Self-objectification is known to be associated with negative mental health outcomes as well as lower cognitive performance.

It’s crucial to recognize that both genders are affected by sexual objectification, but women are more vulnerable.

Self-objectification originates from the theory of objectification, which is a theory that seeks to comprehend the impact of sexual objectification based on culture on women’s experience.

It is a reason why women are conditioned to look at their bodies according to how other people view them due to their exposure to social and environmental sexual stereotypes that exist in our culture.

Self-Objectification Exposure Theory

The theory suggests that women and girls suffer three kinds of sexual objectification exposures.

Direct comments from those around them 

Including unwelcome comments about what they look like, as well as advice regarding how they can improve their look.

Indirect communication from those in their vicinity

Like listening to conversations about the way women view their bodies or participating in a group text in which people discuss changing their body shape to look a certain way.

Media content that objectifies a woman’s body 

For example, audio, video, images and advertisements in which the face of the female model isn’t shown.

This is why women see their bodies as objects, attach their worth to their physical appearance, form expectations about what their bodies should look like according to how others view them, and then become critical of them.

How Objectifying Women leads Women to Objectify Themselves and harms Emotional well-being

What is a woman’s reaction when a man whistles at her from a distance? Perhaps a male coworker does her body a quick glance before looking at her eye? 

These scenarios may appear innocent to some. However, research has shown they could be detrimental to women’s emotional health.

Women were asked to log any instances of sexual harassment via a smartphone application and express their feelings several times a day throughout the week.

If women were subjected to sexual objectification, In many instances, they were compelled to examine their physical appearance; This adversely affected their emotional health.

Self-objectifying behaviour can include; however, they are not restricted to, Overly mirror-like photos, constant self-criticism of the appearance of oneself in reflections and photos, and comparisons to images from the media and with other women. The risk of self-objectification is that compelling research has revealed that it’s linked to various disorders, including self-consciousness, body image anxiety, depression, as well as eating disorders.

Self-objectification, in essence, is believing that one is an object first and a person second.

Chen and her colleagues attempted to clarify and confirm the relationship between self-presentation strategies and self-objectification of traits on social media. 

The initial study found women who were users of Tinder. These participants completed the Objectified Body Consciousness Scale, a measure of self-objectification. This test contains statements such as “I often worry if the clothes I wear make me look good;” Respondents evaluate these statements on a rating scale from 1- 7 (strongly disagree-strongly agree). They also took measures to gauge satisfaction motivation and an authentic and thoughtful self-presentation.

The results from this effort revealed a positive correlation between strategic self-presentation and trait self-objectification, which was mediated by approval motivation. Furthermore, the results showed a negative relationship between self-objectification and authentic self-presentation.

Study two enlisted 159 female Facebook users and reproduced the procedure used in the first study. The results were similar to the study’s. However, they did not observe a negative connection between self-objectification and genuine self-presentation. 

Study three also examined the reasons for this and analyzed self-presentation actions such as filters and editing of photos. Additionally, they discovered that the motivation for approval was the underlying motivation for self-objectification to genuine self-presentation.

The fourth and last research study invited 100 women to join an online gathering. They were asked to take the same test as the previous studies in the initial meeting. They were then asked to edit and take three selfies to create new profiles. After the editing was complete, participants were asked to show their pictures before and after editing. Then, they had to explain the changes they made to the pictures while the study kept track of their edits. This study found a slight positive correlation between participant editing behaviour and strategic self-presentation and self-objectification.

In a summary of their research in their report, the research team said, “Our findings across the initial three studies substantiated the idea that self-objectification in a trait is positively related to the strategic self-presentation behaviour on a variety of online platforms for social networking. The studies 1-3 further supported the idea that the need to be approved is a key factor in the relationship between trait self-objectification as well as strategic self-presentation in the social web.” The research offers an important insight into the ways that social media use can affect well-being.

Westernized media regularly and continuously presents images that depict females as objects. Since we are taught from the images we encounter, our exposure to such images naturally makes us concentrate on appearance, not the character and the body, rather than the individual. It’s not just films, magazines or TV which are responsible; however, social media has provided another way for women to judge their own image and each other.

A study published in the Journal Psychology of Women Quarterly, carried out by researchers from the University of New South Wales in Australia as well as in the University of the West of England in Bristol, U.K., found that young women who spent much the time using Facebook tend to be more apt to judge their appearance with other women, and to self-objectify or as the researchers put it “view themselves from an observer’s perspective and thus view their body as an object to be gazed upon.”

What drives the development of self-objectification? Everyday experiences range from being snubbed and spied upon to being subjected to the male gaze that objectifies women in popular culture and on social media. “When women are treated as objects they see their bodies through the eyes of the person who is judging them. Then, they are focused on their appearance and the value of their sexuality to other people,” Peter Koval, Elise Holland and Michelle Stratemeyer, all from the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences at the University of Melbourne, had written about it in The Conversation. Though it may seem subtle, the emotional and psychological effects of objectifying can build over time, leading to more severe psychological harm for women.

According to the study, this behaviour is rooted in the human desire to please, a typical human impulse especially evident in women. If they’re conditioned into believing from an early stage that the value of their life is correlated to their appearance – the more attractive and feminine they appear, the happier they’ll be for their family members, parents and other people of power in their lives and they begin to absorb the messages.

External objectification, then, sows the seeds of self-objectification.

Signs of Self-Objectification

There are certain situations where it’s beneficial to see yourself as a third person, like wanting to impress during an interview, appearing attractive at a wedding, or showing off your best physique during your first date. In these situations, self-objectifying behaviour is acceptable, perfectly normal, and healthy.

But, when self-objectifying behaviours are excessive, they may cause harm and negatively affect the other aspects of your life. The signs that self-objectification has turned into a problem are:

Looking in the mirror all the time

It’s normal to look at yourself whenever you are in a mirror. However, it’s not a good idea when you spend a large portion of the day focusing on your reflection. If you are looking on the other side of your mirror, you feel an overwhelming desire to repair every flaw in your body, and you are unable to turn your gaze away from the mirror. Spending time looking in the mirror can cause you to be late for occasions and hinders you from executing plans.

Taking too many selfies

The practice of taking selfies occasionally to keep your profile updated is common; however, doing it several times throughout the day or putting hours into trying to perfect a selfie can be a challenge. Self-objectification refers to obsessing over how you appear in photographs, constantly critiquing yourself, and never being completely satisfied. This can undermine confidence in yourself significantly when your confidence in your self-worth depends on the way others perceive it on social media. Your value is then influenced by external factors like the number of likes you receive, your engagement level, and the type of comments you receive on your photo.

Comparisons with others and media

The comparison phenomenon can be seen in a person and on the internet. Self-objectifying behaviour involves comparing your appearance to how your peers, strangers, coworkers, and family members appear. You believe that someone else is superior or inferior to you based on their appearance.

In this age of social media, it’s difficult to stay away from being subject to the expectations of society regarding beauty. From influencers to beauty advertisements to celebrities, you’re exposed to thousands of edited and altered photos of people and their bodies every single day. If you primarily follow accounts that post these types of images, look excessively at them, scrutinize yourself, and feel inadequate, this is an unhealthy sign of self-objectification.

Impact of Self-Objectification

While self-objectification can be seen in any gender, it is more common in women. Two reasons for self-objectification that women are prone to are direct personal experiences in their lives and the appearance standards depicted in media.

Fat talk (Body shaming)

Fat talk occurs when women comment on their body shape, weight, size, diet, exercise habits, and anything related to their physical appearance that promotes self-degradation. It’s been demonstrated that women who speak about themselves in this manner tend to struggle with self-esteem issues and body dissatisfaction. They also engage in unhealthy weight loss practices like popular diets, disordered eating and skipping meals.

Media Impact

The media portrays women’s ideal body as slim and lean. Suppose women are exposed to these unrealistic standards of beauty. In that case, this can lead to more self-consciousness, shame about the body, body anxiety, and other mental health problems.

Self-objectification makes women struggle to accept their bodies for what it is and constantly worry about their appearance. It has been proven to be linked with higher anxiety, feelings of shame, anxiety levels, decreased motivation, decreased awareness of bodily state changes, sexual dysfunction, disordered eating habits, and depression.


Read More: Is Self-Deprecation A Positive Trait Or A Harmful Behaviour?

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Read More: Self-Centered: Meaning, Causes, Signs, How to Change Yourself or Deal with One


How to Stop Self-Objectification

Feeling confident about your body is difficult when you’re constantly complaining about it. It’s not about you being an object. You are much more than a beautiful face or a well-fit body. You are a person with a distinct personality with unique experiences, hopes and aspirations. Here are a few ways to reduce self-objectification:

Be conscious of your negative self-talk.

You may be shocked to realize how often you say negative things about yourself. Break the thought process by reaffirming things you like about yourself. For example, you could say to yourself, “I am powerful, and I honour my body as it is.” It’s much easier to alter your behaviour once you know what you are saying to yourself in your negativity about yourself. Be sure your positive self-talk is real and relevant to your values and what feels most comfortable for you.

Limit unrealistic media exposure.

Check out the accounts you follow on social networks and unfollow accounts promoting unrealistic aesthetic standards for beauty and bodies. The less you are exposed to these pictures, the less likely you will be inspired to look at yourself from their lens.

Focus on what your body does for you.

You are breathing and living because of your body. Every time you take a breath, your lungs are filled up and circulate oxygenated blood. The heart circulates blood to your muscles. Your muscles enable you to move. It is an incredible interconnected system that is working for you every day. Instead of focusing on your body’s appearance, think about how it feels and what it is doing for you, and be gentle with it.

Journaling is a good option.

If you notice yourself engaging in self-objectification, record the thoughts you are having and your feelings. Also, note the time and date it happened and what was happening before you began doing this. Journaling can be a useful method to recognize patterns of behaviour to better understand your triggers, deal with challenging emotions and assist you in finding ways to manage your feelings.

Conclusion

As you work to undo the effects of self-objectification, it can be challenging, considering the years you have been internalizing these messages. Be kind to yourself and be patient; it may take time and work to minimize self-objectification. If you’re having trouble with this issue or it is affecting your everyday performance, seek professional help.

Our Bodies are Not an Image | Mary Jelkovsky | TEDxCherryCreekWomen

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