Self-Objectification

plastic-surgery-womanAre you preoccupied with your appearance? Do you think that the way you look is more important than anything else about yourself?

Self-objectification is the psychological phenomenon of seeing oneself from an outsider’s perspective, as an object to be viewed — like a painting on a wall. Self-objectification is more than a healthy attention to appearance. People who self-objectify take on a third person’s view of themselves. They consistently and carefully watch their appearance,  measuring themselves against an idealized and often unattainable standard of beauty and body image. It is more common for women to be self-objectifiers.

The Causes

Self-objectification results from an image-driven culture. It is not only the media that encourages people to see themselves as objects first, and subjects second, but their immediate surroundings. Family, friends, and strangers alike contribute to the mentality by placing priority on looks. Women, especially, learn early on that their appearance is vital to social acceptance — it determines whether they are loved or scorned.

Furthermore, in most cultures, women are shown and viewed as objects of desire, particularly male desire. Some women internalize this idea to the extent that they begin to see themselves through an outsider’s eyes, and take on the opinion that it is the primary purpose of a woman to look beautiful and attract men.

  • Relationships

For many women, relationships and love are tied to physical appearance. The better a woman looks, the more likely she is to be loved by men and be chosen for a relationship. Thus relationships can be a major cause of self-objectification in women.

A study involving young women found that thoughts of relationships can cause greater self-objectification. In single women, this effect was most clear — they were more likely to rank parts of their body as important to themselves after being presented with words about relationships.

Women who were in relationships did not respond the same way. In fact, after being presented with words about relationships, they were more likely to rank parts of their body as less important. This suggests that insecurities about relationships and ability to attract increases self-objectification.

  • Media

Much research has shown that there is a strong correlation between  level of media exposure and self-objectification. Women who regularly read magazines, watch TV, and consume other forms of media are more likely to rate their appearance as most important, and are more likely to suffer from eating disorders and depression.

The Effects

Self-objectification is said to be a cause of eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, depression, and general anxiety. People who self-objectify never truly feel happy with themselves and their appearance. Others may think they look fine, but the self-objectifier suffers from body shame and relentlessly finds fault with their looks. Because they see themselves as objects to be acted upon, some may go to extreme measures to alter their appearance to fit the ideal. Permanent physical alterations such as plastic surgery are considered a basic requirement to the severe self-objectifier. Dieting to unhealthy weights is the norm.

If you find yourself paying excessive attention to your looks, it is best to recognize this tendency for what it is. Find the roots of this behavior in yourself and stop them: quit reading so many magazines, turn off the television. If people in your immediate environment are the cause, lessen your attention to them. If not, your increasing fault-finding could develop into something more serious.

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30 thoughts on “Self-Objectification

  1. Definitely not me… I am quite the opposite. When I was younger I used to constantly forget about this and then I’d be surprised to see boys didn’t pay attention to me or that I was seen as unattractive.

    But I say it’s VERY common, at least in my culture. Extremely common. Beauty standards in my culture are so rigid and any girl who doesn’t do this is, more or less, seen as unattractive (and will have problems finding a man). So many girls and young women do it. They don’t have much money, but the little they have they spend on clothing and makeup, and they make sure they always look “perfect”, even if situation doesn’t require it.

    For example:

    Not all girls do this, of course, but the thing is, you are not considered truly feminine or attractive if you don’t.

  2. Excellent post!

    I have dealt with this issue on a personal and professional level in my work for quite some time. Meditation and yoga have helped me a great deal in overcoming the ego mind and its insidious nature. Thank you for your insight on a topic that truly needs to be addressed. The many many women with eating disorders is quite sad and scary. we have an epidemic problem, and very few are paying attention to these influential souls.

    Namaste

  3. Mira,

    Amazing. Is that how “regular” girls dress? That’s a little extreme…

    So do women in your culture have body images issues?

  4. Hi Core Connection (Piera?),

    Indeed, the number of women with eating disorders is remarkable. Some don’t realize they have one, because not eating (and overreating, as contradictory as that might seem) has become normalized.

    I’m glad you liked the post. And welcome. 🙂

  5. Amazing. Is that how “regular” girls dress? That’s a little extreme…

    Well, not all attractive girls dress like this, but many do, even in the morning/afternoon. Wearing revealing clothes and makeup seems to be the norm. Not all girls go as far as this, but let’s just say regular girls do it, too, and not just models.

    Usually, girls wear stuff like jeans and a mini top, or a mini skirt and a less revealing blouse. Some don’t wear that much makeup. But not being “trendy” in a way is a big no-no.

    So do women in your culture have body images issues?

    Yes. Even the ones who are thin think they are fat. And not just them, people around agree about it. Megan Fox is what is considered “average” when it comes to curves and weight; anything more than that is fat.

  6. Mira,

    I noticed in college that the Eastern European women were fond of mini-skirts and (obvious) make-up. It was quite peculiar. Many didn’t have the personality/outlook to match, which threw guys off.

    “Megan Fox is what is considered “average” when it comes to curves and weight; anything more than that is fat.”

    Wow.

    It must be tough to feel like you have to live up to such rigid standards. No wonder it seems like EE women either go completely with it, or go the opposite direction and become tomboy-ish.

    In the U.S. there is an unwritten rule that once you reach the double digits in dress size, you’re going into “fat” territory, but I’d say her size is still considered very thin (although some will qualify with, “but she still has breasts”).

  7. Alee,

    I am afraid many women in my culture, especially younger ones, don’t have class or knowledge how to dress. Then there’s that constant problem of not having any money. I guess many young girls don’t understand that less is more and that you don’t really have to be dressed up all the time.

    or go the opposite direction and become tomboy-ish.

    That would be me. 😀 Though I didn’t become tomboyish… I don’t think I was ever girly, not even in my early childhood.

    In the U.S. there is an unwritten rule that once you reach the double digits in dress size, you’re going into “fat” territory, but I’d say her size is still considered very thin

    Nobody in my culture would consider Megan Fox fat or overweight; however, she is not considered particularly skinny either. Just “normal” and “average”.

  8. Mira,

    My Polish friend is such a tomboy. But I think in some ways she still struggles with not being considered the “ideal” in her culture.

  9. First, who’s Megan Fox?. I could google, but can’t be arsed!
    The girl Mira posted is normal size in my opinion and Europeans, at least the ones I know, were always dressed in such revealing ways. The Brits are even more extreme. A colleague of mine wrote me an email last week decrying that her 15yr old daughter who’s tall and slim like the girl Mira posted, but without the fake tits with the nipples pointing heaven ward, loves wearing such revealing clothes. I responded that well, she has a role model in her mother who, when summer’s upon us, can wear the shortest, most revealing clothes I’ve ever seen on a 176cm tall, 100kilos woman. She has zero shame and I’ve noticed, this is typical of the Brits, irrespective of their size. Personally, the girl Mira posted is more aesthetically appealing than my colleague with her fat rolls and cellulite legs.
    I also feel like I have no valid input to make on this issue as I do avoid the media or anyone/situation that would try to undermine my self confidence and ideal of myself. I’m exceedingly protective of me, it seems, when reading/hearing of so many women with self image issues, I’ve done a fantastic job and living in my own world, as I can’t relate and actually don’t give a fig what’s considered “ideal beauty”. Wish I had big real tatas though……………back pain be darn!!!!

  10. Z’s housemate is like this. She’s Armenian and from Iran, but her family immigrated to Hollywood when she was young, and apparently Armenians in Hollywood are known for plastic surgery (both as surgeons and as the recipients). She’s had multiple plastic surgeries, mostly nose jobs and face lifts, though I don’t think they make much difference. Her younger sister, on the other hand, got the works and looks totally different. She went from unattractive to stereotypical “hot” girl, and I think Z’s housemate resents her for it. I think I would, since her hotness would be “fake”, but I wouldn’t get plastic surgery in the first place.

  11. Hot topic for sure, and very interesting views shared…

    I have a creative idea if you or anyone else was interested in pursuing this further:

    I wonder what interviewing some of the world’s ‘most beautiful’ (Beyonce, Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie, etc.) and ‘ugliest’ (Rosie O’Donnell, Janet Reno, Rhea Pearlman) to see their experiences on the issue would turn up?

  12. foosrock,

    “First, who’s Megan Fox?”

    No one important. Really. Just another “of the moment” actress.

    “The girl Mira posted is normal size in my opinion”

    I can’t really tell… but she does seem on the normal side of what is considered thin here.

    ‘I also feel like I have no valid input to make on this issue as I do avoid the media or anyone/situation that would try to undermine my self confidence…I’ve done a fantastic job and living in my own world, as I can’t relate and actually don’t give a fig what’s considered “ideal beauty”.’

    I always got that impression from you.

    “Wish I had big real tatas though…”

    …So you do care? 🙂

    Lol, just kidding.

  13. Jasmin,

    “Z’s housemate is like this. She’s Armenian and from Iran, but her family immigrated to Hollywood when she was young, and apparently Armenians in Hollywood are known for plastic surgery (both as surgeons and as the recipients).

    I mean, not saying any names…

    *cough* Kardashians *cough*

    🙂

    ‘Her younger sister, on the other hand, got the works and looks totally different. She went from unattractive to stereotypical “hot” girl, and I think Z’s housemate resents her for it. I think I would, since her hotness would be “fake”, but I wouldn’t get plastic surgery in the first place.’

    It’s an interesting issue — where do you draw the line in calling someone whose had so many surgeries “beautiful” or “hot”? Is it really something to commend that someone had enough money and connections to find the best plastic surgeons?

    This is why I don’t know about most female celebrities… the vast majority of them have had something done. I used to want to be a plastic surgeon and I volunteered at a plastic surgeon’s office for a bit so I have a good “surgery” eye, plus it’s just obvious when you lo0k at old photos of them. When we applaud people like Halle Berry, Megan Fox, etc as symbols of beauty, what we’re really saying is that even if you’re not born ideally beautiful, just become that way, at any cost. It only creates more self-objectification.

  14. Hi spiritsentient 🙂

    “I have a creative idea if you or anyone else was interested in pursuing this further:

    “I wonder what interviewing some of the world’s ‘most beautiful’ (Beyonce, Aishwarya Rai, Angelina Jolie, etc.) and ‘ugliest’ (Rosie O’Donnell, Janet Reno, Rhea Pearlman) to see their experiences on the issue would turn up?”

    Hmmm… the former list of women would probably rate much higher on self-objectification. Considering that Beyonce, for example, has had a cocktail of procedures to produce her look, I’m pretty certain she’s no stranger to the self-objectification mindset.

    Not that I consider any women particularly “ugly”: it’s simply that some women don’t care to try or don’t know how to work with their looks. If Rosie O’Donnell had been thinner, and with a surgery or two, I bet she’d have been considered a beautiful, or at least attractive, woman.

  15. You know, a question: Who on this earth is rating what’s beautiful or not?. Isn’t this in the eye of the beholder?. Oh, und die Media kann mich am Arsch lecken!. I want yours and your readers opinions. I find Angelina Jolie yummy, but that’s mostly because she’s, in my opinion, photogenic and I admire to the max her social consciousness, plus she just seems to give us the finger…..constantly. It’s like she’s saying: “I’m playing by my own rules, even if I somewhat need you!”. So hot. Makes her bloody sexy in my eyes. Beyonce knows how to play the camera (I watch her on youtube when I get drunk and love her girliness). She comes across as knowing what to do to make the $, but she’s definitely NOT a Tina Turner. She’s still caught up in a lot of insecurity(this generation of women?). At least that’s what I’m reading when I give a fig about analysing her and am not too inebriated.
    Man, I so want to spin some Spiel about being yourself and all, but I know how important it is to feel good about ourselves. Just think what those women have to go through though to accomplish some ideal. Do you want that sort of life?. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!. I’m surprised more of them aren’t committing suicide. The pressure to stay young and skinny!. Heavens, NO!. I feel more pity for (regular, ie, non-entertainers) women who’re caught up in this and wish I could help them realise and accept nature and gravity. Saying all this, on the other spectrum, it’s really not pretty to see a women just letting it all go, ie, hanging breast (really, there are very very good bras out there!!), not taking care of her skin or body. It’s actually rather easy and inexpensive if you give a fig. I’d be interested to share my “secrets” with anyone. I drink worse than a sailor (and think cursing is an art form like my mum’s Irish ancestors!), but I jog to counter the weight I might put on from drinking and I also get a yearly organ check, drink tons of water (Have to. Drinking dehydrates! lol). Ok, I’ve exaggerated a bit with the drinking, but I do love it sometimes, like today(a friend I’ve worked with and have known for 3yrs proposed, I turned him down and today he came to my desk and made a scene!!!!!. I feel soooooo, dunno!!), so if I’m not making sense……….Just don’t understand why this issue( perception of beauty ideal) constantly comes up. I mean it’s normal that women pay more attention to their looks. I think the issue is more that because of technology, now we know how some young girl in Timbuktu feels and is affected by this perception of beauty( be it her dieting to fit some ideal), and advance medical procedures to suck away fat, smooth out wrinkles and hair extensions and this has become some issue to be constantly spinned on the website.(not criticising this blog entry, Alee ,as I read about this beauty ideal on the few blogs I visit and I just don’t get it!) .

    Anyways, am off for a jog. Gotta work of the shock of what happened to me today at work!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!.

  16. foosrock,

    “You know, a question: Who on this earth is rating what’s beautiful or not?”

    Everyone…

    Of course beauty is highly subjective, but that doesn’t stop people from thinking there is some objective standard for it, and pushing that standard. And therein lies the problem.

    “and think cursing is an art form like my mum’s Irish ancestors!”

    Your mother has Irish ancestors?

    “a friend I’ve worked with and have known for 3yrs proposed, I turned him down”

    You get a proposal every other week. Lol.

    “Just don’t understand why this issue( perception of beauty ideal) constantly comes up. I mean it’s normal that women pay more attention to their looks.”

    It’s definitely “normal” in the sense that it’s seen as what the average woman does. But that doesn’t mean it can’t become unhealthy. It undoubtedly does. The variety of physical and psychological effects are undeniable.

    I plan on writing more posts on aspects of the beauty ideal in the future, so if you’re tired of it, well… oh well. 🙂

    If you’re the kind of woman who isn’t affected by these sorts of issues, then it makes sense that you wouldn’t understand why these things need to be discussed. I wouldn’t say that I’m majorly affected by beauty standards since for the most part, I can fit into them. But there are many more women who are affected.

  17. “I plan on writing more posts on aspects of the beauty ideal in the future, so if you’re tired of it, well… oh well”.
    Oh no, that’s so not what I meant. TALK, BLOG, TALK, BLOG. PLEASE!. There’s obviously a need, it’s just, I’m thinking, I should feel this what your generation and younger are going through, but I don’t and I obviously need to understand why. So….BLOG about it. I trust you more than most to bring a perspective that will click with me. Also do write about the different spectrum when it comes to black women and their weight. That’s also a very very dire situation, being fat and obese and thinking it’s normal, while dying at 40yrs from the effects.

    ” Your mother has Irish ancestors?”
    Yes, but if you see her or I (just the two of us in the whole family) you wouldn’t know. My Dad’s 1/2 East Indian too!!. My siblings have the perfect blend and I came out looking like my mum. I’m also the last…..

    Wish I was propositioned (oops, you meant proposed, no?) more by my type, but alas………

    Love your blog Alee. Didn’t go jogging. My limbs hurt like heck as I overdid it yesterday trying to prove to this really cute jogger that I could keep up with him!!. See, I also have this perception………..

  18. foosrock,

    “TALK, BLOG, TALK, BLOG. PLEASE!”

    Oh, I will. 🙂

    Self-objectification is probably less of an issue for older women (not calling you “old”), but it can be for them too, as they try to keep up what they once had or still be considered attractive in the midst of younger women. Self-objectification has been as issue for generations of women dating back centuries, from what I can tell, even though the actual term is more recent. Beauty standards change rapidly, but women’s striving to meet them doesn’t as much.

    The black women and weight issue I haven’t even been thinking of covering. There are lots of blogs that do cover that, especially BWE blogs, so I didn’t want to go there again, especially since it ruffles lots of feathers.

  19. “The black women and weight issue I haven’t even been thinking of covering. There are lots of blogs that do cover that, especially BWE blogs, so I didn’t want to go there again, especially since it ruffles lots of feathers”.
    Sorry, there will NEVER be ENOUGH blogs to cover this very dire issue. I DON’T GIVE A HOOP HOW MANY FEATHERS ARE RUFFLED: BLACK WOMEN NEED TO KNOW IT’S NOT A GOOD LOOK!!!.

  20. foosrock,

    Lol. I agree that it can’t be said enough; it’s important in many ways. I will think about covering it, but probably not any time soon.

  21. When I was 13, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and saying to myself “God did not give you anything in the looks department, so you have to make the most of your intellect and social skills”. So I spent all my time refining those areas and I think my skills are top notch in those areas. But I see now that I effectively divorced myself from my body; bless my little 13 year old self! As I got older, something was amiss, and I finally figured out my body is the divine home for your soul, and that caring for it through exercise, pampering, and adorning is just want the doctor ordered.

  22. Hi Alee! Thanks for the welcome 🙂 I love it.

    What you’ve offered feels to me like some good theories, and good speculation, perhaps I’ll hunt down some quotes from the ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’.

    I’m pretty sure Rosie O’Donnell is happy with her life, friends, fam, relationships and success. I’d imagine her body has served her and continues to serve her well. Would she like to change it? Possibly. Can she? Certainly.

    Rhea Pearlman, super accomplished actress, looking to me personally, beautiful in this dress and smile. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/9/9a/Rhea_Perlman_%281988%29.jpg/200px-Rhea_Perlman_%281988%29.jpg

    Society labels and rates and judges, but as someone else in this thread said, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Rhea has 10 Emmy nominations, she’s married to the hilarious and accomplished Danny Devito, and I gather they see each other as beautiful. I`m under the impression that her family and friends and fans all see her as a beautiful light, gift and performer for the world. Many others (MANY) others… consider her ugly.

    Like you, I am speculating, which is why I think it’d be great to hear directly from these women.

    Even better, what would you wager that these successful ‘beautiful’ people and successful ‘ugly’ people, get along, love each other, and see way past physical appearance if they were put into a room together or met at a party?

    Beyonce, meet Janet Reno,
    Angelina, this is Rosie,
    Aishwarya, Rhea.

    @Sherry:
    Absolutely miss, absolutely. Fantastic outlook, and I feel blessed to have read it.

    @Everyone: Amazing discussion, fantastic thread!

  23. Sherry,

    ‘When I was 13, I remember looking at myself in the mirror and saying to myself “God did not give you anything in the looks department, so you have to make the most of your intellect and social skills”. ‘

    Oh no. 😦

    I don’t think anyone should just forget all about their appearance and think of themselves as unattractive. That can’t be very healthy either, unless you do not care about the physical, which is hard to do in our society.

    “I finally figured out my body is the divine home for your soul, and that caring for it through exercise, pampering, and adorning is just want the doctor ordered.”

    It truly is.

    Glad to hear it. 🙂

    SpiritSentient,

    I think you’re quite right that it’s all about happiness. As long as you personally feel comfortable and love your body, and you are happy with your life, that’s really all that matter.

    I don’t know about the “beauties” being best buddies with the “uglies” though…

  24. Amen.

    And well… we may be surprised, the successful people of the world often tend to be able to appreciate, see value, and remain accepting of others. I gather that it to relates to how they became successful in the first place – being open to true connection with any other fan or human being who may help them. Rhea Perlman has a lot to offer, as does Rosie, as does Janet 🙂

    Who knows though, maybe one day that party will take place 😀

  25. I used to be and then went to an extreme (moved to an environment where the average person was highly attractive — actually I believe it was the factor that triggered a self objectifying mindset and also took it to an extreme) and developed body dysmorphic disorder and anxiety. It was a nightmare existence, hands down the worst period of my life….I actually hated people for awhile for how much currency they put in looks but I got over it and learned to not treat people like crap because they weren’t considered attractive by society.

    Now, I get the currency that looks play in society and I’ve accepted it and moved on. Sometimes I care, sometimes I don’t. The times I care, it can be healthy or unhealthy….same thing with when I don’t….at the end of the day, I still wish looks didn’t matter so damn much.

  26. Hi df, welcome. 🙂

    I’ve read about BDD and I believe you when you say it was a nightmare experience. Even reading about it sounds terrible; like you’re trapped in your own body. It’s self-objectification on an entirely new level.

    Glad you’re now in a better place. Appearance matters on some level, but it shouldn’t run your life.

  27. Thanks Alee! I really appreciate that. Just wanted to say that I really, really, really like your blog. Your posts are diverse, interesting and thought provoking and so are the comments! I’m glad I found it!

  28. *blushes* df, thanks.

    I’m glad you like the blog. Feel free to stop by any time and make yourself at home. 🙂

  29. hello, I am doing a research paper on self-objectification and I was wondering if you could give me the study of relationship insecurity leading to more self-objectification?
    Anyways, I’ve read through your blog posts and love what you are doing! I think more people need to be aware of how media affects how women view themselves. It’s sad that pornographic images are normalized in the media these days.

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