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.
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.
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.
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.
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.