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Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women's Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks

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This article offers objectification theory as a framework for understanding the experiential consequences of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body. Objectification theory posits that girls and women are typically acculturated to internalize an observer's perspective as a primary view of their physical selves. This perspective on self can lead to habitual body monitoring, which, in turn, can increase women's opportunities for shame and anxiety, reduce opportunities for peak motivational states, and diminish awareness of internal bodily states. Accumulations of such experiences may help account for an array of mental health risks that disproportionately affect women: unipolar depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders. Objectification theory also illuminates why changes in these mental health risks appear to occur in step with life-course changes in the female body.
... Few studies have explored factors contributing to women's increasing alcohol consumption and associated consequences. One potential gender-relevant factor is self-objectification or the perspective toward the self where the body is primarily valued for its appearance and sexual appeal (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). In the current study, we investigated the link between self-objectification and young adult college women's alcohol use as well as alcohol use prior to casual sexual activity or "hooking up." ...
... Objectification theory may offer a unique gendered perspective for examining young adult women's alcohol use (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). This theory posits that women live in a culture in which their bodies are valued for their appearance and sexual appeal. ...
... As somatic tension has been found to be associated with uncomfortable sexual intercourse and a lack of vaginal lubrication (Eaton et al., 2015), young adult women with heightened self-objectification may consume alcohol prior to hooking up to reduce tension and prevent these associated negative sexual consequences. In support of this notion, evidence suggests that body surveillance, which is considered a behavioral manifestation of self-objectification (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997), is a predictor of women's drinking before sexual activity (Littleton et al., 2005). Furthermore, as self-objectification leads women to value their bodies as sexualized objects (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997), young women with heightened self-objectification may drink before engaging in casual sexual activity not only to reduce anxiety and tension but to enhance feelings of sexual confidence so that they may "perform" for their sexual partners. ...
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Few studies have explored factors contributing to women’s increasing alcohol consumption and associated consequences. One potential gender-relevant factor is self-objectification or the perspective toward the self where the body is primarily valued for its appearance and sexual appeal (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). In the current study, we investigated the link between self-objectification and young adult college women’s alcohol use as well as alcohol use prior to casual sexual activity or “hooking up.” In addition, we examined novel explanatory (i.e., sexual self-esteem, body consciousness during sexual activity, alcohol sexual enhancement expectancies) factors in predicting young adult college women’s drinking behaviors via a parallel-serial multiple mediation model. We recruited participants (N = 518; 85% White, 74% heterosexual) via a psychology department human research pool and Facebook advertisements to complete an online survey. Results revealed that self-objectification was positively correlated with alcohol use and alcohol use prior to hooking up. In addition, self-objectification was indirectly related to alcohol use through sexual self-esteem and alcohol sexual enhancement expectancies, as well as indirectly related to alcohol use prior to hooking up through alcohol sexual enhancement expectancies. None of our theorized three-stage mediation chains linking self-objectification to alcohol use behaviors were significant. These findings highlight the potential negative role of self-objectification in women’s health and the importance of focusing on alcohol sexual enhancement expectancies in intervention strategies.
... Body image is a combination of the thoughts and feelings that we have about our body which influenced by internal and external factors. The theory of self-objectification has been proposed as an explanation for the dissatisfaction with body image in obese women (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997;Slater & Tiggemann, 2002). According to this theory, women have gradually learnt that their body shape is a criterion for their judgement. ...
... According to this theory, women have gradually learnt that their body shape is a criterion for their judgement. The failure to achieve the optimal body shape result in the feeling that they are not attractive to their spouse; they thus become less interested in having sexual relations (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Furthermore, selfobjectification is not within a woman's control; small numbers of women are able to avoid contexts that may be potentially objectifying (Slater & Tiggemann, 2002). ...
... The second potential social psychological theory that may shine light on the 'baby brain' effect is Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) objectification theory. There is also a plethora of research which shows how cognitive performance suffers when gendered group membership is made salient via an objectification manipulation. ...
... There is also a plethora of research which shows how cognitive performance suffers when gendered group membership is made salient via an objectification manipulation. Objectification theory suggests that due to the implicit sense of body inspection that exists in modern society, women are constantly socialised by society to view themselves as more object-like and thus less human (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Self-objectification refers to when this objectification is internalised by women which manifests behaviourally as a preoccupation with physical appearance, body shame, and appearance anxiety (Fredrickson et al., 1998). ...
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The colloquial concept of ‘baby brain’ suggests that throughout pregnancy and into the immediate postpartum period, women have reduced cognitive abilities and are more distracted, forgetful, and incompetent. To date, a plethora of cognitive and neuropsychological research testing the cognitive functioning of pregnant women relative to other groups has yielded inconsistent and unclear findings. However, there is a notable lack of literature that adopts a social psychological perspective, critically assessing the contribution of social context to the ‘baby brain’ phenomenon. In this paper, we review the current ‘baby brain’ literature and outline two potential social perspectives that provide insights into this research area: stereotype threat theory and objectification theory. We argue that inconsistencies in the ‘baby brain’ cognitive literature may be impacted by under‐explored social phenomena, which may result from activation of stereotypes or objectifying cues throughout pregnancy and into early new motherhood. We end with suggestions for future social and personality psychological research directions in the area of ‘baby brain’.
... It is women's physical outlook that becomes the object of male desire. Objectification is a complex process in which women themselves may also end up internalising their exclusion and beginning to self-objectify by treating themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated based on appearance (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1990). Finally, the joke identifies and more importantly engrains 'makeup, lots of creams, sexy perfumes' as feminine attributes and fails to appreciate anything else beyond these surface concerns. ...
... (Peter & Valkenburg 2007: 381) Elsewhere the focus has been on the impact of a variety of cultural practices on women themselves and an attempt to explain 'the behaviors and attitudes [that] contribute to women's negative body experience'. But it was the work of Barbara L. Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts that came to provide the most commonly used theoretical framework for objectification (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) with an 'objectification theory' firmly focused on sexual objectification (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997: 173) and 'physical appearance'. ...
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Published in MAI: https://maifeminism.com/rethinking-objectification/ In 2020 Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s Summer hit WAP entered Billboard’s Hot 100 at No. 1. The song’s unapologetically bawdy lyrics were amplified in an accompanying video which caused some critics to lose their minds. ‘Wet Ass Pussy’ had, one claimed, ‘set the entire female gender back by 100 years’. (Lorraine 2020) Another noted that the song had made him ‘want to pour holy water in [his] ears’. (Bradley 2020) Russell Brand asked whether WAP was a ‘Feminist Masterpiece or Porn?’ and, after musing on contemporary feminism, concluded ‘It’s still ultimately a sort of capitalist objectification and commodification of, in this case, the female.’ (Brand 2020) Objectification, treating a person as an object or a thing, has become a key term in debates about the sexual and gendered politics of contemporary culture. In particular, it is used as shorthand for sexist practices of media representation in activist, popular and academic commentary alike. Concerns are raised about music videos and advertisements dehumanising women as agentless eye-candy, selfie-shooters self-objectifying themselves and pornography objectifying women as lumps of more or less willing flesh. In this article we examine the origins of the notion of objectification and its uses in feminist scholarship and activism from the 1970s to the current day. We argue that the term presents serious problems for understanding sexual representation, sexual attractiveness, performances of ‘sexiness’, sexual agency and, indeed, sexism. While holding obvious appeal as a means of critiquing gendered relations of power, the notion of objectification is pervasive in its reach and influence but elusive in its application, and is largely used in ways that make feminist and queer critiques less effective than they could, or need, to be. What space remains for sexual self-representation if all sexy representation is seen to be negative?
Article
Objective: Self-objectification is linked to disordered eating (DE) behaviors in women. However, the awareness of objectification by the self and others, not just the objectifying experiences themselves, may be differentially related to DE. The proposed study examines the development and validity of the Conscious Objectification Questionnaire (COQ), which seeks to evaluate awareness of objectification by others and intentional self-objectification. Method: In Study 1, 24 participants who identify as women (≥18 years) will provide qualitative feedback on COQ items, and survey items will be updated based on participant feedback. In Study 2, separate participants will complete the COQ and questionnaires assessing DE, self-objectification, and mental health correlates. Exploratory factor analyses will be conducted on the COQ, and reliability and convergent and divergent validity will be assessed. Results: Results will clarify whether the COQ is a reliable and valid instrument that measures the distinct construct of awareness of objectification. Discussion: If proven psychometrically sound, the COQ may be useful for future research on the link between awareness of objectification and disordered eating. Public significance: The novel Conscious Objectification Questionnaire (COQ) assesses the degree to which women recognize and act upon being objectified. The COQ will be reviewed by self-objectification experts and pilot participants before being psychometrically evaluated with data from a larger sample. The COQ is expected to differentially relate to disordered eating above and beyond existing self-objectification measures and accurately represent the distinct construct of conscious awareness of societal and self-objectification.
Article
Smoking-related weight control expectancies are a motivational factor for maintaining cigarette use, particularly among women. Yet, less research has investigated the physiological and behavioral daily life weight-related experiences of women with smoking-related weight control expectancies. Increased research could contribute to understanding of maintenance factors for this group of smokers as well as unique intervention targets. Female smokers completed a baseline survey of smoking-related weight control expectancies and 35-days of ecological momentary assessment of physiological (i.e., smoking-related reduction in hunger, end-of-day perceived weight gain and bloating) and behavioral (i.e., daily exercise and sitting) weight-related experiences. Higher smoking-related weight control expectancies were associated with perceived smoking-related reductions in hunger and end-of-day perceived weight gain. Smoking-related weight control expectancies did not significantly associate with end-of-day bloating, daily exercise, or sitting. Given these findings, smoking-related weight control expectancies may maintain smoking in order to reduce hunger and to cope with perceived fluctuations in weight in daily life. It is critical for smoking cessation programs to assess smoking-related weight control expectancies and implement targeted treatments for these women.
Article
A growing amount of empirical evidence shows that sexual objectification can be elicited within the context of romantic relationships, leading to adverse consequences for women's well‐being. However, most of this research assessed women's self‐reported perceptions of being objectified by their romantic partner, while scant and not converging research has considered men's objectifying perceptions toward their romantic partners. Furthermore, little is known about the underlying mechanisms through which partner‐objectification is associated with negative consequences for women. To fill these gaps, we involved a sample of heterosexual couples (N = 196) and investigated whether men's partner‐objectification would be related to women's self‐objectification (in terms of self‐surveillance) and, in turn, their body shame. Further, we examined whether self‐objectification and body shame mediated the relation between men's partner‐objectification and women's undermined life satisfaction. Confirming our hypotheses, serial mediation analyses showed that partner‐objectification was associated with life satisfaction in women via the indirect effect of self‐objectification and body shame. Implications of these findings for literature on sexual objectification and relationship satisfaction are discussed. Please refer to the Supplementary Material section to find this article's Community and Social Impact Statement.
Article
Objectives This study aimed to investigate the association between depressive symptoms and diet- and lifestyle-related behaviors among adolescents. Study design Cross-sectional study. Methods Our study used stratified random cluster sampling method to recruit 6,251 adolescents aged 11–19 years as samples for research and analysis. The Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale was used to assess depressive symptoms. Chi-squared test, t test, and logistic regression were used to explore the diet and lifestyle factors of depressive symptoms. Backpropagation (BP) neural network model was used to investigate the ranking of diet and lifestyle behaviors factors of depressive symptoms. Results The prevalence of depressive symptoms among adolescents was 32.1%. Multivariable logistic regression was used to determine 10 important variables of depressive symptoms. After ranking the importance by BP neural network, the top three important variables were found, which were sleep duration (100%), screen time (49.1%), and breakfast (23.6%). Conclusion Sleep duration, screen time, and breakfast were associated factors with the most significant impacts on depressive symptoms.
Article
Attributing negative outcomes to prejudice and discrimination may protect the mood and self-esteem of some stigmatized groups. Thus, the overweight may be low in self-esteem because they blame their weight, but not the attitudes of others, for negative outcomes based on their weight. In an experiment, 27 overweight and 31 normal weight college women received either positive or negative social feedback from a male evaluator. Relative to other groups, overweight women who received negative feedback attributed the feedback to their weight but did not blame the evaluator for his reaction. This attributional pattern resulted in more negative mood for these overweight women in comparison with other groups. Dimensions of stigma that may account for differences in the tendency to attribute negative outcomes to prejudice, and implications of these findings for weight loss programs and psychotherapy for the overweight, are discussed.
Article
Evidence is presented showing that body fat distribution as measured by waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is correlated with youthfulness, reproductive endocrinologic status, and long-term health risk in women. Three studies show that men judge women with low WHR as attractive. Study 1 documents that minor changes in WHRs of Miss America winners and Playboy playmates have occurred over the past 30-60 years. Study 2 shows that college-age men find female figures with low WHR more attractive, healthier, and of greater reproductive value than figures with a higher WHR. In Study 3, 25- to 85-year-old men were found to prefer female figures with lower WHR and assign them higher ratings of attractiveness and reproductive potential. It is suggested that WHR represents an important bodily feature associated with physical attractiveness as well as with health and reproductive potential. A hypothesis is proposed to explain how WHR influences female attractiveness and its role in mate selection.
Book
The publication of this volume at this time appears particularly auspi­ cious. Biological, psychological, and social change is greater during the pubertal years than at any other period since infancy. While the past two decades have witnessed a virtual explosion of productive research on the first years of life, until recently research on adolescence, and particularly on puberty and early adolescence, has lagged substantially behind. This book provides encouraging evidence that things are changing for the better. Considered separately, the individual chapters in this book include important contributions to our growing knowledge of the biological mechanisms involved in pubertal onset and subsequent changes, as well as of the psychological and social aspects of these changes, both as con­ sequences and determinants. In this regard, the book clearly benefits from the breadth of disciplines represented by the contributors, includ­ ing developmental endocrinology, adolescent medicine, pediatrics, psy­ chology, and sociology, among others.
Book
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.