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When looking 'hot' means not feeling cold: Evidence that self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold


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Self‐objectification, the internalization of an observer’s appearance‐based perspective of one’s body, has been theorized and demonstrated to reduce body awareness among women. In this field study, we propose self‐objectification as the mechanism to explain the oft‐observed phenomenon where women wearing little clothing appear unbothered by cold weather, positing that self‐objectification obstructs women’s feelings of cold. We surveyed women outside nightclubs on cold nights, assessed self‐objectification, and asked participants to report how cold they felt. Anonymous photos were taken and coded for amount of skin exposure. We hypothesized that self‐objectification would moderate the relationship between clothing coverage and reports of feeling cold. Our hypothesis was supported: women low in self‐objectification showed a positive, intuitive, relationship between skin exposure and perceptions of coldness, but women more highly focused on their appearance did not feel colder when wearing less clothing. These findings offer support for the relationship between self‐objectification and awareness of bodily sensations in the context of a naturalistic setting. We discuss implications of these findings, and also consider limitations, an alternative explanation, and directions for future research.
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British Journal of Social Psychology (2021)
©2021 The British Psychological Society
When looking ‘hot’ means not feeling cold:
Evidence that self-objectification inhibits feelings of
being cold
Roxanne N. Felig
*, Jessica A. Jordan
, Samantha L. Shepard
Emily P. Courtney
, Jamie L. Goldenberg
Tomi-Ann Roberts
Department of Psychology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA
Department of Psychology, Colorado College, Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA
Self-objectification, the internalization of an observer’s appearance-based perspective of
one’s body, has been theorized and demonstrated to reduce body awareness among
women. In this field study, we propose self-objectification as the mechanism to explain the
oft-observed phenomenon where women wearing little clothing appear unbothered by
cold weather, positing that self-objectification obstructs women’s feelings of cold. We
surveyed women outside nightclubs on cold nights, assessed self-objectification, and
asked participants to report how cold they felt. Anonymous photos were taken and coded
for amount of skin exposure. We hypothesized that self-objectification would moderate
the relationship between clothing coverage and reports of feeling cold. Our hypothesis
was supported: women low in self-objectification showed a positive, intuitive, relationship
between skin exposure and perceptions of coldness, but women more highly focused on
their appearance did not feel colder when wearing less clothing. These findings offer
support for the relationship between self-objectification and awareness of bodily
sensations in the context of a naturalistic setting. We discuss implications of these
findings, and also consider limitations, an alternative explanation, and directions for future
From corsets to shapewear, from foot binding to stilettos, standards for women’s
appearance have prioritized beauty over comfort. Far from protesting these painful
fashion trends, women themselves are often their most vehement supporters. Today, a
prominent example of enduring discomfort for the sake of fashion is seen in cities around
the world, where even on winter nights, many women expose more of their body than
they cover when out for an evening of fun. This phenomenon has earned the ‘Geordie
girls’ of England known for donning skimpy outfits on below freezing nights notoriety
for their imperviousness to cold weather (Bazley, 2010). Recent photos of ‘Geordie Girls’
wearing mini-dresses in temperatures of 10°F(12°C) went viral (Brennan, 2019),
prompting the question, ‘Aren’t they cold?’ Given that women are not naturally immune
to cold weather, we considered whether this phenomenon has a psychological
*Correspondence should be addressed to Roxanne N. Felig, Department of Psychology, Universityof South Florida, 4202 E. Fowler
Avenue, Tampa, FL, 33606, USA (email:
In a culture that prioritizes women’s physical attractiveness over all other aspects (i.e.,
an objectifying culture), women commonly self-objectify by internalizing an observer’s
perspective on their bodily selves. In doing so, women view their body as an object that
exists for the pleasure of others, rather than an entity to experience subjectively. While
self-objectification adaptively allows women to anticipate how others will perceive them
and adjust accordingly, theorists have proposed and examined a variety of detrimental
consequences and downstream effects, from feelings of shame, anxiety, and depression to
sexual dysfunction and disordered eating (for reviews, see Moradi & Huang, 2008;
Roberts, Calogero, & Gervais, 2018).
One lesser-examined postulate of objectification theory suggests that as women take
an observer’s perspective of their body (i.e., the more they self-surveil), their awareness of
bodily sensations may be reduced (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). When women self-
objectify, they continuously monitor their appearance rather than their internal physical
experiences (Kahalon, Shnabel, & Becker, 2018). Because continuous body surveillance
consumes cognitive resources needed to recognize subjective experiences (Winn &
Cornelius, 2020), it follows that women would be left with a diminished ability to attend to
their bodily sensations. This study tested self-objectification as a mechanism responsible
for the muted awareness of bodily sensation demonstrated by Geordie girls and canonized
by a quote from the iconic rapper Cardi B ‘a ho never gets cold’.
Self-objectification, gender, and body awareness
Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) posits that repeated experiences in
which the body is viewed as an object by others or by one’s self may diminish women’s
ability to access and appraise bodily cues. That is, as women attend to their appearance,
fewer cognitive resources are available to focus on other stimuli or demands. Indeed,
when self-objectifying, women’s performance on a Stroop task, math test, and sustained
attention task is impaired (Gervais, Vescio, & Allen, 2011; Guizzo & Cadinu, 2017; Quinn,
Kallen, Twenge, & Fredrickson, 2006), suggesting that self-objectification interrupts
cognitive processing (Winn & Cornelius, 2020). Given that self-objectification usurps
attentional resources, attending to how the body looks may leave fewer attentional
resources for assessing how the body feels.
Indeed, women higher in trait self-objectification report feeling less connected to their
body (Piran et al., 2020), demonstrate less attention to bodily processes such as
recognizing when they are running a fever or are tired (Daubenmier, 2005), have difficulty
recognizing hunger cues (Tiggemann & Williams, 2012), and struggle to recognize and
describe their own emotions, compared with women lower in self-objectification (Myers
& Crowther, 2008). Behavioural assessments of body awareness corroborate the evidence
provided by these self-reports. For example, the ‘rubber hand illusion’ is a task that can
create artificial body sensations: an individual’s own hand is placed out of sight, and
replaced with a prosthetic hand. The individual watches the prosthetic hand being
touched, creating an illusion in which some individuals ‘feel’ the fake hand being touched
(Botvinick & Cohen, 1998). Eshkevari, Rieger, Longo, Haggard, and Treasure (2012) found
that women higher in trait self-objectification experience the rubber hand illusion more
strongly than do women lower in trait self-objectification, suggesting that self-
objectification renders women less accurate at identifying their own bodies and bodily
sensations. Similarly, in a heartbeat recognition task commonly used in body awareness
research, where the number of heartbeats that participants report feeling is compared
with the actual number of heartbeats recorded by an EKG, higher trait self-objectification
2Roxanne N. Felig et al.
is associated with less accurate heartbeat detection among women (Ainley & Tsakiris,
Evidence that women are less accurate than men at identifying physiological signals
such as heart rate, blood pressure, stomach contractions, and blood glucose levels
(Grabauskait _
e, Baranauskas, & Gri
skova-Bulanova, 2017; Pennebaker & Roberts, 1992), is
also consistent with the position that self-objectification can disrupt body awareness (i.e.,
women self-objectify more than men, Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Together, there is
strong evidence that self-objectification can impair access to cognitive and attentional
resources, which in turn may inhibit women’s body awareness. Many of these studies,
however, used measures of body awareness and laboratory settings that were limited in
their ecological validity. The present research sought to affirm the relationship between
self-objectification and body awareness within the context of a naturalistic, real world
Current study
Can the mystery of women seemingly unbothered by cold weather be explained then by
women’s self-objectification? To the extent that focusing on how one’s body looks
disrupts access to internal cues about one’s bodily state, we hypothesized the affirmative.
We posited that women high in self-objectification should have a diminished capacity to
feel cold, regardless of how much of their body is exposed to the cold weather. In contrast
to previous methods that rely on artificial scenarios, we tested this hypothesis with a field
study, surveying women out on cold nights in a neighbourhood known for nightlife. Self-
objectification was measured with a body surveillance scale (McKinley & Hyde, 1996),
and women reported how cold they felt. We took photos of participants’ outfits, which
we later coded for skin exposure, and recorded the actual temperature. We predicted a
positive, intuitive relationship between skin exposure and reported feelings of being cold
(e.g., Stevens & Marks, 1979; controlling for temperature) for women low in self-
objectification but expected no significant relationship between these variables for those
high in self-objectification.
We needed a sample of 98 people for a regression analysis to detect moderation with three
predictors (skin exposure, self-objectification, skin exposure 9self-objectification
interaction) and three covariates (actual temperature, subjective level of intoxication,
prior drinks consumed) to identify a medium-sized effect (f
=.15) with power set to
0.80. We oversampled due to potential for a high degree of missing data or inattention,
which we anticipated due to the nature of conducting a field study. Over the course of five
weekend nights throughout the month of February, we surveyed 224 women in a large
city in the Southeast United States in a part of the city known for its nightlife. After
excluding participants who did not complete the full questionnaire or completed the
items with no variability (e.g., marking every response as ‘3’) our final sample included
185 women (M
=22.27, SD
=5.76). Participants identified as White (59.4%),
Hispanic (14.4%), Black (13.4%), Asian (4.3%), Middle Eastern (2.1%), Bi-racial (2.1%),
Native American (1.1%), and Other (1.1%), and predominantly heterosexual (66.3%),
Self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold 3
followed by bisexual (14.4%), lesbian (9.6%), and other (2.1%). See Table 1 for descriptive
Self-report measures
We measured trait self-objectification using the eight-item Surveillance subscale of the
Objectified Body Consciousness Scale (Mckinley & Hyde, 1996, see also Moradi & Varnes,
2017), which measures the extent to which a woman thinks about how her body looks,
rather than how it feels. Sample items include ‘During the day I think about how I look
many times’ and ‘I think more about how my body feels than how my body looks’ (reverse
scored), with responses on a six-point Likert-type rating scale, ranging from ‘strongly
disagree’ to ‘strongly agree’. Items were averaged so that higher scores indicating higher
self-objectification (a=.69).
Participants also indicated how cold they felt on a six-point scale from ‘not at all
cold’ to extremely cold’. To control for how cold it actually was, the temperature was
recorded by a research assistant on each participant’s survey after it was completed
using a phone application provided by The Weather Channel. We reasoned that
intoxication level might independently predict feeling less cold, and so the question-
naire also asked participants to report how many standard drinks they had consumed,
operationalized as 12 oz of beer (355 ml), 5 oz of wine (148 ml), or 1 shot, on a scale
from ‘0’ to ‘8 or more’, and how intoxicated they felt on a 6-point scale of ‘not at all
intoxicated’ to ‘extremely intoxicated’, as potential control variables. Demographic
information was collected at the end of the survey, including height and weight (in
order to calculate BMI).
In order to assess skin exposure to the cold, each participant was asked for consent to take
an anonymous, full-body photograph of their outfit. Participants held their survey (with an
identification number) in front of their face as to ensure their anonymity, and the researcher
tooka photograph ofthe front andback of theiroutfit. Images wereindependently codedby
the researcher and an undergraduate research assistant based on whether the following
body parts were exposed: arms, shoulders, legs, chest, back, midriff, and toes (i.e., open-
toed shoes); and if the participant was not wearing a jacket, or had large rips or tears in their
pants (which would expose significant skin, even if they were technically wearing pants).
Participants received either a ‘1’ or a ‘0’ on each criterion, with ‘1’ indicating the body part
was exposed and ‘0’ indicating it was not. These were summed to create a composite sco re
for each participant, where higher numbers indicate more skin exposed (see Figure 1 for a
sample image and corresponding coding scheme). Inter-rater reliability was computed
using a two-way mixed effect, absolute agreement reliability analysis to produce an intra-
class correlation coefficient (ICC) estimates and 95% confident intervals using SPSS
statistical package version 25 (SPSS Inc, Chicago, IL). The ICC for inter-rater reliability was
Due to the nature of this field study, where participants completed our survey outside a nightclub, potentially intoxicated, and
distracted, we also analysed the data after excluding participants with contradictory responses to more than one pair of items (i.e.,
‘I think more about how my body feels than how my body looks’ and ‘I am more concerned with what my body can do than how it
looks’). This brought the sample size down to 169 and scale reliability up to =.75. The results were consistent with those
All materials, data, and syntax have been made public on the Open Science Framework: =
4Roxanne N. Felig et al.
very good (.90, 95% CI [0.85, 0.93]), and any discrepancies were judged by the Principal
Investigator. For any participants who declined to have their photo taken (n=2),
researchers made note of which criterion they met at the time of surveying.
Institutional Review Board approval was attained prior to data collection. Over the course
of five unseasonably cold weekend nights throughout the month of February, between 9
PM and 12:30 AM, the researchers and a team of undergraduate research assistants
surveyed women in a popular area of town known for its nightlife in a large city in the
Southeastern United States. The Principal Investigator was present for each night of data
collection, with other researchers alternating their assistance. At minimum, there were
two researchers present and at maximum there were four. All researchers were women,
and all wore cold-weather clothing (e.g., coats, pants, hats ). Participants were approached
if they appeared to be participating in nightlife (e.g., waiting in line or standing with a
group outside of a nightclub or bar) and were asked to take a brief one-page survey about
women’s fashion in return for a glow-in-the-dark bracelet. We re-visited the same
establishments each night of data collection and stayed within the same three city blocks
to maintain consistency. Before beginning the survey, participants were also informed
that participation included an anonymous photograph of their outfit and that the survey
and photograph were both voluntary. Upon completing the survey, participants held the
survey sheet in front of their face so as to anonymize themselves, with their participant ID
facing the researcher. The researchers took photographs of participants’ outfits, recorded
the true outside temperature on their survey using an online weather application, thanked
them for their time, and distributed glow bracelets as compensation. All procedures were
approved by our institutional IRB, who deemed no deception was being used and
categorized the study as exempt. As no variables were manipulated, and considering
participants were at minimal risk, the IRB did not require that we debrief participants.
Table 1. Correlations and descriptive statistics
Variable 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
1. Self-objectification
2. Skin exposure .31***
3. Feeling cold .07 .13
4. Temperature .14 .12 .16*
5. Intoxication .12 .12 .10 .03
6. Drinks consumed .03 .06 .14 .11 .67***
7. Age .30*** .38*** .12 .25*** .12 .01
8. BMI .10 .21** .09 .15*.04 .02 .24**
Mean 3.75 3.06 3.39 52.51°F
2.30 2.49 22.27 24.35
SD .93 1.95 1.36 3.61 1.41 2.34 5.76 5.08
Skew .15 .32 .15 .24 .95 .76 2.62 1.13
Kurtosis .29 .54 .42 1.66 .08 .30 8.13 1.30
Note.*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. N=187 for all variables except for intoxication and cold for
which N=186, and age for which N=183.
Self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold 5
Descriptive statistics and correlations were computed for all primary variables of interest
and are reported in Table 1. The average outside temperature during data collection was
52.51°F (11.39°C), ranging from 46°F (7.78°C) to 58°F (14.44°C). These temperatures are
considered quite cold for the area of data collection, which has an average annual high
temperature of 82°F (27.78°C) and an average annual low temperature of 65°F (18.33°C;
US Climate Data, 2020). The average reported level of intoxication was 2.30 on a scale of 1
to 6 (a score of 6 being ‘8 or more’ alcoholic drinks), and participants reported having an
average of 2.49 drinks that night. On average, participants reported being moderately cold
(M=3.39 on a 1 to 6 scale), and the average score of self-objectification was 3.75 (also on
a 1 to 6 scale).
Self-objectification and skin exposure were positively correlated, r=.31, p<.001.
Thus, we investigated the distribution of skin exposure among women above and below
the mean level of self-objectification to ensure our sample was not simply composed of
women high in self-objectification exposing significant skin and women low in self-
objectification exposing very little skin. Although women low in self-objectification
typically showed less skin (as indicated by the correlation), there was a sizeable portion of
women low in self-objectification scoring 4 and up on our assessment of skin exposure
ranging from 0 to 8 (27% of participants). Further, among women high in self
objectification, the majority scored 4 or below on the skin exposure scale (51.5%).
We hypothesized that self-objectification would moderate the relationship between
skin exposure and how cold women reported feeling. Specifically, we predicted that for
women low in self-objectification, there would be a positive relationship between skin
exposure and feeling cold, but for women higher in self-objectification this relationship
Figure 1. Sample photo of a participant’s outfit with redacted ID number. Note. The above participant
received a score of ‘7’ on the skin exposure variable for meeting the following criteria: open-toed shoes;
no jacket; arms, shoulders, legs, chest, and midriff exposed.
6Roxanne N. Felig et al.
would not be observed. We used Hayes (2013) PROCESS macro (Model 1) to examine the
interaction of self-objectification and skin exposure on how cold women felt. The
variables were mean centred to reduce multicollinearity (Iacobucci, Schneider, Popovich,
& Bakamitsos, 2017) and moderation values were produced at the mean and at one
standard deviation below and above the mean. When mean centred, the VIF for all
predictors, as well as the interaction term, were close to 1 (all under 1.15), which suggests
that multicollinearity is not an issue in the interpretation of the interaction. We included
the temperature at the time of data collection as a covariate as it was significantly and
expectedly correlated with feeling cold (see Table 1).
The moderation model was significant, F(4,181) =2.91, R=.25, R
=.06, p=.02,
supporting our hypothesis (See Figure 2). Whereas skin exposure (p=.16), and self-
objectification (p=.93) were not significant predictors of feeling cold, the interaction
between skin exposure and self-objectification was significant, b=.11, t
(181) =2.11, p=.04, 95% CI [0.22, 0.01], and the addition of the interaction term
was a significant change to the model, F(1,181) =4.46, p=.04, DR
=.02 (Table 2). A
simple slopes analysis shows that at one standard deviation below the mean level of self-
objectification (in this case 0.94 units below the mean of 3.75) the relationship between
skin exposure and how cold women report feeling was positive and significant, b=.18, t
(181) =2.47, p=.01, 95% CI [0.04, 0.32], indicating that for women low in self-
objectification, as amount of skin exposure increased, they reported feeling colder. This
relationship tapered off and was no longer significant for the mean level of self-
objectification, b=.07, t(181) =1.40, p=.16, 95% CI [0.03, 0.18], and as predicted,
for women one standard deviation above the mean level of self-objectification, there was
no relationship between skin exposure and feeling cold, b=.03, t(181) =0.43,
p=.67, 95% CI [0.18, 0.11].
Examining the Johnson-Neyman significance regions, the positive relationship
between skin exposure on perception of coldness is significant only for women who
scored a 3.43 or lower on the measure of self-objectification, which corresponds to .32
units below the average level of self-objectification, b=.11, t(181) =1.97, p=.05, 95%
CI [0.00, 0.22] (Figure 3). These results suggest that only women low in self-
objectification demonstrate a correspondence between how much clothing they are
wearing and how cold they feel (i.e., more skin exposure predicts greater coldness). As
self-objectification increases, even at the mean level in our sample, this association
weakens and becomes non-significant.
We repeated the analyses controlling for number of drinks consumed and level of
reported intoxication, which we had anticipated might affect perception of coldness, as
well as age and BMI, which have been demonstrated to correlate with temperature
perception (Harju, 2002; Jung, Kim, Park, & Lee, 2016). None of these were significant
covariates and the interaction remained significant and demonstrated the same pattern
with these variables in the analysis, b=.13, t(172) =2.27, p=.02, 95% CI [0.24,
0.02] (See Table 3). Conditional effects of this additional regression analyses show the
same pattern as the preliminary analysis; at low levels of self-objectification, there is a
significant, positive relationship between amount of skin exposure and self-reported
coldness, b=.20, t(172) =2.43, p=.02, 95% CI [0.04, 0.36]. This pattern does not hold
at the mean, b=.07, t(172) =1.30, p=.20, 95% CI [0.04, 0.19], or at one standard
Self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold 7
deviation above the mean of self-objectification, b=.05, t(172) =0.61, p=.55, 95%
CI [0.20, 0.10].
Feminist theorists and researchers have long argued that the societal emphasis placed on
women’s appearance contributes to a set of psychological experiences whereby women
are reduced to the status of objects, not only from the perspective of others but also in the
way they view themselves (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Women are enculturated to self-
monitor, paying close attention to the scrutiny of their body from others, and, in so doing,
self-objectify. This external focus is related to a number of consequences (e.g., shame and
anxiety), and as our study demonstrates, a disconnect from one’s bodily states.
In this first ever study translating this phenomenon to women’s lived experiences
through observation in a naturalistic setting, we found that women who are more highly
focused on their appearance show no relationship between how little clothing they are
wearing and their reported feelings of being cold on a cold night out. These findings
suggest that to the extent women self-objectify, they increasingly lose access to their own
physical experiences. In contrast, women low in self-objectification showed a positive,
and intuitive, relationship between their clothing and feeling cold: the more skin they
exposed, the colder they felt (e.g., Stevens & Marks, 1979). Notably, women at the mean
level of self-objectification also lacked a relationship between skin exposure and cold
perception, suggesting that a disconnect from bodily sensations is not an issue solely for
women high in self-objectification, but may also be the case for the average woman out for
a night on the town.
Figure 2. Conditional effects of skin exposure on feeling cold as a function of self-objectification. Note.
All continuous variables are mean centred.
The regression analysis was conducted without covariates, and the interaction remained significant, demonstrating a pattern
consistent with reported analyses. Additionally, the analysis was conducted treating race and sexual orientation as additional
covariates (in addition to true temperature, BMI, age, intoxication, and drinks consumed), and the interaction remained
significant, demonstrating a pattern consistent with reported analyses. Race and sexual orientation were not significant covariates.
8Roxanne N. Felig et al.
Consideration of consequences
This study provides evidence for the role of self-objectification in women’s appraisals of
their bodily states specifically, how cold they feel in relation to the amount of clothing
they wear and illustrates where this may be of practical significance to women’s
everyday (or every night) experiences. Although the women in our study were at little risk
for hypothermia (with a low temperature of 46°F, 7.78°C), women in colder clima tes (e.g.,
the ‘Geordie girls’ of northeast England and others like them) may indeed be at risk. More
generally, our findings speak to a broader issue of a lack of body awareness, which has a
wide range of consequences.
Table 2. Regression values predicting feeling cold, controlling for actual temperature
Predictor btp95% CI
(Intercept) 6.00 (1.45)*** 4.13 .0001 [3.14, 8.87]
Skin exposure .07 (.05) 1.40 .16 [0.03, 0.18]
Self-objectification .01 (.11) .08 .93 [0.23, 0.21]
Skin showing *Self-objectification .11 (.05)*2.11 .04 [0.22, 0.01]
Temperature .05 (.03) 1.76 .08 [0.10, 0.01]
Note.*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. N=186
Figure 3. Johnson-Neyman significance regions for the conditional effects of skin exposure on feeling
cold as a function of self-objectification. Note. At a 95% confidence level, the effect of skin exposure on
feeling cold is significant and positive when self-objectification 3.43.
Self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold 9
Of particular concern is that our participants were patrons of night-clubs, where
women are at increased risk for sexual assault (where alcohol is involved, rates of sexual
assault increase; Graham et al., 2014). High self-objectifying women participating in
nightlife with alcohol may be less able to identify how inebriated they are or recognize
being slipped a drug like GHB (the ‘date rape’ drug, which has effects including delayed
heart rate and sedation; American Addiction Centers, 2021). If women’s access to their
bodily sensations is inhibited, they may miss subtle physiological cues that warn of
potentially threatening situations (Friedman & F
orster, 2010), which poses serious
consequences for safety.
More generally, exposure to the cold aligns with a myriad of behaviours in which
women risk bodily harm for the sake of appearance. The corset, which caused Victorian
women to faint from restricted airflow (Boston Globe, 1893), has made a recent comeback
for women (Bateman, 2020), along with other restrictive clothing and shapewear meant
to slim, while defining and enhancing curves. Wearing high-heeled shoes similarly is
associated with long term damage to the feet (e.g., Zeidan et al., 2020), in addition to pain.
Recently, tattooed makeup (another painful procedure) has become a popular aesthetic
practice, despite risks of infection and lesions (U.S. Food & Drug Administration, 2020;
Vagefi et al., 2006). Moreover, more women than ever are electing to have cosmetic
surgery (American Society of Plastic Surgeons, 2020), a quite literal example of enduring
physical pain to enhance one’s looks, and intentions to undergo such procedures has been
associated with self-objectification among women (Calogero, Pina, & Sutton, 2014). Our
research adds an interpretation to such observations: If self-objectification renders
women insensitive to discomfort associated with appearance-motivated choices,
engagement in such behaviours may reflect more than simply calculated sacrifices for
the sake of beauty, but instead a kind of numbing to real and lasting bodily harm
accomplished by their own self-objectification.
Strengths, limitations, alternative explanation, and future research
To our knowledge, this study is the first to directly address objectification theory’s
postulate that self-objectification impairs body awareness in an ecologically valid setting,
Table 3. Regression values predicting feeling cold, controlling for intoxication variables, age, and BMI
Predictor btp95% CI
(Intercept) 6.18 (1.54)*** 4.01 <.001 [3.13, 9.22]
Skin exposure .07 (.06) 1.30 .20 [0.04, 0.19]
Self-objectification .004 (.12) .03 .97 [.23, 0.23]
Skin exposure *
.13 (.06)*2.27 .02 [0.24, 0.02]
Temperature .04 (.03) 1.44 .15 [0.10, 0.02]
Intoxication .02 (.10) .18 .86 [0.21, 0.18]
Drinks .09 (.06) 1.43 .15 [0.20, 0.03]
Age <.0001 (.02) .001 .999 [0.04, 0.04]
BMI .01 (.02) .50 .62 [0.05, 0.03]
Note.*p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001. N=181.
10 Roxanne N. Felig et al.
and to investigate the widely recognized phenomenon of women seeming unfazed by
considerable skin exposure on cold nights. Rather than assigning women to complete
unfamiliar tasks in a laboratory setting, we observed women’s clothing decisions and
assessed their self-objectification in a self-chosen environment, allowing for greater
generalizability of results, and serving as a testament to how and when this process
actually affects women. Indeed, we and others (e.g., Fine & Elsbach, 2000; Weick, 1979)
contend that utilizing field studies in conjunction with lab experiments bolsters the
generalizability, and ultimate confidence in, social psychological effects. Given that
previous research has demonstrated a relationship between women’s self-objectification
and body awareness, the current findings provide increased confidence that this
phenomenon effects women not only under strictly controlled conditions but also within
their lived experiences, which is where, arguably, the impact of this phenomenon is most
Furthermore, although this study revealed a small effect size, the present finding is still
impressive when considering the lack of experimental control inherent to our
methodology. Cohen (1988) contends that effect sizes and percent changes in variance
must be appraised as a function of the context in which they are embedded. Indeed,
Prentice and Miller (1992) assert that the impressiveness of an effect ought to be
contingent upon the methodology rather than the magnitude, stating that small effects
from non-manipulated contexts should be held as equally or even more meaningful than
larger effect sizes from experimental designs and that strong evidence for an effect is
present when the effect emerges with little to no manipulation. Additionally, the results
were unaffected by the presence of covariates (level of intoxication, BMI, age, race, and
sexual orientation), suggesting a strong effect that persists despite individual and
situational differences.
However, the lack of laboratory control comes with limitations. The correlational
nature of this study does not allow us to draw causal inferences between self-
objectification and reported feelings of coldness, which future research should address.
Given that the self-objectification measure was completed while some women may have
been keenly aware of their appearance (e.g., if they were out to attract the attention of a
potential sexual partner, or as a result of knowing they were being photographed), we
may have captured state, rather than trait, self-objectification. This may explain why
women at the mean in our sample (3.75 on a six point surveillance scale) showed no
significant association between skin exposure and feeling cold, as was expected for high
self-objectifiers. Only women who scored 3.43 or lower on self-objectification showed a
positive relationship between skin exposure and perception of coldness. To the extent
that self-objectification may have been heightened by the situation, it is not clear how
these specific results translate to other settings with a less explicit focus on women’s
appearance (e.g., in a classroom or work environment).
While individuals differ in thermal sensitivity, physiological research suggests that the
magnitude of cold sensation depends on the size of the thermal stimuli, such that the
amount of skin exposed to cold stimuli predicts the magnitude of cold sensation felt (i.e.,
‘spatial summation’, Stevens & Marks, 1979), and this occurs independent of skin type
(e.g., hairy, non-hairy) and sensitivity to cold pain (Defrin, Sheraizin, Malichi, & Shachen,
2011). Given the fairly normal distributions of skin exposure and self-reported coldness
among women both above and below our mean level of self-objectification, one would
expect that sensitivity to cold is randomly distributed as well, and thus would not expect
to see differences as a function of self-objectification. And yet, our interaction pattern
Self-objectification inhibits feelings of being cold 11
emerges; thus, these findings likely do not reflect a simple variation in temperature
Additionally, due to our sample size, we were not adequately powered to explore
group differences by demographics (e.g., race/ethnicity or sexual orientation). To the
extent that women of colour and sexual minorities are evaluated differently by society
(e.g., Buchanan, Fischer, Tokar, & Yoder, 2008; Hill & Fischer, 2008) and thus may
experience self-objectification differently from White women and heterosexual women
it is possible our results may be further moderated by demographic differences. Future
research is needed to explore this possibility.
Finally, because self-report measures are subjective, we cannot rule out the possibility
that women felt cold but simply denied it, for any reason, including justification for their
outfit choice. While it is possible that participants were intentionally being duplicitous,
this seems unlikely, as participants would have needed to be aware of the specific
hypothesis (that only high self-objectifying women would not feel cold in response to skin
exposure), and motivated to disprove it. A more compelling explanation is that high self-
objectifying women were motivated to deny being col d, even to themselves. That is, when
attention and energy are devoted to one’s appearance, but come at a cost of feeling
discomfort, this could create cognitive dissonance. To alleviate the psychological
discomfort of this contradiction, women may engage in attitude change and simply decide
that they are not uncomfortable, or in this case, cold (e.g., Elliot & Devine, 1994). This
motivation may have been stronger for women high in self-object ification, thus offering an
alternate explanation for our findings. Women high in self-objectification demonstrate
greater sensitivity to appearance-related commentary, even when the commentary is
positive, as compared with women low in self-objectification (Calogero, Herbozo, &
Thompson, 2009). Thus, by asking women about their outfit choice and then asking them
to report how cold they feel, it may have created a sense of judgment or criticism,
especially for women high in self-objectification, and therefore an additional motivation to
defend their outfit choice by denying feeling cold.
Notably, it also may be that what begins as an unwillingness to admit discomfort, over
time, becomes an inability to feel discomfort. Just as suppression of hunger cues is both a
symptom of and a pathway to disordered eating, indicating that repeated suppression of
an important bodily cue can result in a loss of the ability to recognize that cue (Jacquemot
& Park, 2020), it is possible that repeatedly suppressing physical discomfort for the sake of
appearance leads to an actual inability to recognize discomfort. To tease apart the
unwillingness versus inability to report feeling cold, future research could complement
this ecologically valid field study with laboratory research that measures cold perception
more directly, perhaps employing a cold pressor task (e.g., Mitchell, MacDonald, &
Brodie, 2004).
Notably, even if the results are explained, or explained in part, by self-objectifying
women denying they feel cold, they have important implications for gender inequality and
women’s lived experiences, given that oppression historically involves socialized self-
silencing of the oppressed (Fanon, 1961). Thus, the alternative explanation that self-
objectifying women are downplaying uncomfortable physical sensations is by no means
trivial. Still, more research is necessary to continue to pinpo int the exact mechanism(s) for
our findings.
12 Roxanne N. Felig et al.
In this research, we addressed the social phenomenon identified in the outset of this
paper, where even in the dead of winter, scantily clad women head out for a night on the
town wearing weather-insufficient clothing. Our findings provide the first direct evidence
that self-objectification underlies this phenomenon. We offer an explanation rooted in a
disconnection from one’s bodily sensations, caused by focusing on external appearance,
suggesting that as women monitor their appearance, they lose access to their first-person
bodily sensations and experiences. Although more research is needed to determine
whether the results are attributable to diminished awareness per se, or a motivated denial
of coldness, this work provides the first scientific exploration of why in a sexually
objectifying culture, for many women, looking ‘hot’ means not feeling cold.
Conflicts of interest
We have no known conflict of interest to disclose.
Author contribution
Roxanne Nai’a Felig: Data curation (equal); Formal analysis (equal); Investigation
(equal); Methodology (equal); Project administration (equal); Supervision (equal);
Writing original draft (equal); Writing review & editing (equal). Jessica A. Jordan:
Investigation (equal); Methodology (equal); Writing original draft (equal); Writing
review & editing (equal). Samantha L. Shepard: Investigation (equal); Methodology
(equal); Writing original draft (equal); Writing review & editing (equal). Emily P.
Courtney: Investigation (equal); Writing original draft (equal); Writing review &
editing (equal). Jamie L. Goldenberg: Conceptualization (equal); Methodology (equal);
Supervision (equal); Writing original draft (equal); Writing review & editing (equal).
Tomi-Ann Roberts: Conceptualization (equal); Resources (equal); Supervision (equal);
Writing original draft (equal); Writing review & editing (equal).
Data availability statement
All measures, data, and syntax are available on the Open Science Framework,
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Received 5 January 2021; revised version received 15 July 2021
16 Roxanne N. Felig et al.
... There, association studies are often combined with the mechanistic studies in order to confirm causation. For example, Felig et al. (2022) were interested in whether self-objectification prevents women from feeling cold. Their study found an association, and they identified a range of evidence of mechanisms (pp. ...
... While seven may seem a lot of status levels, more levels allow for finer discrimination. There is some evidence that judgements are improved by offering a greater ability to discriminate (see, e.g.,Felig et al., 2022). ...
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... Therefore, from the perspective of the objectification theory, self-objectification would cause decreased interoception. Subsequent studies have constantly provided evidence for this viewpoint [3,30,88]. ...
... Besides, the recent field study also provided evidence that self-objectification would contribute to reduced interoception. For example, Felig et al. [30] surveyed women outside nightclubs on cold nights. In this field study, researchers assessed these women's self-objectification and asked them to report how cold they felt. ...
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... This may inform future studies on photo behaviors on social media. The findings of the present study are also in line with the recent research indicating that a state of self-objectification is likely to result with a temporary "alienation" from the self; in a study by Felig et al. (2022), self-objectification inhibited the feeling of being cold in women wearing very little clothing. However, as the "escape from self" was never directly measured in the present study, future studies should include a measure that corresponds to this theoretical construct, to come up with more definitive conclusions. ...
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This paper provides an organizing framework for the experimental research on the effects of state self-objectification on women. We explain why this body of work, which had grown rapidly in the last 20 years, departs from the original formulation of objectification theory (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997). We compare the different operationalizations of state self-objectification and examine how they map onto its theoretical definition, concluding that the operationalizations have focused mostly on one component of this construct (concerns about one's physical appearance) while neglecting others (adopting a third-person perspective and treating oneself as a dehumanized object). We review the main findings of studies that experimentally induced state self-objectification and examined its affective, motivational, behavioral, cognitive, and physiological outcomes. We note that three core outcomes of this state as specified by objectification theory (safety anxiety, reduced flow experiences, and awareness of internal body states) have hardly been examined so far. Most importantly, we introduce an integrative process model, suggesting that the reported effects are triggered by four different mechanisms: appearance monitoring, experience of discrepancy from appearance standards, stereotype threat, and activation of the “sex object” schema. We propose strategies for distinguishing between these mechanisms and explain the theoretical and practical importance of doing so.
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The Objectified Body Consciousness Scale (OBCS) is a prominent measure of key constructs in the body image literature. Despite the impact and popularity of the OBCS, however, investigations of its factor structure have been limited. To our knowledge, the present study is the first since the instrument’s development 20 years ago to provide a detailed evaluation of the replicability of the factor structure of OBCS data in a sample of U.S. college women, the population for which the measure was originally developed and is used most frequently. Specifically, we used confirmatory factor analyses to evaluate the structure of OBCS data and identify areas for measure refinement. Internal consistency reliability and convergent validity were also examined. A sample of 368 U.S. college women completed the OBCS along with measures of body esteem and thin-ideal internalization as convergent validity indicators. Findings revealed that OBCS Control Beliefs items were poor indicators of the factor. A two-factor structure composed of Body Surveillance and Body Shame was supported. Support for internal consistency reliability and convergent validity was also garnered. Additionally, abbreviated versions of the Body Surveillance and Body Shame subscales produced good model-data fit without sacrificing reliability or validity. These results support the use of the OBCS Body Surveillance and Body Shame subscales to assess critical aspects of body image in research and practice contexts; the abbreviated versions of these subscales can address demands for brevity in these contexts.
The construct of embodiment captures a broad range of experiences of living in the body. The present program of research involved developing and evaluating a fully structured measure of the experience of embodiment construct, the Experience of Embodiment Scale (EES), via four independent samples of women. Study 1 (N = 92) provided initial support for the internal consistency and convergent validity of the EES. Study 2 (N = 412) involved factor analyses of the EES, leading to the emergence of 6 factors, reflecting different aspects of the experience of embodiment. Further, this study supported the internal consistency of the EES and its subscales, as well as its construct and discriminant validity. As expected, the EES correlated with measures of body- and self-esteem, body connection, sexual assertiveness, among other measures, and did not correlate with the Perfectionism Personal Standards Scale. Study 3 (N = 348) confirmed the factor structure of the scale from Study 2. Study 4 (N = 76) demonstrated that EES scores were stable over a 3-week period. The EES can be used by researchers and clinicians interested in capturing individuals’ range of experiences of living in their bodies, both positive and negative.
Interoception is involved in both somatic and mental disorders with different prevalence between genders; however, gender differences are often neglected. To examine the potential gender differences in interoceptive awareness, we recruited 376 healthy subjects (51% males, aged 17-30years), to fill in the Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA). Of that sample, in a subgroup of 40 subjects (50% males), interoceptive accuracy was assessed by heartbeat counting task (HCT). The results on interroceptive awareness suggest that females tendto notice bodily sensations more often, better understand relations between bodily sensations and emotional states, worry or experience more emotional distress with sensations of pain or discomfort and see body as less safe. The results of interoceptive accuracy further suggest that females are less efficient in consciously detecting heartbeats. Therefore, gender should be considered when interoceptive evaluation is performed in disorders associated to bodily sensations and to the emotional/mood states.