Self-Objectification (Part 2)
In Part two let’s focus on self-objectification.
According to Calogero (2013), “self-objectification occurs when the objectifying gaze is turned inward, such that women view themselves through the perspective of an observer and engage in chronic self-surveillance.”
Female self-objectification can best be defined as “regular exposure to objectifying experiences that socialize girls and women to engage in self-objectification, whereby they come to internalize this view of themselves as an object or collection of body parts” (Kroon & Perez, 2013, p. 16)
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) postulated that self-objectification can increase women’s anxiety about physical appearance (i.e., fear about when and how one’s body will be looked at and evaluated); and increase women’s opportunities for body shame (i.e., the emotion that results from measuring oneself against a cultural standard and coming up short).
The media influences (dictates) to society what is sexy or desirable in a man or woman’s body. For example:
Men are expected to have small waists, wash-board abs, muscular arms, hairless chests and a large thick penis.
Women are expected to have small waists, full pert breasts, shapely legs with a thigh gap, a round firm ass, smooth skin, thick luxurious hair, full lips and exotic eyes.
In her book Femininity and Domination: Studies in the phenomenology of oppression
Sandra Bartky (1990) describes a time where she was made a victim of objectification:
“It is a fine spring day, and with an utter lack of self-consciousness, I am bouncing down the street. Suddenly I hear men’s vices. Catcalls and whistles fill the air. These noises are clearly sexual in intent and they are meant for me; they come from across the street. I freeze. As Sartre would say, I have been petrified by the gaze of the Other.
My face flushes and my motions become stiff and self-conscious. The body which only a moment before I inhabited with such ease now floods my consciousness. I have been made into an object. While it is true that for these men I am nothing but, let us say, a “nice piece of ass,” there is more involved in this encounter than this mere fragmented
perception of me. They could, after all, have enjoyed me in silence…I could have passed
by without having been turned to stone. But I must be made to know that I am a “nice piece of ass”: I must be made to see myself as they see me.
Sexual objectification means that women are widely seen as sex objects for male sexual pleasure. This objectification occurs in two areas:
(1) interpersonal or social encounters, and
(2) media exposure.
Interpersonal or social encounters include catcalls, checking out/ staring at, or gazing at women’s bodies, sexual comments, and harassment.
Media exposure spotlights women’s bodies and body parts while depicting women as the target of a non-reciprocated male gaze. (Calogero, Tantleff-Dunn, & Thompson, 2011).
Female self-objectification has many consequences, including eating disorders, which are associated with depression. According to National Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (2013), up to 24 million people of all ages and genders suffer from an eating disorder. This site also reports that 5% of American females believe in a body type ideal, commonly described as “petite” (Eating, 2013).
While this might not seem like a large enough number to create concern, data show that 47% of girls in the 5th- 12th grade report wanting to lose weight because they compare themselves to idealized magazine photographs, and 69% of girls in the 5th-12th grade report that such images influence their idea of a “perfect” body shape (Eating, 2013). This paper will address the ways that women are objectified, the negative consequences of self-objectification and ways to prevent it.
Franzoi (1995) writes that “there are two basic ways of thinking about one’s body that have a particular relevance to a discussion of gender differences in body esteem. One way is to view the body as an object of discrete parts that others aesthetically evaluate, and the other is to conceptualize it as a dynamic process where function is of greater consequence” (Franzoi, 1995, p. 417). The vast majority of people tend to view the female body in terms of its form, rather than function, and “it is this aspect of the physical self that influences people’s first impressions and forms the basis for the physical attractiveness stereotype”
Self-Objectification: Contributing Factors Media Influences.
With respect to how self-objectification is influenced by media, Aubrey (2006) states that, “the relationship between the body and sex is unambiguously portrayed in contemporary media, and conforming to a thin body ideal is crucial to sexual attractiveness” (p. 366). Tolman and Debold (1994) agree, stating that a thin female body is associated with success and power. All of this communicates to women that their
bodies are important commodities that can influence life experiences (Muehlenkamp & Saris-Baglama, 2002). The thin body ideal refers to the European concept of a slender female with a small physique and little body fat. “Thin-body ideal occurs as a result
of social pressure to attain a lean figure, placed on individuals by the media, family, peers, and interpersonal encounters” (Stice & Shaw, 1994, p. 289).
The media displays this through messages in popular magazines, films, and television. For example, “in magazines, weight loss messages are often placed next to messages about one’s sex life, implying that weight loss will lead to a better sex life,” while “on television shows, women are judged as romantic or sexual partners based on their appearance” (Aubrey, 2006, p. 366-367).
In a longitudinal study, Aubrey (2006) examined the long-term relationship between media habits and self-objectification, and whether media exposure increases self-objectification, or whether self-objectification drives the selection of sexually objectifying media. She found that “exposure to sexually objectifying television programs is associated with an increase in viewers’ definition of their physical selves in terms of how the body appears, rather than what it can do” (Aubrey, 2006, p. 381).
This occurs through frequent and repeated exposure to television programs, soap operas, talk shows, music videos, and advertising. From this study, Aubrey (2006) concluded that how long someone is exposed to sexually objectifying messages is less damaging than how frequently such messages are viewed over time.
Franzoi (1995) writes that “starting at a young age, from Barbie dolls and toy makeup cases, girls are encouraged to play with, to the close attention given to clothing fashion and other bodily adornments, females are taught that their body as object is a significant factor in how others will judge their overall value” (p. 418). These messages are conveyed by important socializing agents such as parents, peers, and teachers. Typically, gender role socialization includes heavy emphasis on how girls/women should look, and if this is overemphasized, girls may continually seek reassurance about their appearance to make sure they are socially accepted and not subject to ridicule or rejection.
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) find that self-objectification can lead not only to depression, but also to body shame and eating disorders. They state that “women’s ongoing efforts to change their body and appearance through diet, exercise, fashion,
beauty products, and perhaps most dangerously, surgery and eating disorders, reveal what may be a perpetual and hardly adaptive body-based shame, which results from a fusion of negative self- evaluation with the potential for social exposure” (p. 181).
Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) find that body shame arises from “not knowing exactly when and how one’s body will be looked at and evaluated can create anxiety about potential exposure. Data further show that women’s appearance anxiety may have roots in negative early life social experiences, including histories of receiving negative appearance-related comments” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997, p. 182).
Lastly, they state that “eating disorders are passive, pathological strategies, reflecting girls’ and women’s lack of power to more directly control the objectification of their
bodies” (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997, p. 192). Two feminist thoughts that support this are that women’s concerns with dieting and weight control reflect their normative discontent toward their bodies, and that women view eating disorders as a political
statement of protest against the patriarchal system (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997, p. 192).
Female self-objectification can also lead to sexual dysfunction, because engaging in sexual activity involves another person focusing attention on one’s body. During sexual relations a woman can be distracted by thoughts about her body rather than experiencing sexual pleasure (Tiggemann, 2011).
Wiederman (2000) found that during sexual intercourse one third of college women experienced problematic body image self-consciousness.
Female self-objectification is something most women experience at some point in life because society sends many such messages in many ways, offering an idealized version of the perfectly shaped woman that is, for most, unattainable or inadvisable to seek. Preventing and treating self-objectification in girls and women will lead to increased societal rewards and social powers (Breines, Crocker and Garcia, 2008). The paper offers explanations for how and why female self-objectification occurs and what can do to counter its negative consequences in our society.
This information has been gleaned from sources on the internet and presented here for discussion. Either comment here or on the Facebook post.