Self-Objectification Is A Danger To Women — Here’s Why


I began objectifying myself in the seventh grade, 10 years before I would even learn what the phrase meant. By the time I was twelve years old, I had grown size double D boobs that I wanted to hide at all costs. My best friend initiated me into the unending ritual of shaving off my body hair, my older sister took me on a trip to BareMinerals to become acquainted with makeup, and I got a cell phone equipped with Tumblr.

Women around my age know that in 2011, Tumblr was the image sharing platform where you would inevitably compare yourself to the onslaught of images of idealized (often photoshopped) young models who were seemingly living their best lives. Tumblr models pre-dated the phenomenon of the Instagram “model.” I grappled with thinking that I needed to measure up to these Tumblr models, while simultaneously feeling that deep down, I just wanted to rip my new boobs off because something about them felt vaguely unsafe. My appearance felt catapulted to the forefront of my priority list whether I was ready for it or not. It was around this time that I vividly remember looking at myself in the mirror at school, thinking I was ugly and therefore less valuable. I did not know how to make sense of these expectations or uncomfortable feelings, so I blamed myself.

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The first time I came across terms like “objectification” and “the male gaze” was when I had the privilege of taking feminist political theory classes at my university. Learning about these concepts was transformative for me as a young woman because it provided me with a language for circumstances that I had always sensed, but never had the words to describe.


Under the Microscope of the Male Gaze

Objectification is the dehumanizing act of viewing and treating a person as if they are an object without regard to their dignity or personality. Sexual objectification occurs when a woman’s value is reduced to her sexual capabilities and physical attractiveness. It manifests in a wide range of ways that might be coming to mind for you right now, such as catcalling, sexual harassment, sexual assault, and receiving unsolicited evaluations about your body. Contrary to popular belief, this is not something we can just reduce to being a “women’s issue.” Sexual objectification is predominantly perpetrated by men and it dampens human connection between men and women, which is why we need men to be active allies.

In my experience, and I’m sure a lot of you can relate, men can be all too comfortable commenting on our appearances. Shout out to my classmate in eighth grade who prepared me for this when he told me and my peers that I had “saggy boobs.” The unfortunate reality is that objectification is a form of dehumanization that perpetuates rape culture. That boy who publicly criticized my body would later feel entitled to it and attempt sexual assault.

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These kinds of experiences were not uncommon for the girls in my high school, but they flew under the radar. There was little awareness or concern surrounding sexual objectification and assault. As a result, many women like myself may not even fully understand what happened to them until the memories are recovered much later. I want to prevent this from happening to future generations of promising young women.

Objectification happens when sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person, by another person, without their consent. While self-motivated sexual expression and exploration is empowering, psychologists claim that constant exposure to objectifying imagery and language can lead to an internalization of objectification known as self-objectification. It happens when we become fixated on outside observers’ opinions on our bodies, picturing what we look like while we’re doing something rather than just doing. Try to see if you can catch or observe yourself mentally doing it.

At the peak of my self-objectifying in high school, I would force myself to wake up two and a half hours before school started at 5am just to do my hair and makeup. I mastered all the beauty tips and watched all of the makeup tutorials, but I didn’t do it for fun at that time. It was more like a compulsive discipline and regimen that I imposed on myself so I wouldn’t seem like I felt ugly, less than, or insecure. I looked done up on the outside, while on the inside I was struggling with depression, neglecting my health, getting to school late, and obsessing over how my body looked. 

Women are not born hating our bodies or seeing ourselves as separate parts rather than whole.

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In 2007, the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls published a report warning against the reality and dangers of self-objectification. They found that today’s ever-present mainstream media including television, advertising, video games, music, the news, and social media place an emphasis on sexual appearance that is disproportionately targeted towards women and girls. This contributes to a culture where women’s bodies are expected to be looked at and where self-objectification and beauty can seem like a kind of social “currency” for girls. Conversely, research has found that self-objectification has led to shame, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, and hurts girls’ ability to cultivate a healthy sexual self-image. 

The Consequences of Self-Objectification

When girls unintentionally self-objectify, time, attention, and money are taken away from potentially building skills, gaining hobbies, and developing other parts of our personhood. 

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This issue is so far-reaching, that some research has even shown self-objectification among women hinders our political engagement where there is already a gender gap. Even influential female politicians can not escape objectification from their peers and the media. For example, an experiment from 2009 found that the media’s focus on former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s attractiveness lessened voters’ perceptions of her humanness and competence. 

Objectification and self-objectification are obstacles in the way of women’s and girls’ pursuit of the peace of mind, respect, and empowerment that we deserve. At the same time, It’s great to feel sexy and partake in beauty and self-care, and women ought to be encouraged to embrace their sexualities and bodies in their own right, aside from just what those things offer to men. Accordingly, we need to emphasize to women and men that this gets to be done on each individuals’ own terms, how appearance does not dictate treating people with dignity and respect, and that aesthetics does not have to be mutually exclusive from prioritizing and other parts of the self as well. Personally, this has brought me a lot more authentic confidence. I’m proud to say that I have come a very long way in the journey towards self-love and self-objectification no longer dictates the way I move throughout the world. 

And besides, there are honestly a lot worse things a person could be than “unattractive…” Let’s think about how many other things we have to offer the world. I have to say, it’s pretty liberating. 

Be the Solution

Fortunately, there are so many ways you can help fight this culture of self-objectification. Here are just a few:

  • Teach your kids about how their bodies are their own. For example, allowing them to choose whether they would like to give someone a hug or not.

  • Teach your kids about important female figures to balance out the images of objectified women that they will be fed.

  • Raise your daughters, and especially your sons, to be feminists.

  • Support feminist media

  • Try to hold off on social media until your kids can have a more mature understanding of the sexualization of women, which typically targets young women.

  • End the bad habit of talking poorly about your own body in front of your kids or others.

  • Encourage multiple interests and hobbies that have nothing to do with appearance.

  • Encourage positive self-talk and try to focus on good qualities that have nothing to do with appearance.

  • Look into “body positivity” and “body neutrality” 

  • Call out and interrogate sexist scripts that objectify women whether it be in politics, the media, or in everyday conversations.

  • Don’t bash or police other women over what they choose to with their appearance. 

  • Start conversations about this issue with those around you and your kids.

  • The APA wants you to support:

    • Implementing media literacy programs in schools to combat objectification

    • Include information about sexualization in sex eduction in public schools

    • Encourage federal agencies to support the development of programming that may counteract damaging images of girlhood and test the effects of such programs, for example, Web “zines” (i.e., Web magazines), extracurricular activities (such as athletics), and programs that help girls feel powerful in ways other than through a sexy appearance

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What are some other ways we can combat self-objectification in women and girls? Let us know your ideas in the comments below!

For More Ways To Be An Empowered Woman, You Should Read:

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