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Sexual objectification: Can we objectify ourselves?

This is a topic I particularly struggle with; should I post this picture? What message am I sending? Does this align with my brand?

If you are like me, born and raised in a relatively conservative household, I am sure you ask yourself the same questions.

I had an encounter yesterday at the mall that made me want to dive deeper into what sexual objectification is all about. Did some reading and this is what I found:

Sexual Objectification is defined as ‘viewing and/or treating a person as an object, devoid of thought or feeling. Is often targeted at women and reduces them to objects of sexual pleasure and gratification’ (GoodTherapy, 2015). Often targeted at women, sexual objectification can apply to both genders. However, because of cultural norms, they do not have the same implications; men are viewed in a way that is considered to positively contribute to their self images where as sexual objectification targeted at women makes them heightens negative self perceptions.

Sexual objectification is seeing in mainly two forms; interpersonal sexual objectification and sexual advances. According to Rooney (2021) interpersonal sexual objectification qualifier behaviors include catcalling and whistling, leering, sexually insinuating stares and inappropriate sexual comments made about a woman’s body as unwanted forms of body evaluation. Qualifiers for sexual advances include touching, founding, or pinching inappropriately against a person’s will, degrading sexual gestures, sexual harassments or coercion as unwanted sexual advances (Rooney, 2021).

Something that I found particularly interesting is the implications sexual objectification has on an individual’s mental health. It has been found that sexual objectification has negative impacts on one’s mental health, influences eating disorders, depression and reduced productivity (Rooney, 2021. Baldissarri, Andrighetto, Gabbiadini, Valtorta, Sacino and Volpato, 2019). Furthermore, this actually leads to women self- objectifying. This now raises the question can women really self objectify?

I have had numerous conversation with people on this topic, both men and women, and there seems to be general consensus that self objectifications is not as harmful as sexual objectification targeted at an individual. Mainly because it is done at free will, but Baldissarri et al. (2019) seems to suggest otherwise. Their research shows that women in objectifying conditions have less free will than those in non objectifying conditions and those in non objectifying conditions reported to experience more free will (Baldissarri et al. 2019). This can be said that there is an element of illusion when it comes to objectification, as those in conditions that are in favor of such practices can not really oppose it. Baldissarri et al. (2019) highlights the link between objectifying conditions and self objectification. Meaning that women in objectifying conditions are most likely to self objectify, this is in consensus with Rooney (2021).

The alarming part is that self objectification ‘decreased self-attribution of human mental states and increased self-perception of being an instrument rather than a human’ (Baldissarri et al. 2019). Which leaves me wondering, if this practice is so bad, than why do we promote it so much, especially on social media?

Something else that came to my attention was that self enhancement promotes self objectification, increasing body shame in women and body surveillance in men and women (Rollero and De Piccoli, 2017). Could this mean that self objectification does more harm to the body positive movement that what we think? I am yet to explore that.

I would love to heard your thoughts on this topic and what you think we could do as a community to foster more good than harm.

(See my Instagram post for re-shareable post format)

Sources:

Baldissarri, C. Andrighetto, L. Gabbiadini, A. Valtorta,RR. Sacino, A. and Volpato, C. 2019. Do Self-Objectified Women Believe Themselves to Be Free? Sexual Objectification and Belief in Personal Free Will? [online] Avaiable at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01867

Good Therapy. 2015. Objectification. [online]. Available at: https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/definition-of-objectification

Koval, P. Holland, E. and Stratemeyer, M. 2019. Sexually objectifying women leads women to objectify themselves, and harms emotional well-being, The Conversation, 23 July 2019. [blog]. Available at: https://theconversation.com/sexually-objectifying-women-leads-women-to-objectify-themselves-and-harms-emotional-well-being-120762

Rollero, C and De Piccoli, N. 2017. Self-Objectification and Personal Values. An Exploratory Study. [online] Available at: https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01055

Rooney, E. 2021. THE EFFECTS OF SEXUAL OBJECTIFICATION ON WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH. [online] Available at: https://wp.nyu.edu/steinhardt-appsych_opus/the-effects-of-sexual-objectification-on-womens-mental-health/#:~:text=Constant%20experiences%20of%20sexual%20objectification,and%20diminishes%20states%20of%20flow.

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