“Look in my eyes. I said in my eyes!”: Antecedents and Consequences of (Self-) Objectification

Recently, Gervais and her colleagues investigated the processes underlying the recognition of male and female bodies (Gervais, Vescio, Maass, Förster, & Suitner, 2012). In line with objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) which posits that women are more likely to suffer from the objectifying gaze, it was assumed that analytic processing (i.e., object-like recognition) occurs when perceiving female targets, whereas configural processing is likely to occur when perceiving their male counterparts. In line with their predictions, Gervais et al. (2012) found that female body parts were recognized better than whole bodies (i.e., object-like recognition), whereas the reverse pattern emerged for male targets (i.e., person-like recognition). Women’s body parts were also better recognized than men’s body parts. In addition, these effects were equivalent for male and female participants. Bernard and his colleagues found the same pattern for sexually objectified women: Even when sexualized, only women are the targets of the objectifying gaze (Bernard, Gervais, Campomizzi, Allen, & Klein, 2012a, 2012b). Furthermore, the objectifying gaze influences how sexualized women are socially perceived. When people (men and women) have to evaluate the target’s physical appearance rather than her personality features, Latrofa and Vaes (2012) have shown that the longer they looked at the female (but not male) targets, the more they dehumanized them.

Self-objectification: Internalizing the objectifying gaze

In line with feminist theorizing (e.g., Bartky, 1990; Nussbaum, 1995), Objectification Theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) argues that the focus on female physical appearance embodied in media representations and the objectifying gaze leads to gender differences in the development of body image and attitudes towards physical appearance. As one’s peers and the media continually remind women of the importance of physical appearance, they progressively internalize the way people look at themselves and become increasingly preoccupied with their physical appearance. This internalization of a perceiver’s perspective produces what Fredrickson and Roberts (1997) call self-objectification. It is defined as focusing attention on aspects of one’s own body that can be viewed and evaluated by others (i.e., physical appearance, e.g., Quinn, Kallen, Twenge, & Fredrickson, 2006).

As a consequence, objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997) predicts that women are more likely to suffer from the detrimental consequences of objectifying pressures. Self-objectification is operationalized as a stable personality trait (usually trough the Self-Objectification Questionnaire: cf. Noll & Fredrickson, 1998) or a as a state, via an experimental manipulation consisting, for example, in wearing a swimsuit vs. a sweater in front of a mirror (e.g., Frerickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn, & Twenge, 1998; Quinn, Kallen, & Cathey, 2006). In an illustration of the detrimental effects of self-objectification, Fredrickson et al. (1998) demonstrated that for women (but not men), wearing a swimsuit (i.e., the state of self-objectification) heightened body shame, and impaired math performance, compared to wearing a sweater. These effects specifically occurred for individuals who already reported a high level of self-objectification.

Self-objectification is likely to exert a variety of psychological consequences among women especially, including body shame (e.g., Noll & Fredrickson, 1998) and eating disorders (e.g., Calogero, 2009). It also impairs psychological well-being (e.g., Mercurio & Landry, 2008), performance on tasks requiring peak motivational states (e.g., Fredrickson et al., 1998), self-efficacy (Gapinski, Brownel, & LaFrance, 2003), and sexual satisfaction (Calogero & Thompson, 2009; for a review, see Moradi & Huang, 2008).

Furthermore, women who self-objectify are more likely to objectify others, yielding a vicious circle. For example, women who are preoccupied with their weight and shape consider these dimensions as much more important than others when evaluating other women (Beebe, Hombeck, Schober, Lane, & Rosa, 1996). Strelan and Hargreaves (2005) found that self-objectification traits predict objectification when women evaluate other women: The more women focus on their appearance, the stronger they think that other women focus on theirs. Furthermore, Bernard, Gervais, Allen, Campomizzi, & Klein (2012b) found that the stronger people self-objectify, the more they perceive sexually objectified others similar to objects (i.e., self-objectification is associated to an impaired whole bodies recognition).

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