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We’re All Sick of the Objectification of Women. So How, and Why, Are We Objectifying Ourselves?

by Emmaly Anderson

As feminists, we put a great deal of time and energy into critiquing and challenging the “male gaze” and how it objectifies us. We shun and express disdain towards media and individuals that value us solely based on how we look. Sexist trolls, pornography, influencers, photoshopped magazine covers, weight loss and plastic surgery advertisements – the list of everyday features in our lives that treat women as objects to be used and consumed is neverending. While of course the patriarchy as a whole social system is to blame, the objectification of our bodies is so ingrained in our culture that many of us, unconsciously, contribute to it by objectifying ourselves. We are taught, over and over again throughout our lives, that we are bodies first and people second; It’s no surprise that we internalize this and become preoccupied with not only how we look, but how others perceive how we look.

Self-objectification is the psychological process of seeing oneself as a physical object before a human being, and it has been observed and written about by scholars for decades. In 1961, French philosopher and feminist activist Simone de Beauvoir noted that, as a girl grows up, she “becomes an object and she sees herself as an object; she discovers this new aspect of her being with surprise: it seems to her that she has been doubled; instead of coinciding exactly with herself, she now begins to exist outside.” 

Objectification Theory was introduced in 1997 to explain how girls, due to growing up in a culture that treats them as sexual objects, begin to view themselves that way. Basically, objectification is so prevalent in our culture that, unknowingly, we start looking at ourselves the way, say, a judgmental, misogynistic man would. Objectification Theory says that there are three types of exposure to objectification that women and girls experience: Direct comments (someone making a remark to your face about how you look), indirect comments (overhearing people discuss their own and others’ appearances), and media content that objectifies women. Obviously, women are much more likely than men to self-objectify because we are objectified so much more in popular culture. But we’re also more likely to fall victim to this because self-objectification is rooted in people-pleasing, a tendency much more pronounced among women, due to the fact that we’re often socialized as caregivers and to put others’ needs before our own. 

In an era characterized by social media, filters, and edited photos, self-objectification is more prevalent, and more damaging, than ever before. We objectify ourselves as we edit our photos for Instagram and compare how we look in them to other filtered and edited photos. And the women we see in those photos, who are also relying on filters to alter their appearance, are self-objectifying as they scrutinize and edit. The external validation (likes, views, shares, and comments) we receive by posting “good” pictures of ourselves reinforces the tendency to self-objectify. Of course, we all want validation and positive attention! But when we only receive that validation through our appearance, especially if that appearance is altered, our sense of self becomes distorted and our looks become our obsession. This is why women who self-objectify experience shame, anxiety, and an increased risk of depression and eating disorders. One study highlights how presenting a strategically curated image on social media, through carefully selecting what photos to post and editing them to look a certain way, increases womens’ tendency to self-objectify. But do we really need scientific evidence to tell us that spending hours obsessively scrutinizing images of ourselves for public consumption is harmful?

When we are self-objectifying, we are viewing ourselves from an outsider’s perspective, specifically, the perspective of the male gaze. This makes us hyper-focused on our appearance and hyper-critical of it. How does your butt look in that dress? What about your tits? Does it hide your tummy enough? Does it make your shoulders look too broad? Is your hair smooth enough? Is that zit noticeable? Are your teeth white? Are your eyebrows even? Is your nose too big?

Whether looking at ourselves in the mirror or in pictures, we pick ourselves apart, look for body parts that need to be “fixed,” and stress over how to fix them. 

We are constantly worrying about how outsiders perceive us – adjusting our clothes and hair, touching up our makeup, sitting or standing in certain positions to hide our “flaws”, and stressing ourselves out over what everyone else might be thinking about how we look (Even when our logical brains know that if we’re around the right people, they couldn’t give less of a shit). When we “live to be looked at,” according to the nonprofit Beauty Redefined, we are in a state of perpetual self-consciousness, and my god, does that take up a lot of time and energy. The most twisted thing about self-objectifying is that, by doing it, we are reinforcing our own oppression! – and not only by trying to keep up with beauty standards, but also by expending mental energy that could otherwise be directed towards, let’s say, developing skills or pursuing a career. The real kicker is, in true patriarchal fashion, we get blamed for being victims of objectification. Society trains us to self-objectify, and then shames us for doing so by labeling us as “vain.”

How the hell are we expected to break free from this cycle of being objectified and, in turn, objectifying ourselves? It’s difficult to envision going about our days as women without thinking about how we look and how others perceive us, since it’s what we’ve known and been taught for so long – but can you imagine? Perhaps just dreaming about and striving towards a life free of self-objectification can help us begin to break away from it, but there are some simple everyday practices that challenge self-objectifying thought patterns. 

Becoming aware of our own negative self-talk, especially in regards to our looks, is a good first step. Once the harmful thoughts are acknowledged, disrupt the pattern by replacing a negative, appearance-focused thought with an uplifting one that isn’t about how you look. For example, any critique of your body can be replaced with, “I have so much to offer the world!  My appearance is the least interesting thing about me.”

Limiting our exposure to media that objectifies women is another great way to pump the breaks on self-objectifying thoughts. Throw away those celebrity gossip mags. Unfollow that influencer that swears she only looks like that because of the tea she’s being paid to promote – and that other one who promises she doesn’t use FaceApp (but you know she’s lying, and you feel bad for her for being a victim of self-objectification, too!). Objectification is everywhere, and unless you were to go live in a cabin in the woods without access to technology, there’s not a guaranteed way to escape it, but the less we’re exposed to objectifying media, the less self-objectifying thoughts will be at the forefront of our minds.

Finally, try to focus less on what your body looks like, and more on what it can do. Your body is incredible because it is a human body that performs countless, intricate functions every single second to keep you living, breathing, and moving. Beauty Redefined, founded by Lindsay and Lexie Kite, who have actual PhDs in research on self-objectification and female body image, uses the tagline, “your body is an instrument, not an ornament.” Lexie Kite, PhD, found freedom from self-objectification through exercising, not to lose weight or achieve any appearance-related goal, but to build endurance, gain strength, and prove to herself just how many amazing things her body was capable of doing, no matter what it looks like. She argues that, when we move our bodies as a celebration of what they can do, without worrying about how they look, we become more in tune with how we feel and achieve goals that have nothing to do with our appearance.

 Unfortunately, since the objectification of women’s bodies is so profitable and deeply entrenched in our patriarchal society, we can’t wave a magic wand and make it stop. But women are much smarter, more skilled, and multifaceted than society likes to give us credit for, and we can prove that by honing our tools to cope with and challenge objectification – of others and ourselves. 

Top Photo Courtesy of Михаил Секацкий on Unsplash


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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