Self-Objectification in Women

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Self-objectification is a psychological process in which a person views themselves as a physical object first and a human being second. As a result, the person can be hypercritical of their body and parts of their body.

Self-objectification can create issues for a person’s mental and emotional well-being. Some examples include constantly being obsessed with what others think of them even when they are not around and worrying so much about what their body looks like that it negatively disrupts their daily life.

This article discusses the history of self-objectification and its signs. It also discusses the effect of self-objectification on people and tips for minimizing self-objectifying behaviors.

It's important to note that both men and women are impacted by sexual objectification, yet women are more susceptible.

The concept of self-objectification stems from the objectification theory, a framework that aims to understand the effect of cultural sexual objectification on women’s experiences.

It explains that women are conditioned to view their bodies as to how others view them because of their exposure to social and environmental sexual objectification that exists within our culture. The theory states that girls and women experience three types of sexual objectification exposures:

  1. Direct comments from those around them including unsolicited remarks about what they look like and advice on how to improve their appearance
  2. Indirect communication from those around them such as overhearing a conversation about how someone views women’s bodies or being part of a group text where people talk about changing their bodies to look a certain way
  3. Media content that objectifies a woman’s body such as images, videos, audio, and ads where the female model’s face is not shown

As a result, women view their bodies as objects, tie their self-worth to their physical appearance, develop expectations for how their bodies should look based on how others perceive them, and become overly judgmental of their bodies.

Signs of Self-Objectification

There are a few situations when it can be helpful to view yourself as a third person such as wanting to make a good impression in an interview, looking presentable at a wedding, or showcasing your best physical features on a first date. In these circumstances, self-objectifying behaviors are performed in moderation and are normal and healthy. 

However, when self-objectifying behaviors become excessive, they can become detrimental and negatively affect other areas of your life. Some signs where self-objectification has become unhealthy include:

  • Looking in the mirror all the time: It’s natural to glimpse at yourself when you walk by a mirror; however, it becomes harmful when you’re spending a significant part of your day fixated on your reflection. When looking at yourself in the mirror, you have a deep urge to fix all your physical flaws and cannot take your eyes away from them. The time you spend in front of the mirror causes you to be late for events and prevents you from carrying out plans.
  • Taking too many selfies: Snapping a picture of yourself once in a while to update a profile is normal, but doing it multiple times a day or spending hours perfecting a selfie is troublesome. A sign of self-objectification is being obsessed with how you look in photos, constantly criticizing yourself, and never feeling fully satisfied. It can destroy your self-esteem especially when the validation of your self-worth is linked to how it is perceived on social media. Your value is then determined by external factors such as the number of likes, level of engagement, and types of comments your selfie receives.
  • Comparing yourself to others and the media: Comparisons can happen in real life and online. Self-objectifying behavior is comparing how you look to how your friends, strangers, co-workers, and family members look. It’s telling yourself that someone is better or worse than you because of their physical appearance. 

In the age of social media, it can be difficult to avoid being exposed to societal expectations of beauty. From influencers, and beauty ads to celebrities, you are subject to thousands of edited and filtered images of faces and bodies every day. If you primarily follow accounts that post these types of images, look excessively at them, scrutinize yourself, and feel inadequate, this is an unhealthy sign of self-objectification.

Impact of Self-Objectification

Although self-objectification is seen amongst all genders, it is more prevalent amongst women. Two sources of self-objectification that women are subject to include direct personal experiences that occur during their daily lives and the beauty standards portrayed through the media.

  • Fat talk: Fat talk occurs when women make comments about their body shape, weight, size, diet, exercise habits, and anything related to their physical appearance that promotes self-degradation. It’s been shown that women who talk about themselves in this way are more likely to struggle with low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, obesity, overexercising, unhealthy weight-loss practices such as fad diets, disordered eating, and skipping meals.
  • Media impact: The media promotes the ideal female body type as thin and lean. When women are exposed to these unrealistic beauty standards, it can cause increased body shame, self-consciousness, body anxiety, and other mental health issues.

Self-objectification causes women to struggle to accept their bodies as is and to constantly obsess over their physical appearance. It has been shown to be associated with increased feelings of shame, increased feelings of anxiety, decreased peak motivational state, decreased awareness of internal bodily states, sexual dysfunction, disordered eating, and depression.

Tips to Minimize Self-Objectification

It can be difficult to feel good about your body when you’re constantly criticizing it. You are not an object. You are more than a beautiful face or a fit body. You are a human being with a unique personality, experiences, hopes, and dreams. Here are some ways to help minimize self-objectifying behaviors:

  • Become aware of your negative self-talk: You might be surprised how often you speak negatively about yourself. The next time you do this, interrupt this thought pattern by telling yourself something positive about yourself. For instance, tell yourself, “I am powerful, and I honor my body as it is.” When you become aware of your negative self-talk, it’s easier to change your habit. (Tip: Make sure your positive talk is realistic and tailored to your values and what feels most comfortable to you.)
  • Try journaling: When you find yourself practicing self-objectifying behaviors, write down your thoughts and feelings, what time and day it happened, and what was happening before you started doing this. Journaling can be an effective way to identify behavioral patterns, better understand your triggers, manage difficult emotions, and can help you find ways to cope.
  • Limit unrealistic media exposure: Go through the accounts that you follow on social media and unfollow any that promote unrealistic beauty standards and objectify bodies. The less you see these images, the less you are likely to be triggered to compare yourself to them.
  • Focus on what your body does for you: You are living and breathing because of your body. Every time you breathe, your lungs fill up and oxygenate your blood. Your heart pumps blood to your muscles. Your muscles allow you to move. Your body is an amazing interconnected system that works for you every second of every day. Instead of worrying about what your body looks like, focus on how it feels, and what it does for you, and be kind to it.

A Word From Verywell

As you work to undo the effects of self-objectification, it can be challenging considering the years that you have been internalizing these messages, so be kind to yourself and be patient that it may take time and work to minimize self-objectification. If you are struggling with this, or it is impacting your daily functioning, seek professional assistance.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine is the author of three books (How To Deal With Asian Parents, A Brutally Honest Dating Guide and A Straight Up Guide to a Happy and Healthy Marriage) and the creator of 60 Feelings To Feel: A Journal To Identify Your Emotions. She has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system.