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Self-Objectification and Low Self-Esteem

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We all know how objectification works, some men see women as an object for their sexual pleasure.

But, what happens when girls and women begin to see themselves as an object for men’s sexual pleasure?

The Association for the American Psychological Association
(APA) calls this self-objectification and/or self-sexualization in the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls.

There’s a host of evidence that when girls are exposed to too much media that they begin to view themselves less as three dimensional human beings and more as sexual objects. When this occurs, psychologists note the increase of:

* eating disorders

* low self-esteem

* depression or depressed mood

One interesting study noted that teenage girls from Figi had great body image and self esteem – until they were exposed to Western television. Once exposed, they became preoccupied with weight and body shape, purging behavior (throwing up) and body disparagement. Prior to television the Figian culture emphasized a robust body shape and based notions of identity not on body, but on family, community and relationships. The transition between healthy self-image to the increase of eating disorders was only 3 years.

Self-objectification is also directly linked to “diminished sexual health” among adolescent girls. One study found that when girls viewed their own bodies as objects for male pleasure condom use and sexual assertiveness, (saying “no”) decreased.

Another study found that “undergraduate women who frequently watched music videos or read women’s magazines, who attribute greater realism to media content, or who identify strongly with popular TV characters were also more accepting of sexually objectifying notions of women.”

Accepting these sexually stereotypical and objectifying views manifested in negative attitudes toward breastfeeding and negative attitudes about normal body functions like menstruation and sweating.

When I read the APA’s definition of self-objectification and self-sexualization it was like a mini-awakening for me.

That explains why, as a teen and young adult, I allowed boyfriends to treat me as their sexual object or plaything. It explains why I crossed many of my own sexual boundaries and didn’t want to object “for fear of being rude” on several occasions. It explains why I allowed boys and men to make inappropriate comments about my body and its development from even the earliest age – heck, I didn’t even know was “allowed to object.”

Do you think you’ve ever self-sexualized or self-objectified?

Do you worry about this with your daughter?

Read 10 Antidotes to Self-Objectification and Sexualization of Girls for ways to prevent your daughter from objectifying her own body.

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25 replies
  1. Just Margaret says:

    ‘heck, I didn’t even know was “allowed to object.”‘

    Neither did I. I recall many times when I was younger feeling awkward and uncomfortable when I’d walk through a mall, or in Downtown Boston and men would make comments, leer and whistle. I’d walk a little faster, lower my head and stare at the ground for fear of making eye contact with anyone.

    I never want my daughter (or *anyone’s* daughter) to feel that way…

  2. Tracee says:

    When I think back to even just the jokes men and boys told in my presence it makes me furious.

    Or boys and men making comments about “my headlights” if it got cold unexpectedly.

    Hello, no one would dare say that crap to me now. They did it because they knew I was primarily defenseless.

  3. Felicia (aka Mommy B) says:

    And how about wearing entirely inappropriate outfits throughout college thinking it was just the way things were… i.e. being completely uncomfortable in skin-tight clothing you could barely breathe in, super high-heels that killed your feet, and cleavage-cutting/ mid-drift bearing tops was simply “part of being a girl”. Hoo boy.

  4. Painted Maypole says:

    i read an article a while back (Newsweek, maybe?) about how teenagers do all this stuff to be attractive to boys, and they don’t need to… boys would be attracted anyways. But the point was that the girls put so much focus on attracting boys that that’s what they put their whole worth into…

    I do worry about this, both with my daughter and with myself. It’s pretty easy to get wrapped up in that and the message that comes through in so much media. Being aware is helpful, but how do we get the media messages to CHANGE?

  5. Tracee Sioux says:

    Well, it’s a primary biological function – to attract boys. I mean, it’s what every animal does in the entire Universe. Attract a mate to reproduce. You hardly ever hear of a happily alone Gorilla or duck with a lot of self worth independent of finding a mate and reproducing. Why would that be our goal?

    The question I’ve been asking myself is why is it wrong or dangerous to do what we naturally do – attract a mate?

    It’s not my definition of self worth now – because I already have children.

    I’m thinking what I’d like to teach my daughter is to have a high standard about which mate to attract.

  6. Shauna says:

    I did once meet a platypus who had finally, in mid-life, come to terms that she didn’t need a platy-man in her life to fullfill her – and she was finally okay with her pouch and webbed feet . . . oh wait, that was something else. 🙂

    Reading this, I think I must have had the same college experience as a lot of other women. I have kept that part of my life secret because I was ashamed – I didn’t know other women went through it too. I guess, the truth is, only once that cycle is exposed to the light can we stop it and make sure our daughters don’t fall prey to the same thing.

  7. Neutral says:

    Humans are bio-psychosocial creatures. Sure media and the western culture have possible sexualized women, but they have to men as well. And do to a lot of genetic make up, guys act the way they do because of an outdated instinctive genetic codes.

    We are products of these genetics, that interact completely with environment. Some guys do think of girls as objects, but I think a better chunk of the educated majority is veering away from that.

    Lastly self-objectification is how you think about yourself. Sure you are influenced on many levels by media and how others react to you, but only you can allow that to happen.
    This does not excuse some men being jerks, but it also does not give women the right to blame it on everyone else

  8. Shauna says:

    I think that the sexualization of girls far outweighs that of boys. We haven’t seen Abercrombie and Fitch come out with thongs for little boys. It is well educated men, as well as women, who are responsible for the sexualization of primarily little girls.

    While it’s true that some of our behavior can be driven by genetics I think that stating that “guys act the way they do because of outdated instinctive genetic codes” is wrong. We all, despite our animal hind brains, are responsible for the way we act, when we blame our bad behavior on genetic codes or “boys will be boys”, we, first of all, alleviate any necessity for accountability for bad actions. Second, we make an assumption that because they are guys – they are slaves to their genetics and too dumb to get past it.

    Finally, I think the point of this blog, as I have always understood it, is to educate our girls so they DON’T view themselves as victims. This isn’t a blame article, as much as an educational article that helps us teach the future generation of women how to not be put in that position. The goal, I think, is not to feel victimized, but instead to feel empowered.

  9. AUnfincglync says:

    By dealing together, the two of you can address problems of self-esteem and mutual trust. Use these circumspectly however, since they may lower glucose levels, that is an unsatisfactory effect in men whose glucose levels are properly balanced.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] Försök att reclaima sin sexualitet genom att sexualisera och objektifiera sig själv är dock ingenting nytt, utan kännetecknar ofta en låg självkänsla och påverkan av västerländsk media. Exempelvis finns det studier på hur tjejer från Fiji hade både gott självförtroende och var nöjda med sina kroppar, tills de började påverkas av västerländsk media och därmed också började fundera över om de dög kroppsligt, blev besatta av sin vikt och fick ätstörningar. Kulturen i Fiji uppmuntrade till en bastant figur och identitet var i fokus framför kropp, precis som familj, relationer och samhälle. Förändring från ett sunt förhållande till sin kropp till en ätstörning tog bara tre år med västerländsk medias påverkan. Samtidigt började även flickorna se på sina kroppar utifrån den manliga blicken, att vara tillfredställande (Källa: thegirlrevolution) […]

  2. […] Försök att reclaima sin sexualitet genom att sexualisera och objektifiera sig själv är dock ingenting nytt, utan kännetecknar ofta en låg självkänsla och påverkan av västerländsk media. Exempelvis finns det studier på hur tjejer från Fiji hade både gott självförtroende och var nöjda med sina kroppar, tills de började påverkas av västerländsk media och därmed också började fundera över om de dög kroppsligt, blev besatta av sin vikt och fick ätstörningar. Kulturen i Fiji uppmuntrade till en bastant figur och identitet var i fokus framför kropp, precis som familj, relationer och samhälle. Förändring från ett sunt förhållande till sin kropp till en ätstörning tog bara tre år med västerländsk medias påverkan. Samtidigt började även flickorna se på sina kroppar utifrån den manliga blicken, att vara tillfredställande (Källa: thegirlrevolution) […]

  3. […] been obscured by malecentric narrative and desire, so I really didn’t know. Self-objectification: we’re all soaking in it, until we’re […]

  4. […] second emotional consequence of self-objectification is appearance anxiety; which is manifested by checking and adjusting one’s appearance. […]

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