Objectification Definitions Summary

There are many different aspects that contribute to objectification. Here we explain some key terms and aspects often included in discussions on objectification. 

Sexual Objectification 

Sexual objectification is the act of treating a person solely as an object of sexual desire. Objectification more broadly means treating a person as a commodity or an object without regard to their personality or dignity. Objectification is most commonly examined at the level of society, but can also refer to the behaviour of individuals and is a type of dehumanisation. 


Self-objectification is defined as the tendency of an individual to perceive and value their bodies through a third-person lens by emphasising physical and observable characteristics (Nezlek et al., 2015). 

Body Image 

Body image is a person's thoughts, feelings and perception of the aesthetics or sexual attractiveness of their own body. 

Demographic factors, such as gender, age, race, and socioeconomic status, are associated 

with body image. Women who are young, Caucasian, and live in more affluent areas experience more body image disturbances than other groups (Bessenoff & Del Priore, 2007; McLaren & Gauvin, 2002; Vaughan, Sacco, & Beckstead, 2008). 

Body Shaming 

Body shaming is the act of deriding or mocking a person's physical appearance. The scope of body shaming is wide and can include, although is not limited to fat-shaming, shaming for thinness, height-shaming, shaming of hairiness (or lack thereof), hair-colour, body-shape, one's muscularity (or lack thereof), shaming of looks (facial features). 

Thin Body Ideal 

The thin body ideal is the concept of the ideally slim female body. The common perception of this ideal is a woman who possesses a slender,  feminine physique with a small waist and little body fat.[1] The size that the thin ideal woman should be is decreasing while the rate of female obesity is simultaneously increasing, making this iconic body difficult for women to maintain. This creates a gap between the actual appearance of an average woman’s body and its expected appearance which, depending on the extent to which a woman internalises the necessity of living up to this ideal for her well-being and peace of mind, may have serious psychological effects.[2] 

Muscular Body Ideal 

One potential explanation of the drive for muscularity in men may be objectification theory. Western culture emphasises muscular mesomorphism for men, by reinforcing the connection between muscularity and masculinity (McCreary & Sasse, 2000). Men are similarly exposed to images and  are encouraged to achieve the body ideals valued by Western culture (Daniel, Bridges, & Martens, 2014) 

Male Gaze 

The male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the heterosexual male viewer. In the visual and aesthetic representations of narrative cinema, the male gaze has three perspectives: the men behind the camera, the male characters in the filmed story,  and the male spectators of the work. 

Objectification Theory 

Objectification theory is a framework for understanding the experience of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body. The theory proposes that girls and women, more so than boys and men, are socialised to internalise an observer's perspective as their primary view of their physical selves. 

Objectification and socialisation 

The internalising of an observer's perspective is referred to as self-objectification, which manifests in many girls and women habitually monitoring their bodies' outward appearance. This, in turn, leads to increased feelings of shame, anxiety, and disgust toward the self, reducing opportunities for peak motivational states and diminishing awareness of internal bodily states. Accumulations of these experiences help account for various  mental health issues that disproportionately affect women: depression, eating disorders, and sexual dysfunction. 

Social and cultural contexts shape the way bodies are viewed. Objectification theory is a theoretical framework in which female bodies are placed  in a socio-cultural context (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). When women are objectified, they are treated as bodies. More specifically, they are treated as bodies that exist for others to use and receive pleasure from. Studies have shown that women are gazed at, experience more shame,  and experience appearance anxiety more frequently than men. A woman’s life can be significantly influenced by how her body appears to others  (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). Individuals tend to focus on a woman’s physical attributes and neglect an individual’s psychological attributes,  such as personality or intellect (Nezlek, Krohn, Wilson, & Maruskin, 2015). Young girls and women begin to be targeted for sexual objectification  during their years of reproductive development (Fredrickson, Roberts, Noll, Quinn & Twenge, 1998). 

Concerning objectification theory in Western cultures, women are sexually objectified. Sexual objectification places value on one’s beauty and  attractiveness. It occurs interpersonally through various social interactions and media representations of female bodies that compare them to  society’s standards of body shape and size (Dakanalis et al., 2015). 

An important aspect of objectification theory is sexual objectification. Sexual objectification occurs when a women’s sexual body parts are  separated from her intelligence and personality. These sexual objectification experiences promote self-objectification, which is manifested as  body surveillance or the monitoring of one’s body (refer to Figure 1 below).

Moradi & Huang presented the above framework to layout objectification theory and its main elements.

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