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.

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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).

Direct quote from: https://openworks.wooster.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=10132&context=independentstudy

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

Source: 1. Moradi B, Huang Y-P. Objectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 2008;32(4):377-398. doi:10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00452.x

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).

Alison Ede, B.A.

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