How can I prevent objectification and self-objectification?

            Most any society is characterized by interactions or patterns of daily relationships formed by individuals who share a distinctive culture. During everyday interactions humans experience multiple events that involve varying modes of input from the environment which require interpretation. There are many unknowns to be explored in order to fully understand the perplexity and multidimensionality of human nature and for many years, researchers have been studying these fascinating processes in humans. Consequently, a range of theoretical approaches emerged to aid examining an array of constructs and their related processes. One of them has been discussed in the earlier FemPop blogs this year (2013), “Objectification and Feminism” by Nina Silander. She addressed a possible theoretical explanation of objectification namely the evolutionary psychology perspective. As proposed by evolutionary theorists, mate selection largely depends on the characteristics that denote reproductive fitness. For example, women tend to be looking for a mate who will be willing and able to provide resources related to parental investment, food, shelter, territory, and protection. Men, on the other hand, tend to select women who display greater characteristics of fertility (e.g., large breast, wide hips; Buss, 1989; Symons, 1979). These characteristics can be detected by observation, which may pressure individuals to look good, healthy, and attractive to be successful in rivalry and in being selected by the opposite sex. Also, there is an intense pressure from various other sources, including media, comments from others, gazing among others. As a result, individuals are constantly being observed and evaluated by others, and therefore, “always potentially objectified” or seen as object (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997, p. 177). Awareness of this objectification and evaluation can lead to habitual monitoring and self-evaluation of one’s body to approximate the ideals represented by the society. This in turn can lead to a numerous psychological consequences (e.g., body-dissatisfaction, shame, anxiety) and mental health risks (e.g., eating disorders, depression, sexual dysfunctions).  
            Although the research emphasis on objectification is hardly new (Cooley, 1902), the advancement of a formal theoretical framework and related assessment tools has elicited an increase in empirical studies using objectification theory and related phenomena over the past two decades. In particular, much remains to be illuminated about why and how the process of self-objectification persists in some individuals; how it may be counteracted; how its negative and harmful consequences may be combated once they occur; and what its implications are among individuals and society at large as well as members therein.
Multiple preventive programs and techniques have been proposed. One of the ways to prevent self-objectification is by promoting contextualization schema. Acquiring contextualized schema requires a) educating individuals about self-objectification (e.g., discussions about causes of objectification), b) recognizing when experiencing objectification (e.g., catcalls, being whistled at, others’ gaze, being told you look great or to lose weight etc.), and c) responding to objectified comments. In addition, women should avoid body comparison. This can be achieved by relating to the same sex-peers in non-appearance-oriented ways.
Main contributors to self-objectification are media images and messages. To understand, confront, and regulate exposure to objectifying media, professionals encourage use of prevention programs (e.g., GO GIRLS!; Piran, Levine, & Irving, 2000). In these prevention programs, individuals are learning to identify how body size is depicted in media, promote responsible advertising, and support for positive body images portrayed by the media and major merchants. I just recently came across an interesting video by Kean Kilbourne, Ed.D. – “5 Minutes Of What The Media Actually Does To Women.” Other prevention programs (e.g., The Full of Ourselves; Tylka & Augustus-Horvath, 2011) are designed to enhance empowerment to emphasize individuals’ internal qualities and to provide embodied experiences. These programs focus on the functional view of the body and pleasure (e.g., health, enjoyment, mood, fitness). 
If self-objectification is maintained, some additional therapeutic techniques can be used to reduce individuals’ tendency to continue their self-objectification patterns. Clinicians and clients need to communicate to address positive, yet short-lived and superficial, benefits received for engaging in self-objectification. Additionally, professionals have to emphasize harmful effects individuals experience from engaging in self-objectification behaviors. Once the clients become aware and knowledgeable about negative and damaging effects, they have the capability to contextualize objectification and prevent these circumstances to affect their self-esteem.
Clinicians should also assist individuals with recognizing and managing triggers of their self-objectification by conducting an environmental or ecological analysis of objectifying instances. For example, clients record circumstances to which they are exposed (e.g., places, people, settings). Clinicians then work with clients to decrease the amount of time they spend in these situations, and help to develop coping strategies that can be used to feel more empowered. At the same time, professionals can work with clients to come up with the strategies to decrease social comparison opportunities and replace maladaptive body-comparison thoughts (e.g., “I wish I would have that body”) with adaptive thoughts (e.g., “Personalities define people”). 
Other successful treatment programs integrate cognitive dissonance interventions involving clients to actively critique the thin ideal. They are encouraged to behave contrary to what they believe, which causes dissonance, and they are likely to change their attitudes to match their behavior and improve body-satisfaction (Stice, Chase, Stormer, & Appel, 2001). Clinicians need to encourage clients to appreciate, respect and honor their body (Avalos, Tylka, & Wood-Barcalow, 2005). Clinicians can help individuals to reframe their aversive statements, to identify negative-appearance body talk, and to focus on their senses when performing activities rather than on their appearance. Enhancing individuals’ body awareness and responsiveness (i.e., embodiment) can help clients to have more positive and connected attitude toward their body (Soth, 2006). Embodying experience can be improved by engaging in Hatha yoga (Impett, Daubenmier, & Hirschman, 2006) and guided imagery exercises (Bergner, Remer, & Whetsell, 1985).
Self-objectification suppresses interoceptive awareness (Myers & Crowther, 2008), where individuals have difficulties to identify, express, and cope with their emotions and other internal states (e.g., hunger, satiety). Mindfulness and emotion regulation techniques rooted in dialectical behavioral therapy (Linehan, 1993) can help individuals to connect with their emotions, feelings, and thoughts using various adaptive coping skills in dealing with broad range of emotions. Many times individuals deal with stressful situations through the trend-and-befriend response. This entails nurturing activities that encourage safety and the need to create and maintain social support networks that aid in stress reduction (Taylor, Klein, Lewis, Grunewald, Gurung, & Updegraff, 2000).
On a broader scale, professionals must work toward reducing the cultural acceptance of sexual objectification within society including communication to the media, research on the harmful effects of sexual and self-objectification and development of networks focused on embodiment and intellectual concentration. In addition, professionals could design and implement community workshops and programs for parents or caregivers, which would help them to become more aware of harmful effects of objectification and how to avoid promoting it. Prevention and treatment efforts can also be directed at lowering the frequency with which men and boys engage in sexual objectification (e.g., The Men’s Program; Tylka & Augustus-Horvath, 2011). Finally, professionals should be proactive in raising awareness among media about their role in perpetuating these unreal ‘ideal’ images that harm individuals.

Act now – whether as a person who is objectified or as a person who is objectifying!

Written by Urska Dobersek, MA

Link to the video:

1 comment:

  1. Hi,
    My name is Alex and I just had a quick question about your blog. Please email me back at your earliest convenience!