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“Self-objectification occurs when women view their bodies as objects, existing for the pleasure of others” and “… is associated with an increased risk of poor body image.” (Dryden, C., & Anderson, J., 2019. “The dark triad, trait-based self-objectification, and body image concerns in young women.” Personality and Individual Differences, 145, 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2019.03.015, accessed 3/23/19) Another definition is that “Self-objectification occurs when individuals treat themselves as objects to be viewed and evaluated based upon appearance. (Chiara Rollero and Norma De Piccoli, “Self-Objectification and Personal Values: An Exploratory Study” (Frontiers in Psychology, 2017; 8: 1055, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01055, accessed 3/23/19)
Though self-objectification is primarily a problem for women based on society dictating that female beauty means having a certain shape and size, it’s also a problem for some men. It occurs not only due to approval-seeking and people-pleasing but to fear that others will shame or reject our bodies. When this fear grows overwhelming, it makes us think and act irrationally, a destructive phenomenon I see daily in my work.
In self-objectification, you separate your body, that is, your weight, size or shape from the rest of you. Specifically, you view certain physical attributes such as “thunder thighs, ginormous butts, bulging bellies, or flabby arms” as more obvious and odious than they are, and you give them the ability to define and dwarf the rest of you. (Quotes are employed here because they’re the words my clients have used to describe their body parts.) We absorb this self-damning attitude from family and culture—from Mom complaining about her fat knees to air-brushed models whom we see with no body flaws—and unconsciously internalize the value of physical appearance and looking a particular way. Negative body messages are reinforced when we’re teased or bullied or more subtly rejected because our bodies are this and not that way.
The worst part of this process is that we psychically disintegrate when the goal of healthy adulthood is to have an integrated psyche. We are meant to be whole, a meld of mind/body more than the sum of our parts. Instead, we reject allegedly unacceptable body parts and see them as separate from the rest of us yet also as more important. It doesn’t matter that we went to Yale, climbed Mt. Everest, are adored by practically everyone we meet, ran 100 marathons, raised five wonderful children, or get stellar reviews by our boss. We don’t allow ourselves to integrate imperfect body parts into the rest of who we are. Instead, we push them onto center stage and let them define our value to ourselves and to the world.
This makes no sense, yet we feel wrong if we don’t do it as if someone will catch us thinking it’s okay to have less than perfect bodies. We think, if society hates these parts of me, then I’ll hate them too. This is how we wrongly define ourselves through others. It’s time to reclaim every part of us—the good, the bad, and (yes) the ugly and by that, I don’t mean physically but how awful we make ourselves feel about our natural bodies.
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