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Self-objectification is common among people who turn up in my office. It involves internalizing “an observer’s perspective” about ourselves. More specifically, body self-objectification is an unhealthy way of viewing our bodies through the values of others or of society. “Self-objectification is associated with increased risk of poor body image, depression, and eating disorders” and, when studied, “was most consistently and positively associated with neuroticism, perfectionism, and narcissism across multiple studies.” (Carrotte, E., & Anderson, J. R. (2018). “A systematic review of the relationship between trait self-objectification and personality traits.” Personality and Individual Differences, 132, 20-31. DOI:10.1016/j.paid.2018.05.015).
Of the three traits listed above, neuroticism and perfectionism are the ones I see in most dysregulated eaters. Neuroticism is seen in a personality tendency toward guilt, shame, anxiety, self-doubt, and self-deprecation. Neurotic clients do a great deal of putting themselves down, feeling insecure about decisions, ruminating about the past, obsessing about the future, worrying about doing things right or wrong, feeling guilty or second-guessing when they’ve done nothing wrong, and often feeling ashamed or defective to the point of believing there’s something defective or wrong with them.
As to perfectionism, many of you know all about that. You may not need to be perfect in every way but pick out certain areas of life in which this must be the case—parenting, cooking, your job, cleanliness, or how you dress. You believe that doing something to a T will give you approval, keep you safe from harm, make the future go well and that not doing so will lead to rejection, shaming, or abandonment.
While these traits are not always self-destructive, when coupled with believing that you must look just so to be valuable and loved—fit, trim, thin, or hot—they can generate body self-objectification. When this happens, you value what others think of your body more than what you think of it. Moreover, you pick out certain people’s opinions to value. One person may tell you that you look great and another that you don’t, and you’ll likely internalize the latter’s negative perception rather than the former’s positive one.
Allowing yourself to be objectified makes you feel like an object, valuing form over function, distrusting your view of yourself, obsessing on how others think you look, and yearning to hear praise for your appearance. Remember, you are not an object, so don’t let yourself be objectified. No one can objectify you if you don’t allow them to do so.
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