Objectification Theory is a psychological “framework for understanding the experiential consequences of being female in a culture that sexually objectifies the female body” (1, p. 173). “Objectification” means treating a person as an object or merely a body. Objectification runs from leering and catcalling to sexualizing portrayals in media such as TV shows, movies, advertisements, music videos, and pornography. Objectification Theory provides a way of understanding some of the problems that differentially affect women in our society and other Western societies. This effortpost focuses on objectification of the female body and subsequently neglects interactions between, for example, objectification and race, and the effects of objectification on men, though these topics have been investigated (see, e.g., Testing a Culture-Specific Extension of Objectification Theory Regarding African American Women’s Body Image and Reasons for Exercise and Body Esteem: Men’s Responses to Self-Objectification
- Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. This is the paper that started Objectification Theory. Fredrickson and Roberts suggest that objectification may be at least partly responsible for the higher incidence of depression in women, sexual dysfunctions, and eating disorders. The suggested causal pathway is from objectification to self-objectification which results in habitual body-monitoring, which results in shame, anxiety, and distraction. This theory has received extensive empirical support to which I now turn.
- Objectification Theory and Psychology of Women: A Decade of Advances and Future Directions. This article provides a nice overview of research within the Objectification Theory framework, including objectification’s effects on men and interactions with race. The article displays the wide empirical support for Objectification Theory but also identifies limitations and directions for future research such as the need for more cross-cultural research and investigation of interactions with other variables such as age, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation.
- Sexual Objectification of Women: Advances to Theory and Research. This article extends Objectification Theory to understanding substance abuse and presents a definition of “sexually objectifying environments” (SOEs) in which “(a) traditional gender roles exist, (b) a high probability of male contact exists (physically speaking, a male-dominated environment), (c) women typically hold less power than men in that environment, (d) a high degree of attention is drawn to sexual/ physical attributes of women’s bodies, and (e) there is the approval and acknowledgement of male gaze” (20-1). They give Hooters and related restaurants as examples of SOEs and suggest that more research be done into SOEs. Just such research will be discussed next.
- Experiencing Sexually Objectifying Environments: A Qualitative Study. This article uses the definition of SOE given above to investigate the experiences of 11 heterosexual female Hooters employees. The interviews highlight, among other things, the ambivalence the employees feel toward their job, the negative emotional effects of constant objectification, and competition with other women. I have to say, the concreteness and “realness” of this article can get depressing.
- Everyday Stranger Harassment and Women’s Objectiﬁcation. This article presents an investigation into the negative effects of stranger harassment. They found that stranger harassment was positively related to self-objectiﬁcation for women who reacted to stranger harassment with passivity and self-blame, but not for women who reacted with active coping strategies such as confronting the harasser. Stranger harassment was also positively related to women’s fear of and perceived risk of rape.
- A Test Of Objectification Theory: The Effect Of The Male Gaze On Appearance Concerns In College Women. In this study, female participants were made to believe that they would be interacting with a male or a female. Mere anticipation of male gaze, but not female gaze, resulted in greater body shame and anxiety, but no changes in dietary intent were seen.
- The Role of Body Objectification in Disordered Eating and Depressed Mood. This study provides support for Objectification Theory’s claim that objectification can lead to habitual body-monitoring, which can lead to depression and eating disorders.
- The Role of Self-Objectification in Disordered Eating, Depressed Mood, and Sexual Functioning Among Women: A Comprehensive Test of Objectification Theory. This article provides a more recent replication of the results of the previous study.
- My Body or My Mind: The Impact of State and Trait Objectiﬁcation on Women’s Cognitive Resources. This paper investigates whether objectification can impair women’s cognitive performance. It was found that women prone to self-objectification had longer response latencies when performing in the presence of a male experimenter.
These studies represent a small sample of the psychological research on Objectification Theory. Here’s a link to a zip folder containing all the articles in this post.