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  • Women, more than men, are often evaluated on the basis of the way they look, identified with their physical appearance, and reduced to instruments for the pleasure of others. This is called objectification.
  • Women in Western societies learn from a young age that their body is looked at and evaluated by others. As a result, women begin to value their own body for its appearance and correspondence with society’s appearance ideal. This process is called self-objectification.
  • Women who are objectified are viewed as less than fully human, perceived to have fewer mental skills and less deserving of moral treatment by others.
  • There is an association between objectification and low body satisfaction, body shame and eating disorders, mediated by the internalization of current unrealistic body standards.
  • Sexualisation is frequent in social and conventional media (newspapers, tv, etc.). The exposure to sexually objectifying media facilitates adolescents’ internalization of aesthetic ideals, and it is related to self-objectification for girls. It can also affect children’s general, sexual and emotional development.
  • Sexualisation may have a serious impact on children’s and adolescents self-esteem, well-being, relationships, and equal opportunities.


According to Fredrickson and Roberts theory of objectification (1997), parts of a woman’s body, her sexual functions or even her entire body become an absolute representation of her being. Valuing women on the basis of their sexual attractiveness rather than their skills represents a form of discrimination faced primarily by women (but not only), as they are not treated as whole human beings, and it’s a pervasive tendency that still persists in most western societies.

Furthermore, this focus on physical appearance affects women’s inner states, by leading them to self-objectify (to self-value and view as a mere body) and to objectify other individuals. As body becomes so relevant for interpersonal evaluation, and body social standards encourage slimness, objectification eventually leads in many cases to emotional and behavioural disturbances related to low body satisfaction.


As can be seen in Figure 14, there are two main dimensions defining objectification (Nussbaum, 1995):

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Figure 14. Dimensions of objectification

The main means of objectification is the objectifying/sexual gaze (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997), which refers to the more or less explicit male attitudes, sexual suggestions or comments focusing on women’s physical appearance. Although it was initially proposed that objectification was a behaviour of men towards women, objectifying women has been found to be committed also by women. Active sexual goals are an important factor explaining many heterosexual men’s objectification of women, but there may be alternative factors contributing to greater female objectification, like female competition.

Exposure to objectifying images might stimulate viewers to adopt the objectifying gaze while looking at other individuals. For example, when viewers watch an advertisement, if it objectifies women, then the viewer’s gaze becomes an objectifying one as well, and it might activate the same gaze pattern when viewers look at individuals in real life.

Sexual objectification in social interactions with others can oscillate on a continuum with day-to-day, subtle behaviours (e.g., objectifying glances, comments about appearance, sneak peaks) at one extreme, and violent behaviours (e.g., sexual harassment and assault) at the other. Although both women and men may experience sexual objectification, women report experiencing it more than men (Davidson & Gervais, 2015). Furthermore, some women are objectified more than others. Women who fulfil certain criteria associated with being sexualised (e.g., more tightly-fitted, revealing or provocative clothing, greater application of cosmetics) are objectified more than the ones who don’t comply these criteria.

Sexualized women are viewed as lacking in both mental and moral capacity, and they are seen as less competent, less human, and perceived to suffer less in sexual assault. This denial of mental capacity and moral status has been linked to increased men’s willingness to commit sexually aggressive actions towards them. Several studies have demonstrated that subjects who were shown sexualized representations of others or who were prompted to objectify others, judged these others as more superficial, less warm, less capable of emotion, less professionally competent, less deserving of moral treatment, and more different from themselves (Heflick et al., 2011).

Receiving appearance-related compliments leads women to lower cognitive performance (Kahalon et al., 2018). Sexually objectifying gaze disrupts women’s attention performance by means of decreased flow, which is defined as a rewarding experience of complete immersion in an activity. Also importantly, flow disruption depends on the degree to which they rely on society unrealistic beauty ideals.

Women limit their presence as well in dyadic interactions by speaking less when talking with a male partner if they receive comments about their physical appearance. It has also been established that objectification elicits sinful feelings and greater perception of dirtiness in female victims (Baldissarri et. al., 2019). Self-objectification

Objectification can be even more harmful if women internalize this kind of evaluation and trigger their self-objectification, that is defined by one’s own enhanced attention on their body and physical appearance, rather than on their full person or other personal characteristics (Calogero et al., 2011). This can lead to negative emotional, cognitive, and behavioural consequences, like body-shame and body dissatisfaction, appearance anxiety, unwillingness to speak in social interactions, or even more risk of developing eating disorders, depression, and sexual dysfunction (Peat & Muehlenkamp, 2011). Girls and women who tend to self-objectify often think of themselves as objects for others sexual pleasure and tend to put their partners’ sexual desires before their own.

Objectification and self-objectification might harm young women’s self-esteem, which is strongly determined by their perception of their physical appearance. The relationship between self-esteem and self-objectification is mediated by physical attractiveness, so that women who objectify themselves and feel attractive, may temporarily increase their self-esteem, and vice-versa if they don’t feel attractive. Traditionally, males haven’t been socialized by matching their value to their physical appearance, so they pay less attention to how they look (although this is currently changing). In addition, they are exposed to fewer situations of objectification than girls, and their self-esteem is less associated with self- objectification.

The internalization of gender-based media ideals of attractiveness constitute a crucial component in the multidimensional self-objectification process (Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012). Internalization of beauty ideals refers to the extent to which an individual considers social norms of size and appearance as appropriate standards for his or her own appearance. Repeated experiences of sexual objectification gradually encourage internalization. Adolescents who have internalized media ideals believe that they should look like celebrities they see in the media, and this is correlated with self-objectification. Gender specific aesthetic models determine that women are valued for their reproductive power, seduction and for pleasing others with their slender bodies. In the case of men, the canons of beauty prioritize bodily strength and instrumentality. Sexualisation on advertising, tv, media and video games

Children’s and teenagers general sexual and emotional development can be affected by exposure to advertising and marketing that is saturated with sexualised images. Online media, compared with television, has a greater effect on self-objectification, and this is probably linked to the highly interactive, interpersonal, and visual characteristics of social media (Karsay et al. 2018). Popular media and video games among teenagers are full of objectifying images, mainly of women, but sexualizing media images of men have become increasingly prevalent too. The bodies that appear in the images are often valued as objects, and the aesthetic value is more important than any other aspect (see some examples in Figure 15.

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Figure 15. Examples of sexualisation

One way in which sexualization occurs on social networks is through suggestive selfies, characterized by a sexy gaze, sexy or semi-naked clothing, sexy posture, and a sexy appearance. Teenage girls who expose their image through Instagram, socially rewarded with “likes”, might become empowered, but this empowerment is an illusion of autonomy, as it reinforces the sexist social system in which women are valued for their appearance. In video games, characters are frequently depicted with sexually revealing clothing or partially nude, and often have unrealistic body proportions. These results relate especially to female characters, who are more sexualized than male avatars.

Sexualization can have a negative impact on body image, increasing body concerns among adolescents. The use of sexualized media like Instagram is related to higher appearance evaluation, body surveillance and self-objectification in women (Cohen et al., 2017). This happens because the use of Instagram fosters the appearance-ideal internalization and appearance-comparison tendencies in women. There is increasing evidence that this might also apply to males, although they tend to have lower levels of self-objectification. It appears that consuming fitspiration imagery on Instagram predicts body dissatisfaction through both muscular-ideal internalization and appearance comparisons in young men (Fatt et al. 2019).

In regard to tv, it is clear that popular sitcoms generally follow a stereotyped heterosexual script (Kim et al., 2007). A crucial aspect of the script is men’s obsession with women’s bodies and the sexualization of women. Observing role models encourages teenagers to adopt these models’ practices, guiding their own attitudes and behaviours. If they observe attractive role models or peers (e.g., Facebook or movies) objectifying others, adolescents may more probably develop an objectification cognitive script. Although examples from the media, especially television, tend to present objectification in a heterosexual context, this might be generalized, so that adolescents learn to judge their same-sex friends based on their physical appearance, so they get immersed in a cycle between self-objectification and friend-objectification. We must not forget that peer acceptance is a primary motivation for adolescents. As they learn to value more the physical appearance of their friends and less the more vital attributes of friendships, such as trust and intimacy, the quality of interpersonal relationships may result damaged (Vaes et al., 2011).

In summary, to the extent that children/teenagers focus on sexualising themselves (and others) rather than pursuing other more age-appropriate activities, all aspects of their development may be affected. Eating Disorders

The triad of sexism-objectification-unrealistic aesthetic standards (see Figure 16) creates the breeding ground for the development of Eating Disorders (EDs). EDs constitute a group of mental disturbances characterized by the onset of altered ingestion behaviour, usually in order to control weight, that lead to physical problems and impairment of psychosocial functioning. EDs include anorexia and bulimia, among others. No other clinical pathology displays such consistent gender differences in prevalence studies like EDs, so it is unquestionable that sexism has a lot to do with it. The male: female ratio of EDs is approximately 1:10 (Kerremans, Claes, & Bijttebier, 2010), and this gender differences are found even in those who do not meet diagnostic criteria, which is very frequent among adolescents.

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Figure 16. Facilitators of EDs

Some studies point out that what conditions EDs are differences in power dynamics between men and women and the need for submission, whereas others emphasize the sexist influence of the mass media. The prevailing aesthetic model in our society is certainly mediating the relationship between sexism and problems related to body image and eating. Teenagers with a marked bias of benevolent sexism that show sexist psychological cognitions and behaviours like the use of cosmetics, clothing, and precocious seductive behaviour, blame themselves when their body image does not conform to the ideal pattern of thinness, resorting to unhealthy behaviours characteristic of EDs (Forbes et al., 2005). These data highlight the importance of trying to implement during childhood a critical review of the sexist aesthetic-body models that are idealized in diverse media.


Sometimes, the relationship between objectification and discrimination is not so easy to see at first glance and is masked under ideas of liberation and empowerment. However, any situation of objectification places the target in a situation of inferiority with respect to others, in the sense that they are only partially valued; with all the negative consequences it can bring. Objectification transmits a deformed view of women and their role in society. Some situations:

  • Groups of girls who increase their status among their peers by uploading tik-toks where they are dressed in a revealing way.
  • Teenage girls who base their self-esteem on being physically attractive to their peers.
  • A girl receiving comments about her physical appearance from strangers when she walks down the street.
  • Hypersexualized costumes for girls, such as a nurse’s costume that for a boy consists of a pair of pants and a shirt and for a girl a short, fitted dress with cleavage.
  • A girl who is chosen by her classmates as class delegate because she is very pretty. Other skills that may be more important for the role are not being considered, and other less attractive candidates who could be perfectly valid are also being discriminated.


  • Take advantage of audio-visual materials (advertisements, Instagram, tv shows) that may be familiar to students to detect and analyse sexist, objectifying, and sexualizing.
  • Encourage critical thinking.
  • Avoid comments and compliments focused on physical appearance.


Baldissarri, C., Andrighetto, L., Gabbiadini, A., Valtorta, R. R., Sacino, A., & Volpato, C. (2019). Do Self-Objectified Women Believe Themselves to Be Free? Sexual Objectification and Belief in Personal Free Will. Frontiers of Psychology, 10, 1867. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01867

Calogero, R. M., Tantleff-Dunn, S. E., & Thompson, J. (2011). Self-objectification in women: causes, consequences, and counteractions. American Psychological Association.

Cohen, R., Newton-John, T., & Slater, A. (2017). The relationship between Facebook and Instagram appearance-focused activities and body image concerns in young women. Body Image, 23, 183–187. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bodyim.2017.10.002

Davidson, M. M., & Gervais, S. J. (2015). Violence Against Women Through the Lens of Objectification Theory. Violence Against Women, 21 (3), 330-354.

Forbes, G. B., Adams-Curtis, L. E., Jobe, R. L., White, K. B., Revak, J., Zivcic-Becirevic, L., & Pokrajac-Bulian, A. (2005). Body dissatisfaction in college women and their mothers: Cohort effects, developmental effects, and the infl uences of body size, sexism, and the thin body idea. Sex Roles, 53, 281-296.

Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x

Heflick, N. A., Goldenberg, J. L., Cooper, D. P., & Puvia, E. (2011). From women to objects: Appearance focus, target gender, and perceptions of warmth, morality and competence. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 572–581. https://doi.org/10.1016/j. jesp.2010.12.020

Kahalon, R., Shnabel, N., & Becker, J. C. (2018). Positive stereo-types, negative outcomes: Reminders of the positive compo-nents of complementary gender stereotypes impairperformance in counter-stereotypical tasks. British Journal of Social Psychology, 57, 482–502. https://doi.org/10.1111/ bjso.12240

Karsay, K., Knoll, J., & Matthes, J. (2017). Sexualizing media use and self-objectification: A meta-analysis. Psychology of Women Quarterly, advance online publication, 42, 9–28. https://doi.org/10. 1177/0361684317743019.

Kerremans, A, Claes, L., & Bijttebier, P. (2010). Disordered eating in adolescent males and females: Associations with temperament, emotional and behavioural problems, and perceived self-competence. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 955-960.

Kim, J. L., Sorsoli, C. L., Collins, K., Zylbergold, B. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. L. (2007). From sex to sexuality: Exposing the heterosexual script on primetime network television. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 145–157. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490701263660

Nussbaum, M. (1995). Objectification. Philos. Public Aff. 24(4), 249–291. doi:10.1111/j.1088-4963.1995.tb00032.x

Peat, C. M., & Muehlenkamp, J. J. (2011). Self-objectification, disordered eating, and depression: A test of mediational pathways. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 35(3), 441–450. https://doi.org/10.1177/0361684311400389

Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2012). Understanding sexual objectification: A comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls’ internalization of beauty ideals, self‐objectification, and body surveillance. Journal of Communication, 62, 869-887. doi:10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01667.x

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