Our brains are busy places. We’re constantly thinking, evaluating, perceiving and making decisions. All. Day. Long.
But what happens when a good chunk of your mental real estate is wrapped up in this:
- Is my shirt sitting nicely? (adjust just to be sure, even though you’re sitting at home, alone)
- These pants are a bit tight, ugh, I wonder if I need to go on a diet. (suck it in ).
- Takes 10 selfies. Deletes all but 9 but doesn’t post because it’s not quite right.
- Compare. And compare. Then compare some more.
- Is my hair gone flat? How is my make-up (fluffs/ adjusts/ puts on lipstick)
It’s called self-objectification. It’s the process of monitoring your body from an outsider’s perspective. And it’s stealing your mental real estate (and so much more).
Which is fine if you don’t mind all your mental energy getting zapped…but what if you do? What if you want that mental energy back? This blog is an exploration of self-objectification. The construct, the costs and what you can do to shift your gaze from your body to what really matters – YOU!
What is Self-Objectification?
Self-Objectification is defined within psychology as the internalization of the objectifying gaze. Self-objectifying behaviours can include (but are not limited to): excessive mirror looking, frequent selfies, critiquing your appearance in the reflection and photographs, and comparing yourself to images in the media and other people.
And it’s no surprise that we’re all experiencing it to varying degrees. Hello Instagram and Facebook and a completely aesthetically obsessed Diet/ Fitness Culture. Yup. We are the product of the the marketing machine. Because the Beauty and Diet Industrial Complex is a multi-billion dollar industry with solutions to all your various aesthetic woes.
Make no mistake. This obsession – it’s a business. And it’s thriving.
But what’s the cost?
Not only is Self-Objectification correlated with negative body image, increased body shame, appearance anxiety, depression, and (no surprise) eating disorders. Studies also show if girls and women are in a state of self-objectification they perform worse on math and reading comprehension tests and can’t throw a softball as hard, run as far or lift as heavy of weights. It impacts our performance mentally and physically. You can read the nerdy (awesome) research here and here.
Self-objectification is literally stealing away our mental and physical capacity to think, act and perform our best.
Note: this is not a uniquely female issue. Both men and women struggle with self-objectification, but it is most commonly seen among women and since I primarily work with women, I want to discuss it from the lens of a women’s experience (ie. any person who identifies as a woman).
What’s the antidote?
You might think, yeah, I get it Gillian. That’s why I’m practicing body gratitude, filling my feed with body diversity and I’m all in on this Body Positivity thing. I’m actively working to improve my body image.
That is AWESOME. But I have some news for you…it’s not the whole picture.
There another (even more important) step you need to take. We all do…
What?! Aren’t you the #moveyourawesomebody gal?
Yup. I sure am. It’s invaluable to focus on what your body can do (and not what it looks like doing it). It’s also essential to normalize normal by adding diversity to your newsfeeds. Taking strides to experience a more neutral, possibly even positive relationship with your body is HELLA important. But it’s not the WHOLE story.
Because even if your relationship with your body is “pretty good” your body image is still vulnerable to disruption.
- What happens if you’re injured or get diagnosed with a chronic condition that means your body can no longer DO all the awesome things it used to?
- What happens if your body changes (gets smaller or bigger)?
- How do you adjust course and find peace and love for this expression of your body?
- If you’re living in this body obsessed Diet/ Fitness Culture, is that even possible?
What if all the body image work we’re doing is missing the mark? What if all this body image work we’ve been doing is just the tip of the iceburg?
It’s a great first step. But much like how the majority of the iceburg is beneath the surface, as is our value as people. Our real “substance” is under the surface. And it’s that stuff that makes all the difference.
No matter how much we normalize bodies of all shapes and sizes, no matter how much cellulite and how many stretch marks we fill our instagram feeds with…we’re still looking at BODIES. No matter how much body diversity we see in various sports and active endeavours. We’re still placing inordinate value on BODIES.
Don’t get me wrong – I love seeing it all. I mean did you catch this one (All Bodies on Bikes)? Awesome. I freaking LOVE it.
But we’re still keeping our gaze on bodies and ultimately we are MORE than a body.
Looking Beyond Your Body.
In their book More than a Body: Your body is an instrument not an ornament, twin sisters and body image researchers Dr. Lindsay Kite and Dr. Lexie Kite, dive into this exact topic. They share their (very compelling) research and make an incredibly (research backed) case for why we’re stuck in this sea of objectification. And they raise some really important questions. But more importantly they make the strong case for why we need to shift our focus from all this body image improvement work we’re doing towards recognizing our inherent worth and value beyond our bodies.
This is obviously a much bigger topic than I can explore in one blog. But I don’t want to leave you hanging!
Here are some steps you can take if you (like many) are struggling with self-objectification:
- Don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. Hand on heart my friend. Practice Self-Compassion and recognize you are not alone.
- Name it to tame it. You can’t change anything you can’t see. So when you see body objectification out “there” name it. When you name it, you’re a giant step towards actively reducing its impact on your relationship with your body.
- Take action! If you’re engaging in social media that has an objectifying tone (before and after pictures, focus on aesthetics) consider removing these from your feed. Even truly body positive feeds that are only sharing content that is body focused – get curious. Is this helping or hindering your focus on body? Unfollowing or unliking not only empowers you as the consumer, it also sends a clear message to the businesses engaging in these objectifying tactics: this is not ok!
- Tune in to you. When you notice your own self-objectifying behaviours (mirror checking, frequent selfies, critiquing your appearance in the reflection and photographs, and comparing yourself to images in the media and other people). STOP. PAUSE. REFLECT. Call it out (name it to tame it). And with grace (self-compassion) offer yourself kindness.
- Name your strengths. Connect to your value beyond your body. What do you offer the world that has nothing to do with your body. How can you notice and be more present to your innate value? You may choose to use an affirmation or touchstone to help you with this practice.
Our road back from self-objectifcation will be long and winding. But I truly believe it’s a journey worth taking. Lean in with grace for yourself and others. We’re all learning as we go here. But as the wonderful quote from Maya Angelou reminds us “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
If you’d like to explore self-objectification more and how you can break from from this and so much more join me for the upcoming Mindset. I’ve expanded the content of this 12-week course to include a full week focused on this important topic. Including some really important discussions and specific strategies and tools to help you decrease your self-objectification. You can learn more here.