Self-Objectificiation? I Object!

I’ve been feeding my feminist side lately by perusing several feminist blogs and magazines, and today came across this article on Alternet about “Out-of-Body Image” and the predominance of self-objectification:

Self-objectification is a state of “double consciousness … a sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others.”

It struck a cord in me. I know self-objectification all too well. Probably from ages 10-20, I perpetually saw myself through this “out of body” lens. Every little bit of energy for me was focused on how I looked to others, how I appeared, and what they’d think of me. Sometimes, it was positively focused: I’d be walking into a grocery store in a cute outfit and think, “People must see me and think how confident I look, and how aloof and beautiful I am.” But usually, it was in an extremely self conscious way. I’d try to think how I was being perceived from all sides, and pose my body, my mouth, my facial expression, etc. into something more “beautiful” or “polished.” I did it completely without thinking most of the time.

And I did it mentally, too. I saw a psychologist over the summer between my senior year of high school and my first year of college, and the way I explained it to her was that everything I’d ever done, all my perfectionist attitudes, my desire to strive in the theatre, orchestra, my need to get good grades, all of it was making up for my one greatest flaw, which at that point was my fat. I tried to counter-balance my ugliness with an inner-beauty, and success. I was nice to people, even those who were not nice to me. I was diplomatic in most arguments. I made myself emotionally available to everyone around me, for advice, and help. And I was a perfectionist.

My psychologist, who helped a lot in just being the first person to really listen to me, tried to tell me there was no reason to “counter-balance” in such a way. I, of course, didn’t listen.

Moving into college opened up a whole boatload more of insecurities. Sex and physical relationships were all around me. More stress was put on my physicality, and I didn’t have those lifelong friends who saved me from most of my misery in high school. I honestly don’t know how I made it through my first few years in college, but I know that those were some of the loneliest days of my life. I didn’t trust many people. And I often felt betrayed by the people I did at the drop of a pin. I would scream and yell at my friends because they were being “insensitive” and “trying to hurt me” when really, I was just hurting myself.

I know that I haven’t completely given up my self-objectification. I still think everyone is judging me, even my close friends, sometimes. I rarely let go of my inhibitions. But I know now that all of that has to do with me still trying to get comfortable in my own skin.

So know, I’m putting this here to encourage myself to do it, I hope I can think about what I’m doing, and take a step back. Self-Objectification has led to nothing but trouble for me. And, according to the article I read, has been proven to be severely detrimental to performance in all areas of life:

Self-objectification has also been repeatedly shown to sap cognitive functioning, because of all the attention devoted to body monitoring. For instance, a recent study by Yale psychologists asked two groups of women to take a math exam — one group in swimsuits, the other in sweaters. The swimsuit-wearers, distracted by body concerns, performed significantly worse than their peers in sweaters.

AND

….self-objectification impeded girls’ ability to throw a softball, even after differences in age and prior experience were factored out.

AND worst of all:

One of the more stunning effects of self-objectification is its impact on sex. One young woman I interviewed described sex as being an “out of body” experience during which she viewed herself through the eyes of her lover, and, sometimes, through the imaginary lens of a camera shooting a porn film.

It’s not mentally healthy, not physically healthy, and we all need to take the opportunity to stop. So I’m going to try. I’m going to stop judging myself, and others. And I’m going let me be me. In the words of Joy Nash, “You’ve only got one life to live. Live it up!”

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11 thoughts on “Self-Objectificiation? I Object!

  1. awesome, awesome, awesome! thanks for bringing attention to this. i didn’t realize there was a name for this ‘thing’ i’ve been doing for most of my years. i’ve always been sooo self conscious about the way i look.
    the older i get, the better i feel though…sometimes i forget that the more i see the beauty in myself, the more likely others will too…am trying to keep in mind that even if they don’t…i’m still pretty ok. =))
    thanks again for the info. stop by sometime!
    cheers,
    nicki

  2. Beautifully written. And I never knew the words for how I spent most of my life viewing myself: Self Objectification. How well I knew how to see my outfits, my hair, my fat body, through the imaginary lens of “others’ eyes”. It is really really difficult to unlearn this process; to step outside of that way of viewing myself and learn to trust my own body’s feelings instead of speculating on the thoughts of others.

    There are great moments though. Like the day I found, tried on and actually SAW myself in a great sleeveless dress and liked what was there; rather than immediately wondering how others would see me in it.

    Thanks for posting about this. May your journey to stop judging yourself (and others) be full of great moments!

  3. WOW. I’ll admit that I don’t have a whole lot of jiggly parts. I was blessed with most of my life being very thin. But as I go through my 30s, I notice I’m not as thin as I was. I also want to point out that even skinny girls have body image problems. I constantly think about how other people see me. I counter balance also. I feel like I have to make up for something that’s missing. Thanks for your insight! This is a great blog!

  4. Hi, Thank you for this wonderful article. I just stumbled upon it while I was supposed to be doing something else. Lucky!

    I hear what you are saying and I understand completely what it is like to be constantly evaluating one’s self physically. Another side to this is women being hyper-critical towards other women. The more we hear our friends, sisters, mothers, etc. nit-pick about the looks of others, the more we tend to self-criticize. I remember once when I brought back some photos from college spring break and showed them to my mother, she said, “oooh, she’s fat!”, referring to my friend who was having fun goofing off in a nice swimsuit. She was not fat, she just was not skinny, and she was not posing for the picture. She was giggling in a funny position and whenever I looked at the photo I just thought of the great times we had. But now I recall my mother’s comment every time and have to consciously dismiss it.

    I find that the best way to overcome the self-objectification is to get yourself together (in the morning or whenever you are getting dressed and ready), make sure you look cute, and then forget about it for the rest of the day. Focus attention on others – not their bodies but how they feel, their personality, talents, etc. Don’t even do that body scan. Look directly into their eyes and appreciate them in their entirety. Magically, without even realizing it, they will do the same to you.

    One final thought out loud. I think that the opposite of self-objectification is carefree sensuality. Yeah. Thanks for the idea!

  5. This really hits deep for me, I am CONSTANTLY doing this to myself, and honestly it drives me nuts. I am such a people pleaser and also terrified of being made the fool or getting negative attention thrown on me that this is constantly on my mind as to how to avoid it. It is not a fun way to live, I mean I remember back in high school going with a bunch of friends somewhere and having to sit in the back seat of a two door car and spending the whole trip obsessing about how exactly I would manage to get OUT of the car gracefully without making a fool of myself. I lose out on so much because of this and I really hate it, I would love to break this habit and be able to turn off that “they are all staring at you and judging you you had better try to be perfect to make up for your fatness” and just be able to live my life and do what I want without all that.

  6. Hey yo, Chrissay

    v. interesting blog entry. “self-objectivization” sounds very similar to another psychological concept called the “Spotlight Effect”

  7. hi – i am really working on that, too. my counselor gave me some homework – everyday i say good things to myself. for example, “i am a good person, i am a good wife, i am a good mother, i am a good friend….” and it seems to help me put myself in a better light. good does not mean perfect. it means good enough. i really enjoy your blog. thanks.

  8. Not to be nit-picky and trollish, but I think the saying is “struck a chord with me,” not “struck a cord in me.” But a very creative variation, my dear. πŸ˜‰

    It’s funny… I hardly ever see myself through the eyes of others. In fact, if I did I’d probably have a much better self-image. I think that I’M my biggest opponent, strangely enough! I want to make myself “better” or “prettier” for me. But I’m working on loving myself and my body more. πŸ™‚ Hopefully I’ll learn to fully accept myself the way that I am!!

  9. This is a great post!

    I just got back from spending a month at home, and in one of our many talks, my mom said “You can’t let other people tell you who you are. Not everyone is going to like you or what you’re doing, and you can’t let that bother you or hold you back.” This post reminds me of that conversation, because I was telling my mom about how I do things I don’t want to do just to please other people.

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