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.
….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!”