Self-objectification and the unattainable ideal: Appearance ideals, discrepancies, and perceptions of attainability

Date of Completion

January 2005


Psychology, Social




Self-objectification is the act of viewing the self and the body from a third-person perspective. Objectification theory proposes that negative consequences arise for those who self-objectify when they make a comparison with an internalized ideal for appearance. The present studies examined activation and internalization of the ideal, its relationship with self-discrepancies in comparison processes, how perceptions of how attainable that ideal is are related to psychological outcomes, and how likely women were to intend to engage in behaviors to help them achieve the ideal. In both Studies 1 and 2, a state of self-objectification was manipulated by asking women to try on either a swimsuit or a sweater. In Study 3, these hypotheses were explored within the framework of trait self-objectification. The results of Study 1 showed that being in a state of self-objectification led to activation of the cultural ideal as women in the swimsuits were faster to respond to words relating to the ideal on a lexical decision task. In addition, state self-objectification led to beliefs that the ideal was more attainable and showed that women were more likely to intend to engage in ideal achieving behaviors, such as dieting and exercise. Study 2, in addition to replicating findings about perceptions of attainability and behavioral intentions, showed that women's perceptions were not easily shifted by messages of personal responsibility for outcomes. And, while a state of self-objectification did not have a direct influence on self-discrepancies, these discrepancies did interact with condition to influence women's psychological outcomes. Additionally, Study 3 showed that women who chronically monitor their appearance and take on an observer's perspective are less likely to perceive the ideal as attainable, more likely to experience negative affect and shame, and that these negative consequences are in turn mediated by both self-discrepancies and internalization of the ideal. These findings serve to link the understanding of both state and trait objectification, and highlight important processes implicit to the theory that have not previously been tested empirically. ^