According to new research published in Psychology of Women Quarterly.
“My colleagues (Dr. Larissa Terán and Dr. Jennifer Stevens Aubrey) and I were interested in this topic because sexual objectification and self-objectification are issues in our society, especially among girls and women,” said the author. of the Jian Jiao study. assistant professor at Boise State University.
“Also, although there are a large number of studies showing the negative consequences of these issues, relatively few have looked at how we might prevent such an object culture. As a relationship scholar, I have been motivated to explore and identify relational factors that might protect people from objectification.”
The new finding is based in part on attachment theory, which posits that parent-child interactions shape how individuals perceive and behave in personal relationships. People can be secure or insecure in their attachments, and insecure people can be either anxious or avoidant. People with attachment anxiety often worry about rejection or abandonment. In contrast, those with avoidant attachment tend to be stubbornly independent and have difficulty trusting others.
For their new study, Jiao and his colleagues first looked at 392 college students from the United States. Participants reported how often they experienced being sexually objectified by others, how often they engaged in self-objectification, and completed an assessment of romantic attachment styles.
Those high in self-objectification strongly agree with statements such as “I often think about how my body should look to others” and “My physical appearance is more important than my personality.”
Among women, interpersonal sexual objectification, self-objectification, and attachment insecurity were positively correlated. Women who reported more interpersonal sexual objectification tended to report more self-objectification. Additionally, women who reported greater interpersonal sexual objectification and greater self-objectification tended to experience more attachment anxiety and attachment avoidance in their romantic relationships. Among men, only self-objectification and attachment anxiety were positively correlated.
“However, given the cross-sectional nature of the data, the direction of the association could not be determined,” the researchers noted. “It could be that individuals’ self-objectification contributes to attachment anxiety in romantic relationships. Meanwhile, it is equally plausible that individuals’ attachment anxiety toward romantic partners makes them more likely to view themselves as an object to be viewed by others.”
To understand the temporal order between these variables, the researchers conducted a separate longitudinal study of 283 young adults. Participants completed the same assessments used in the previous study. About six months later, they completed the assessments again.
Jiao and colleagues found that increased attachment anxiety during the baseline survey predicted greater levels of self-objectification six months later. Neither interpersonal sexual objectification nor self-objectification, in contrast, predicted subsequent changes in attachment anxiety or attachment avoidance. This was true for both men and women.
“This finding suggests that feeling anxious about a partner’s response and living with a fear of abandonment directed individuals’ attention to their appearance (i.e., self-objectification),” the researchers said. “People may become accustomed to changing their thinking about their appearance when they worry about a lack of attention from their partner because they may think they are not ‘good enough’ or ‘sexually attractive enough’ to get the attention they crave from their partner. “
The findings have some practical implications for those in romantic relationships.
“Perhaps the most important takeaway is that having a partner who makes us feel safe and secure could help reduce the overemphasis on our physical appearance and sexuality that leads to a wide range of psychological problems.” Jiao explained. “Although it may be difficult to ask for such a partner, we could at least try to be such a partner who brings safety and security to the other, as doing so will help reduce the extent to which our partner objectifies himself ( eg they focused too much on their physical appearance and sexuality over the other most important part of themselves as a human being).
The study, “Buffering an Objectifying Culture: Interpersonal Sexual Objectification, Self-Objectification, and Attachment Anxiety,” was authored by Jian Jiao, Larissa Terán, and Jennifer Stevens Aubrey.