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March 2016 Brief: Volume 23, Number 9

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The Impact of Self-Objectification on Political Efficacy:
Does Self-Image Affect Feelings of Political Adequacy

 

by Victoria M. Hurst
University of Northern Iowa

 

 

The phenomenon of self-objectification develops from the internalization of the objectification of the human body by the individual, occurring most prevalently among women, and results in a host of negative psychological effects.[1] Among these effects are increased body surveillance, disrupting one’s ability to achieve peak states of motivation, and body shame. It is possible, then, that feelings of inadequacy, as a result, affect other realms of life, including an individual’s orientation toward the political world.  To test this proposition, I conducted an original online survey (N=948) to determine if higher rates of self-objectification, utilizing measures for body surveillance and body shame, negatively affect internal and external political efficacy.  Importantly, I control for a number of demographic measures, including gender, to test whether significant subgroup differences exist.

 

Self-objectification is the act of seeing oneself as an object of desire for others, rather than through intrinsic individual qualities.[2] Fredrickson and Roberts note the mass media’s sexualization of the human body, particularly the female body, as a contributing factor to this effect.[3] Corresponding with the rise of third-wave feminism, which promotes women’s sexualization as a source of power[4] and the rise of the internet in the 1990s, which created a greater medium for the circulation of sexualized portrayals of the female body, the proportion of women elected to statewide office stagnated in the 1990s, in comparison to the sharp increases in statewide female elected officials during the 1970s and 1980s. It seems plausible that the increasing prevalence of self-objectification has stimulated increased feelings of inadequacy among women related to their appearance, and these negative feelings about oneself may affect other realms of life, including self-perceptions regarding individual importance and capability in a democratic society, or internal and external political efficacy. If this is true, it may serve as a valid explanation as to why the number of women elected to public office has generally not increased over the last two decades, if fewer women are running due to increased feelings of inadequacy or unimportance.

 

The results of this study establish the negative relationship between the phenomenon of self-objectification and political efficacy. These findings indicate that individuals who experience the effects of self-objectification, namely heightened body surveillance and body shame, have reduced internal political efficacy rates, resulting in feelings of political inadequacy. Self-objectification affects women more significantly than men, and the negative impact of self-objectification on internal political efficacy has more damaging effects on feelings of political adequacy in women than in men. The variable of body shame further corresponds to reduced external political efficacy, negatively affecting feelings of importance in the eyes of governmental institutions, especially among women, which is damaging to the validity of governing bodies.

 

Overall, women experience self-objectification and the negative effects thereof at higher rates than men, resulting in fewer women believing they are qualified to run for and hold public office. The implications of fewer females running for office has negative consequences for the role model effect for girls and young women, resulting in fewer conversations within the family unit regarding women’s capability as political leaders, negatively impacting the perceptions of young women’s personal views regarding their own leadership capabilities. Further, fewer women running for public offices hinders efforts toward establishing gender parity in political leadership and reinforces the unrepresentative demographic nature of current political leadership in America. Governing bodies that are demographically similar to the public they represent, also referred to as descriptive representation, result in higher external political efficacy rates among the electorate than their unrepresentative counterparts. As the external political efficacy rates of an electorate are indicative of the validity of a governmental institution, this adds to the problematic nature of self-objectification and the negative implications associated with it. Overall, the negative consequences of the phenomenon of self-objectification are more damaging than indicated by previous research, as its impact negatively affects the function of democracy as a whole, not just the individuals directly affected by the phenomenon.

 

With this in consideration, efforts to reduce the commodification and objectification of the human body, particularly the female body, should be made, as it is damaging to the validity of governmental institutions by negatively affecting feelings of political adequacy, predominantly among women, which results in fewer women running for and holding public office. Without efforts to reduce the phenomenon of self-objectification and improve feelings of political adequacy among women, it will not be possible to achieve gender parity in the political realm, resulting in the continuation of gender inequality in society and reduced democratic governmental validity.

 

Endnotes:
[1] Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T.-A. (1997). Objectification Theory: Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly(21), pp. 173-206.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Heldman, C., & Wade, L. (2011, August). Sexualizing Sarah Palin: The Social and Political Context of the Sexual Objectification of Female Candidates. Sex Roles, 65(3/4).


Public Interest Institute Policy Study, The Impact of Self-Objectification on Political Efficacy: Does Self-Image Affect Feelings of Political Adequacy is available at http://www.limitedgovernment.org/ps-15-7.html.


Victoria M. Hurst received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Northern Iowa. This INSTITUTE BRIEF is from a thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors with Distinction.

 

Permission to reprint or copy in whole or part is granted, provided a version of this credit line is used:"Reprinted by permission from INSTITUTE BRIEF, a publication of Public Interest Institute." The views expressed in this publication are those of the author and not necessarily those of Public Interest Institute. They are brought to you in the interest of a better-informed citizenry.

   

 

 

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