Sexual objectification means seeing people merely as bodies and bodies as objects. It reinforces the stereotypical models of asymmetric sex roles and relationships and amplifies gender inequality.
The term refers to the sexual objectification theory proposed by Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts in 1997. This theory says that women learn to internalize an outsider’s gaze on their bodies as the primary view of themselves because of sexual objectification.
Objectification is a form of dehumanization and a process through which a person is viewed and treated as an object (Nussbaum, 1995), and more specifically, as the object of men’s sexual desire rather than a whole person.
Sexualization means that the attention is focused on the sexual functions of the body and particularly of sexually relevant body parts (Bigler et al), and can bring a person to think that their value comes only from their sexual appeal or behavior until the exclusion of other characteristics (APA 2007).
An example of this phenomenon is using women’s bodies to sell products. In fact, in advertisements, we often see women’s bodies in juxtaposition with the object to be sold (like women on a car), their body parts emphasized, or women adopting postures with sexual function or direct allusions to sexual activities (also characterized by submission and degradation).
Sexual objectification has consequences for those who are objectified, those who belong to the same social group as the objectified, and the audience.
The consequences of sexual objectification can be both direct and vicarious. Among the vicarious paths, we can witness increased body surveillance and body dissatisfaction while the direct consequences can be found in increased attention on sexualized body parts and limitation in cognitive tasks and flow experiences.
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American Psychological Association, 2007.
Bigler, R. S., Tomasetto, C., & McKenney, S. (2019). Sexualization and youth: Concepts, theories, and models. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 43(6), 530-540.
Nussbaum, M. C. (1995). Objectification. Philosophy & Public Affairs, 24(4), 249-291.
Roberts, T. A., & Fredrickson, B. L. (1997). Objectification theory. Psychology of women quarterly, 21, 173-206.