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The sources and consequences of sexual objectification

Abstract

Sexual objectification (treating a person as a body or collection of body parts) involves a cultural prioritizing of women’s sexual appearance and appeal over other attributes. Sexual objectification is prevalent, permeates many aspects of women’s lives, shapes general assumptions about women and exacts many consequences on women and society. In this Review, we synthesize empirical evidence about the sources and consequences of seeing women as sexual objects, and of women’s objectification of themselves (self-objectification). In general, sexually objectified women are perceived more negatively, and as less competent and less fully human than women who are not sexually objectified. Exposure to this cultural messaging has broad consequences and fuels sexist attitudes and violence towards women. A central consequence for women is self-objectification, which is associated with a more negative body image; diminished mental, physical and sexual health; and impaired cognitive performance. Sociocontextual factors influence women’s experiences with sexual objectification, and here we explore the role of race and ethnicity, in particular. We conclude with suggested directions for future research.

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Fig. 1: Theorized objectification processes.

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Ward, L.M., Daniels, E.A., Zurbriggen, E.L. et al. The sources and consequences of sexual objectification. Nat Rev Psychol 2, 496–513 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s44159-023-00192-x

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