Beauty is only skin deep. But whether we like it or not, the ugly truth is that appearances matter.
As a society, we put people we deem physically attractive on a pedestal. They flood our screens on TV shows and movies, appear in glossy magazines and are the faces of ad campaigns that sell clothing and beauty products promising to improve and elevate our appearances.
That being said, it’s no surprise that self-objectification is an issue that impacts many people – especially women.
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If you’ve ever spent a copious amount of time analyzing your flaws in the mirror, editing a photo before posting it to social media or even having trouble focusing on tasks because you’re so preoccupied with your appearance, you’re engaging in self-objectification.
This article will look at the definition of self-objectification, why it’s so prevalent today, signs you’re self-objectifying and ways to combat this behavior.
What is self-objectification?
Self-objectification refers to the behavior of constantly analyzing, thinking about and even obsessing over your appearance. While self-objectification is usually viewed negatively, this phrase also pertains to looking at yourself in a positive light. Enjoying the way you look due to the modifications you’ve made, whether it’s the right lighting, a new shade of lipstick that brings out your features or the way you look in a trendy new outfit, spending time looking at yourself as a physical object rather than a human being is considered self-objectification.
Signs of Self-Objectification
When done in moderation, these self-objectification behaviors aren’t necessarily harmful. It’s healthy to put your best foot forward regarding your appearance – especially in situations where you want to showcase your best self, such as on a job interview when attending a wedding or even on a first date.
Self-objectification becomes harmful when it becomes so obsessive that it affects other areas of your life negatively. For example, spending so long getting ready and scrutinizing your appearance that you are hours late for important plans – to the point where you miss out on part or all of the experience.
Excessive mirror looking. Checking your appearance before you head out the door or even catching a glimpse of yourself in a reflection in public isn’t harmful self-objectification behavior. Excessive mirror looking means you’re spending large portions of your day in front of your reflection, changing your appearance many times and never feeling fully satisfied. Or conversely, being unable to tear your eyes away from your reflection, being entirely fixated on your appearance and nothing else.
Constant self-comparison. Unfortunately, the age of social media has made it easy to self-objectify – especially when comparing ourselves to others. If you find yourself scrolling through social media accounts and comparing your appearance to others who fit a standard of beauty you don’t feel you measure up to, this can be a harmful sign of self-objectification.
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Frequent selfies. Snapping many photos of yourself regularly, whether to critique your appearance or enjoy and fixate on it, is another sign of self-objectification. Becoming obsessed with how you appear in photos can also lead to obsession with being validated via social media. It’s a harmful indicator of self-objectification if you’re constantly looking at the photos you post and evaluating the likes, engagement and responses you receive.
How to Beat Self-Objectification
Breaking the pattern of self-objectification can be a hard process – one that takes time and persistence to beat. However, it’s possible to overcome self-objectification with the right tools, awareness, patience and understanding. Here are a few key steps to take to stop self-objectification.
Pay attention to how and when you self-objectify
The first step in overcoming self-objectification is to start recognizing the behavior. When you find yourself staring in the mirror, pause and reflect on what caused you to spend this time looking at yourself. What fears or thoughts motivate you to scrutinize or obsess over your appearance at this moment?
Take being aware of self-objectification a step further by starting a journal to track your behavior. Write down how you feel when you find yourself self-objectifying and be as detailed as possible. Note the time of day, what you were doing before you started self-objectifying, and the thoughts and feelings you had while doing so. Journaling about your self-objectification behavior for a few weeks can help you identify patterns in the behavior and better understand your triggers and motivations for doing so.
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Pay attention to when you’re self-objectifying, then find a way to remove yourself from it. If you notice negative thoughts about your appearance creeping up as you look at your reflection, find something else that needs to be done at that moment and redirect yourself to a different task to break the behavior.
Strive for positive self-talk
When you’re ready, try shifting your inner monologue about your negative appearance from negative to positive. If you look in the mirror and focus on your flaws, catch yourself and shift your focus to things you like about yourself. Think of all the people who love and accept you in life as you are. Focus on the positive things beyond your physical features that you truly love about yourself that make you unique and stand out.
Push through and continue on
Self-objectification can cause disruptions to our day-to-day lives and even keep us from enjoying the social events or activities we’ve dressed up for. If you notice yourself fixating on your appearance while trying to do something else – whether on a Zoom call or at a social function – refocus on what you’re supposed to be doing at that moment rather than on how you look. This may feel difficult initially, but the more frequently you teach yourself to redirect and carry on, the easier it will become.
Don’t let self-objectification keep you from doing the things you love. While there’s nothing unhealthy or harmful about wanting to look your best, obsessing over appearance has been linked to appearance anxiety, depression and even disordered eating and body shame.
It can feel hard to break the pattern of behavior that comes with self-objectification – especially in today’s digital world, where the opportunity to compare ourselves to impossible beauty standards is always just a few clicks away. If you’re struggling with self-objectification, know you’re not alone and seek help from a mental health professional as needed for support.
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