& Objectified Body Consciousness
area of specialization is gender and gender role development across
the lifespan. I have been particularly interested in women's body experience
within U.S. culture. For my dissertation research, I developed a new
measure to study what I call "objectified body consciousness." This
scale is based on the work of feminist theorists who have argued that
U.S. women are taught to view their bodies as objects to be watched
as an outside observer. My OBC measure consists of three subscales:
Body surveillance and body shame
are related to lower body esteem and measures of psychological well-being,
as well as to increased problem eating. Control beliefs are related to
higher body esteem and psychological well-being, but also to increased
problem eating. This demonstrates the double-bind women may face in terms
of their body experience. Feeling like you can control your appearance
may make you feel better, but it may also encourage unhealthy behaviors.
(I should note, however, that these results are based on correlations,
which means we cannot tell whether having higher control beliefs makes
you feel better about your body, or whether feeling better about your
body makes you feel like you are in control of your appearance.)
- Body Surveillance.
This scale measures how much a woman thinks of her body in terms of
how it looks, rather than how it feels.
- Body Shame.
This scale measures whether a woman, rather than simply feeling bad,
believes she is a bad person when she does not achieve cultural body
standards. I take this to be a measure of how much a woman has internalized
cultural body standards and made them her own.
- Appearance Control
Beliefs. This scale measures whether a woman believes she
can control her appearance, given enough effort, or whether she believes
her appearance is controlled by other factors such as genetics.
By surveying a sample of
undergraduate women and their middle-aged mothers, I have demonstrated
that young women have higher levels of surveillance and body shame than
their mothers. However, even though mothers weigh more and presumably
are less likely to conform to cultural standards of attractiveness than
their daughters, they do not like their bodies less, nor do they diet
more. In another study, I have also demonstrated that gender differences
in body esteem can be accounted for by differences in objectified body
Body Dissatisfaction in Women
When undergraduate women
and men rate a woman who is high or low on objectified body consciousness,
they rate her as more lazy and less self-disciplined if she does not
worry about her appearance and they do not like her as much if she says
she believes appearance is controlled genetically rather than by hard
work. Thus, other people's attitudes may encourage us to objectify our
Right now, I am working on
a paper with a student to examine issues such as the relationships of
OBC to feminism and to other kinds of activism. Here are some other
projects I am plannning to do:
- conduct a 10-year follow
up to my original mothers' and daughters' data.
- study resistance to cultural
appearance norms and the effect of resistance on objectified body
consciousness, body image, and psychological well-being
- expand my research to
include the relationship of objectification to other psychological
issues, such as prejudice and stigmatization of non-conformists.
Here are some feminist writers
who have influenced my work:
Sandra Bartky (1988). "Foucault,
femininity, and the modernization of patriarchal power" in Feminism
and Foucault: Reflections on Resistance (pp. 61-86) edited by I.
Diamond, and L. Quinby. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Carol Spitzack (1990). Confessing
Excess: Women and the Politics of Body Reduction. Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press.
Naomi Wolf (1991). The
Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. New York:
Comments? Nita McKinley