The new issue of Ms. hits stands today and inside is a story about self-objectification, or "viewing one's body as a sex object to be consumed by the male gaze." More and more women are viewing themselves as sex objects, says Caroline Heldman, Ph.D., an assistant professor of politics at Occidental College, and it's due in large part to the veritable onslaught of advertising images that we're subjected to. The average American, according to Heldman, views "3,000-5,000 ads per day, up from 500-2,000 in the 70s," and a good chunk of those ads show naked and/or fetishized women. It's possible that none of this is news to you, but the far-reaching effects of self-objectifying might surprise you.
Heldman states that self-objectification can lead to all or some of the following in women: depression, low self-esteem, less faith in their own capabilities, which leads to diminished success in life, low political efficacy, disgust and shame about their bodies... the list goes on. (To me, the most interesting side-effect is "low political efficacy", which is just a fancy way of saying that women who objectify themselves do not believe that they can create change, and thus rarely or never get involved with politics.)
Dr. Heldman, bless her soul, tries listing ways to combat self-objectification, but most of them seem fairly implausible, particularly if you're a television and movie lover. A "radical, personal solution is to actively avoid media to self-objectify, which, unfortunately is that vast majority of movies, television programs and women's magazines," Heldman writes. "My research with college age women indicates that the less women consume media, the less they self-objectify, particularly if they avoid fashion magazines. [Emphasis ours.] By shutting out media, girls and women can create mental and emotional space for true self-exploration." I guess the only solution is for women to make our own un-self-objectifying media to combat the other kind. Tina Fey and Diablo Cody? We are looking at you.