Roles Of Self Objectification And Appearance Anxiety On Marital Satisfaction
This study investigated the role of self-objectification and Appearance Anxiety on marital satisfaction among married people. Objectification theory is a social constructivist framework that aims to explain how sociocultural and intrapersonal variables impact women’s mental health. To date, however, few studies have used an objectification framework to examine the relationship between body image and sexual functioning in ethnically diverse samples of women. Consequently, the present study used the tenets of objectification theory to examine body image and sexuality in women. Specifically, this study investigated the relationships between body surveillance, body shame, body self-consciousness during sexual activities, and sexual satisfaction in American female college students. Participants completed selfreport measures of demographic information, body shame, body surveillance, body self-consciousness during sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction. Bivariate correlations suggested that body surveillance, body shame, and body self-consciousness during sexual activity were negatively correlated with sexual satisfaction. Additionally, path analysis indicated that body surveillance predicted increased body self-consciousness during sexual activity, which was partially mediated by body shame. Body self-consciousness, in turn, predicted decreased sexual satisfaction. Overall, study findings suggest that it is important to assess for and address body surveillance, body shame, and body concerns during sexual activity in clinical contexts with women presenting with sexual dissatisfaction.
1.1 Background Of The Study
Satisfaction is the pleasure that one feels when they do something or get something that they wanted or needed to do or get. It is the art of satisfying or the state of being satisfied. Satisfaction is a pleasant or positive emotion. It can also be a feeling, or can even be a state of a mind. A person feels satisfied by accomplishment, recognition, invention, and service. The opposite of satisfaction is dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction occurs when we fail at doing something many times. Satisfaction is also motivator of behavior.
Marital satisfaction refers to a subjective global evaluation of one’s relationship (Narimani, Porzoor, Atadokht & Abbasi, 2015). Being in a satisfying marriage has consistently been associated with better physical health, mental health, and overall life satisfaction (Mirfardi, Edalati, & Redzuan, 2010). Conversely, marital distress, separation, and divorce have been linked to increased stress, poor physical health, and emotional (Narimani, Porzoor , Atadokht & Abbasi 2015). . Marriage as an institution has a crucial role in helping two individuals to have personal growth and enrichment from established family life.
According to Fowers (1995), Love and marriage is the primary source of individual happiness and meaning in life. These fulfillment, happiness and positive development will be possible only when the relationship between couples is coherent and satisfactory. One of the most important goals of marriage is the will to attain marital satisfaction (Zainah, Nasir, & Ruzy, 2012). Marital satisfaction is a complex and multi-dimensional phenomenon, which has been extensively explored by the most diverse scientific fields (Rebello, Silva Junior, & Brito, 2014). According to Schoen et al., marital satisfaction is a global evaluation of the state of one’s marriage and a reflection of marital happiness and functioning. From an evolutionary perspective, marital satisfaction can be viewed as a psychological state of regulated mechanisms that monitor the benefits and costs of marriage to a particular person. In the definition of marital satisfaction, experts agree that it subjectively assesses quality of relationship (Farahmand & Ahmadnia, 2014). It seems that factors which influence or contribute to marital satisfaction may differ across cultures. For example, a husband’s income is a more important variable for marital satisfaction in Japan as compared to United States.
After marriage, individuals seek a life full of happiness and satisfaction; therefore, more significant than the marriage itself is success in marriage and marital satisfaction. As a result, a decrease in marital satisfaction not only creates an inappropriate atmosphere in a family but also leads to family instability and divorce . Therefore, due to the significance of the balanced function of the family and preventing it from breaking up, it is necessary to know the effective factors in marital satisfaction which is the strengthening basis for married life (Stevens, Kiger, & Riley, (2001). In spite of widely studies about marital satisfaction, many researchers have claimed that some aspects still need to be explained. Moreover, Pleasant and relaxing couples relationship is not only suitable in order to their growth and flourishing, but also it is essential for children’s development and growth. So, it could be definitely considered as a factor for achieving life’s goals and is effectively influenced mental disorders in the community. Although, results of a study shows that almost all couples have high marital satisfaction in early years of marriage life but, it painfully decreases over time when their age increases (Motavalli , Ozgoli, Bakhtiari, 2008.).
On the other hand, lack of marital satisfaction has important consequences such as impairment in social interaction, feelings of isolation and loneliness, lower life satisfaction and family disputes that note the importance of this factor again. Results of some studies have shown that factors such as social, economic (income) and employment situation as well as personality, cognitive, religious factors besides, dating before marriage, spousal age, number of children, couples’ age gap, addiction, education, gender, disease and sexual satisfaction involved in marital satisfaction. It is worth to mention that Chiung, (2005), have claimed that factors affecting marital relationship is obviously vary in different culture. The most marital dissatisfaction is related to women and in another study has been reported that marital satisfaction in women increases with age.
Nevertheless, Amato (2007) asserted that marital happiness have been equal among men and women. besides, the results of some studies show satisfaction about sexual activity is one of the most important factors affecting marital satisfaction, so lower satisfaction will occurs when sexual activity reduce due to aging by lack of stress and unhappiness. Marital satisfaction is a complex process that has over time been thought to be influenced by many factors, including education, socio-economic status, love, commitment, marital communication, conflict, gender, length of marriage, the presence of children, sexual relations and the division of labor (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1992).
The presence of children has both negative and positive relation on marital satisfaction. In addition, studies have shown that there is a relationship between number of children, particularly preschool children, and marital satisfaction (Stevens, Kiger & Riley, 2001).Being an important element of marital life, sexual relationship and satisfaction derived from it has significant relation to have a warm and sustaining relationship between spouses. Husbands’ and wives’ ratings of satisfaction with their sexual relationship were significantly related to the overall satisfaction with their marital relationship (Young & luquis, 1998). Additionally, having low levels of education in large percentage of adults has been shown through a study could cause to lower level of satisfaction, since high education levels leads to better communication and conflict resolution skills in marriage.
The objectification theory (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997) posits that men and women often are looked at as objects by society, with a sexual focus being placed on their bodies rather than on their abilities. The ubiquity of these objectification experiences socializes people to internalize an observer perspective upon their body. This process is called self-objectification and it occurs when people think about and treat themselves as objects to be regarded and evaluated based upon appearance (Fredrickson and Roberts, 1997; McKinley, 2011). Since the foundational work of Fredrickson and Roberts (1997), literature has largely demonstrated the damaging psychological corollary of self-objectification. Experimental research has shown that heightened self-objectification promotes general shame, appearance anxiety, drive for thinness, hinders task performances and increases negative mood (Moradi and Huang, 2008; Gervais et al., 2011; Rollero, 2013; Tiggemann, 2013). Consistently, correlational studies have found that self-objectification is related to appearance anxiety, body shame, positive attitudes toward cosmetic surgery, depression, sexual dysfunction and various forms of disordered eating (Miner-Rubino 2002; Calogero, 2009; Calogero, 2010; Peat and Muehlenkamp, 2011; Tiggemann and Williams, 2012). Most correlational studies have been cross sectional, but some longitudinal data are available as well and report similar outcomes (McKinley, 2006). Even if objectification theory was developed in reference to womens experiences, research has explored the applicability of this framework to investigate mens experience as well. Studies have shown that men report lower self-objectification than do women, but young male adults are becoming progressively more worried about their physical aspect (Weltzin , 2005; Moradi and Huang, 2008).
This seems to be related to the growing tendency to objectify men’s bodies in Western societies, which increases body image concerns among men (Johnson, 2007; Daniel, 2014). In line with findings about women, mens self-objectification is correlated with lower self-esteem, negative mood, worse perceived health and disordered eating (Calogero, 2009; Rollero, 2013; Register, 2015; Rollero and De Piccoli, 2015). Moreover, self-objectification processes have been taken into account to explain drive for muscularity, excessive exercise and steroid use in men (Daniel and Bridges, 2010; Parent and Moradi, 2011). In sum, a great number of studies grounded in objectification theory have elucidated links between self-objectification processes and relevant psychological outcomes both in female and in male populations. Fewer studies have driven the attention to the potential antecedents of self-objectification. Most of them emphasize the role played by mass media: literature has clearly demonstrated the relationship between viewing objectified media models and both men and women’s self-objectification (e.g., Groesz, 2002; Tiggemann, 2003; Grabe, 2008; López-Guimerà, 2010; Rollero, 2013; Vandenbosch and Eggermont, 2014).
The internalization of the objectifying messages from the media leads individuals to self-objectify and guides the perception of their worth (Thompson and Stice, 2001; Vandenbosch and Eggermont, 2012; Karazsia, 2013). Recently, some authors have pointed out the necessity to address the ideological antecedents of self-objectification. In their experimental studies, Calogero and Jost (2011) found that women exposed to specific ideology, i.e., sexist attitudes, increase their level of self-objectification. They conclude that self-objectification can be considered as a consequence of an ideological pattern that justifies and preserves the societal status quo. Teng (2016), with a sample of Chinese women, showed that women’s values play a role in fostering a self-objectifying perspective, besides other sociocultural and interpersonal predictors. By means of an experimental study, these authors induced materialism and found that “certain situational cues that do not contain any explicit information about the physical body could give rise to self-objectification” (Teng, 2016).
Thus, they demonstrated that materialism can trigger self-objectification tendencies. In line with this research, Teng, (2016) in their study with Chinese subjects showed that the more materialistic women are, the more likely that they adopt on an objectifying gaze upon themselves and show more monitoring of their body. Despite these two recent studies and few exceptions (Loughnan, 2015) for the impact of culture on male and female self-objectification; Myers and Crowther, (2007) for the role of feminist beliefs and Hurt, (2007) for the role of feminist identity) to the best of our knowledge no other research has explored the role played by specific ideological components, such as personal values, in the development of self-objectification. However, according to Howard (1985), values play an important role in shaping people attitudes and behaviors. For example, empirical studies have shown that self-objectification predicted greater body shame and greater appearance anxiety (Moradi & Huang, 2008). The construct of self-objectification is conceptualized as a learned trait (Calogero, 2011). However, it can also be elicited momentarily, such as through media use, and can lead to a state of self-objectification (Calogero, 2011, Moradi & Huang, 2008). There have been different approaches to operationalizing self-objectification because researchers understand it as a multifaceted concept (Calogero, 2011; Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997; Vandenbosch & Eggermont, 2012, 2013).
Humans are social beings. They are born in a communication environment in society and are raised by establishing communication by social identities such as family, teachers, neighbors, relatives, friends, acquaintances and bosses until their death. However, the common feature of all people is that they influence and are influenced by people with whom they establish communication. The number of individuals who do not have the ability to express themselves, who cannot speak in front of others and who have “social concerns” in the society is pretty much in the society (Kağıtçıbaşı, 1988). It is a known fact that all people fear and become anxious under some circumstances. However, measuring the level of this emerging concern is important for psychologists, psychiatrists and educators. This is because treatment process and training programs can be prepared only in the light of such information (Öner and Le Compte, 1985). Social concern, also known as appearance anxiety, is defined as significant and persistent fear which emerges in social situations or in front of strangers or in situations that require performance in DSM-IV (APA, 2000). It is expressed as the fear of being eyed by other people in relatively small groups in ICD-10 (WHO, 1993).
Appearance anxiety is “the fear that one will be negatively evaluated because of one’s appearance” (Hart, 2008). Appearance anxiety is indeed positively correlated with social interaction anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, fear of scrutiny, and measures of negative body image (Hart, 2008). However, it does not appear to represent mere overlap among these other constructs. Instead, appearance anxiety has been found to be a unique construct highly related to social anxiety that taps into a unique proportion of variability in social anxiety beyond negative body image, depression, personality, and affect (i.e., social appearance anxiety predicts social anxiety when all of the constructs noted above are included in the regression equation) (Hart, 2008; Levinson & Rodebaugh, 2011). More specifically, social appearance anxiety differs from body image concerns because it focuses on fears evoked from being evaluated by others on one’s overall appearance, rather than a general dissatisfaction in one’s self-image because of body dissatisfaction. Based on the available evidence, we conceptualize social appearance anxiety as a negative social evaluative fear that is distinct from fear of negative evaluation because it focuses specifically on fears of judgment based on appearance versus negative evaluation fears more generally. That is, we see appearance anxiety as a specific type of fear of negative evaluation that requires measurement in its own right due to its greater specificity. Perceived flaws in appearance have been implicated as a possible core fear in social anxiety disorder (Moscovitch, 2009).
Summary, Discussion and Conclusions
The present study aimed to address limitations in extant literature by using the tenets of objectification theory to examine the relationship between body image and sexual functioning in an ethnically diverse sample of female college students. As hypothesized, when controlling for body size and relationship status, body surveillance predicted increased body shame; body shame partially mediated the link between body surveillance and increased body self-consciousness during sexual activity; and body self consciousness during sexual activity fully mediated the relationship between body shame and decreased sexual satisfaction. Specifically, model fit was adequate in the original model, accounting for 30% of the variance in college women’s sexual satisfaction. After slightly revising the model by removing BMI as a predictor of body surveillance, body self-consciousness during sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction, it improved model fit and accounted for an additional 1% of the variance in sexual satisfaction.
These results yield at least four key findings that have important implications for clinical practice and research. First, these data are consistent with existing research highlighting a negative relationship between the psychological consequences of selfobjectification (i.e., body surveillance and body shame) and women’s sexuality (Calogero& Thompson, 2009; Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008); and generally lend support for using the tenets of objectification theory to understand women’s sexual satisfaction and body image (Frederickson & Roberts, 1997). Specifically, in the current study, body surveillance and body shame contributed to increased self-consciousness in the context of sexual activity, which predicted decreased sexual satisfaction for women.
This is similar to the results of Calogero and Thompson’s (2009) study, in which researchers found that one-third of the variance in British college women’s sexual satisfaction was explained by their objectification model, in which body surveillance led to increased body shame, which led to decreased sexual satisfaction.
Second, this study offers important data on mediating factors that influence the relationship between self-objectification and sexual satisfaction. Few studies have explicitly examined the underlying processes linking body concerns and women’s sexual experiences (Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008). Findings from this study suggest that body shame partially mediates the relationship between body surveillance and body self-consciousness during sexual activity. In other words, women who monitor their appearance more frequently experience higher levels of body shame; and both body monitoring and shame contribute to increased body self-consciousness during sexual activities. These data are consistent with previous research linking body surveillance and body shame to increased body self-consciousness during sexual activity (Claudat, Warren, &Durette, 2012; Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008). For example, Claudat and colleagues (2012) found that body shame partially mediated the relationship between body surveillance and body self-consciousness during sexual activity in a sample of ethnically diverse female college students. Furthermore, the current study found that body self-consciousness during sexual activity fully mediated the relationship between body shame and sexual satisfaction. This is consistent with some previous research demonstrating that self-consciousness during sexual activity fully mediated the relationship between body shame and general sexual functioning for women and men (e.g., Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008).
Third, study results suggest it is important to account for relationship status when examining women’s subjective sexual experiences. Path analysis results indicated that not being in an exclusive relationship was associated with decreased sexual satisfaction and increased body concerns during sexual activity. These findings are similar to previous research indicating that women who are not in a romantic relationship report greater sexual problems and higher levels of self-consciousness during sexual activity than those involved in an exclusive romantic relationship (e.g., Faith &Schare 1993; Meana&Nunnink, 2006; Sanchez & Kiefer, 2007; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008; Wiederman, 2000). Theoretically, some researchers suggest that this occurs because when in a committed relationship with someone, a woman may habituate to her partner and therefore become less concerned about her appearance during sexual activity (Wiederman, 2000). Future research should explore this possibility and examine specific protective factors associated with being in an exclusive relationship to guide interventions for women’s sexual problems.
Finally, the present study highlights that it is important to carefully consider the influence of BMI when investigating women’s body image and sexuality. Although the relationship between BMI and women’s body image is well documented (e.g., Presnell et al., 2004; Stice&Whitenton, 2002), scant research exists examining the relationship between BMI and female sexuality. In this study, BMI was not significantly correlated with body surveillance. This is consistent with objectification theory because, regardless of body size, women are likely to engage in body surveillance as a cognitive behavioral manifestation of self-objectification. As such, surveillance serves as the mechanism through which a woman can monitor her appearance and compare herself to the cultural body ideal. Furthermore, in the current study, BMI was modestly associated with body shame. This is also consistent with objectification theory and research indicating that if a woman perceives she fails to meet the thin ideal, body shame is the result (e.g., Presnell et al., 2004; Stice&Whitenton, 2002). Contrary to study hypotheses, BMI was not significantly predictive of body self-consciousness during sexual activity or sexual satisfaction. As such, BMI may play a role in women’s sexual experience to the extent that it influences body image experiences, such as body shame (Cash et al., 2004; Pujols et al., 2009). Further research investigating the relationship between BMI and female sexuality is warranted.
Although the present study offers important contributions to the body image literature, it is not without its limitations. This study utilized retrospective self-report measures, which may limit the accuracy of participant recall. These data are also crosssectional, which limits my ability to infer causal relationships among study variables. Future studies utilizing a longitudinal or experimental design are warranted to truly understand causal relationships between self-objectification experiences, body image in the context of sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction in women. Additionally, a significant amount of variance in women’s sexual satisfaction remained unaccounted for using the proposed model. This is likely because the study model only accounted for factors relevant to women’s body image experiences that may contribute to female sexual satisfaction. That said, future researchers may want to examine the relationships between objectification experiences, body image, sexual satisfaction, and additional factors that have been shown to affect female sexual satisfaction, such as physical health, quality of life, and relationship factors (e.g., relationship satisfaction, stability, and communication;
Byers, 2005; Litzinger& Gordon, 2005; Rosen & Bachman, 2008; Sprecher, 2002; Young, Denny, Luquis, & Young, 1998).
Other limitations exist surrounding the sample selected for the current study. This study examined body image and sexuality in heterosexual women ages 18-24. Consequently, these findings may not be generalizable to women of other age groups or sexual orientations. Finally, this study was conducted with an ethnically heterogeneous sample of college women in Las Vegas, Nevada. Although I believe it is a significant contribution to the literature to include such a diverse sample, as existing research examines these constructs in predominantly White, European American samples (e.g., Calogero& Thompson, 2009; Steer &Tiggemann, 2008), it is possible that ethnic differences would emerge in model fit if I had a large enough sample to test the model by ethnic group. Furthermore, geographically, these women live in a highly sexualized atmosphere. Therefore, women in this study may be exposed to objectification experiences more so than woman from other regions of the United States. Consequently, study findings must be replicated with women from other geographical reasons in order to test their generalizability.
Finally, the model tested in the present study was also limited. Although it is important to consider women’s subjective sexual experiences, this study only examined one domain of women’s sexual health—sexual satisfaction. Future researchers could examine other domains of women’s sexual functioning (e.g., desire, orgasm) using a model based on the tenets of objectification theory in order to gain a better understanding of how objectification experiences influence female sexuality. Furthermore, path analysis was used in this study to test specific hypotheses regarding the relationships among study variables in the path model. It is important to note that alternative models with different assumptions about the relationships among the observed variables may fit the data equally well.
Despite the limitations of the current research, the present study extended research in the area of objectification theory by testing a model examining body image and sexuality in an ethnically diverse sample of heterosexual women. Approaching women’s sexual health from an objectification theory framework may be clinically useful, as it places women’s sexuality in its cultural context. The APA’s 2007 Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Girls and Women (APA, 2007) encourage psychologists to maintain up-to-date awareness of social forces and their interactions with gender in determining mental health. By gaining a better understanding of the effects of selfobjectification on women’s sexual health, clinicians may be better equipped to provide culturally competent clinical services to women. For example, clinicians may be better informed in considering how living in a culture that sexually objectifies women contributes to a client’s presenting problems, and how the interventions they implement may serve to maintain or challenge the status quo that promotes the sexual objectification of women (Szymanski et al., 2011).
Although a growing body of literature links objectification experiences and women’s sexual health, further research is warranted to identify how self-objectification may translate in the sexual behavior and beliefs of women. Preliminary research suggests that sexual objectification may negatively impact how a woman conceptualizes her sexuality and expectations about sexual roles (APA, 2010). For example, research suggests that women who are exposed to sexual objectification may be significantly more accepting of rape myths (such as the belief that women invite rape by engaging in certain behavior), sexual harassment, sex role stereotypes, interpersonal violence, and adversarial sexual beliefs about relationships (Kalof, 1999; Milburn, Mather, & Conrad 2000; Ward, 2002, as cited in APA, 2010). Further research in this area may be helpful in guiding prevention efforts and psychoeducational programs aimed at promoting healthy sexuality in women.
The current findings also highlight the importance of considering objectification experiences and body image when conceptualizing women’s sexual problems in clinical contexts. Findings suggest that clinicians should assess for self-objectification experiences, body shame, and body surveillance when women present with concerns of sexual dissatisfaction (Szymanski, Carr, & Moffitt, 2011). For example, it may be important for clinicians to consider how living in a culture that sexually objectifies women influences clients and their sexuality. It may be useful for clinicians to encourage clients to examine how their culture and experiences with sexual objectification influence their body image and sexuality (Szymanski et al., 2011) in an effort to reframe their presenting problems by putting them into their sociocultural context (Worell& Remer, 2003 as cited in Szymanski et al., 2011).
Furthermore, due to their negative consequences, body surveillance, body shame, and body self-consciousness during sexual activity may be important intervention targets in clinical contexts with college women. Clinicians may be able to minimize the impact of sexual objectification on women’s sexual satisfaction by implementing treatment strategies designed to address body surveillance, body shame, and body image concerns during sexual activity. For example, clinicians may help clients challenge the internalization of unachievable standards of beauty, decrease how frequently a woman engages in body monitoring, and decrease the shame associated with not meeting the cultural body standard (Szymanski et al, 2011). Initial research suggests that cognitive behavioral strategies aimed at cognitive restructuring of one’s body image, and techniques aimed to limit women’s social comparisons of their bodies, may be useful in treatment settings to improve women’s body image (Rubin, Nemeroff, & Russo, 2004; Williamson &Netemeyer 2000). Addressing women’s body image concerns, particularly in the context of sexual activity, may in turn improve women’s sexual satisfaction.
Finally, findings intimate that relationship factors are important to consider in the treatment of women’s body image concerns and sexual dissatisfaction. The present findings underscore that being in an exclusive relationship may be associated with protective factors for body self-consciousness during sexual activity and sexual dissatisfaction. Furthermore, previous research suggests that romantic partners may be an important source of body image feedback for women (e.g., Tantleff-Dunn & Thompson, 1995). Thus, one clinical implication of such findings may be that clinicians could incorporate partners into the treatment of women’s body image concerns during sexual activity. For example, Wiederman (2001) suggests that clients could be encouraged to engage their partner in conversation in nonsexual settings regarding client’s appearance concerns. Clients could also be encouraged to use their partner’s sexual arousal and response during sexual activity as feedback regarding the partner’s perceptions of their bodies rather than to assume the partner’s perception of them (Wiederman, 2001).
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