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August 2015 Policy Study, Number 15-7


The Impact of Self-Objectification on Political Efficacy: Does Self-Image Affect Feelings of Political Adequacy





This research is significant because it sheds new light on the negative effects of self-objectification. Prior research, cited in earlier portions of this analysis, discusses the damaging psychological effects caused by self-objectification, and this study indicates that these negative effects extend into the political realm.


Increased body surveillance did not have a significant negative correlation with external political efficacy, indicating that, generally, an individual who experiences increased self-monitoring of their appearance does not have a reduced perception of public officials’ interest in addressing their individual concerns. This result shows that increased self-monitoring does not distract an individual to such an extent that they have an altered perception of their significance in the eyes of their governmental institution, which is important in maintaining government validity.


Conversely, increased body shame did have a significant negative correlation with external political efficacy for women. This illustrates the negative consequences of feeling shame regarding one’s appearance, as the internalization of shame causes a reduction in perceived individual importance to a governing body. Because the results of this portion of the study affected women but not men, light is also shed on the more substantial negative impact of self-objectification on women’s perceptions of their importance within society.


This result is problematic, as it can damage the validity of a governmental institution within a democratic society. Lower levels of external political efficacy correspond more greatly with a reduced likelihood of political participation than lower levels of internal political efficacy (Pollock, 1983). If women feel a heightened sense of shame regarding the appearance of their body, it negatively affects their feelings of external political efficacy, which, in turn, reduces their likelihood of participating in the political process. This is particularly concerning, as there may be a portion of females within the citizenry that do not participate in the political process, due to increased levels of shame regarding their bodily appearance.


A further conclusion resulting from this phenomenon may be drawn about the number of women running for and being elected to public office. The emergence of the third wave of feminism in the 1990s, which focused on female sexual liberation, but led to increased objectification of the female body, ultimately may be to blame for the stagnation in the number of women elected to public offices (Heldman & Wade, 2011). The findings in this research echo this idea, as, if the third wave of feminism has increased body shame, particularly among women, and increased body shame reduces external political efficacy, which, in turn, reduces the likelihood of political participation, then the stagnation in the increase of female elected officials may be due to consequences associated with the emergence of the third wave of feminism, along with the increase in consumption of new media associated with the rise of the internet. This is incredibly concerning, as a movement associated with female empowerment may be having the opposite effect in the political realm.


The research presented within this study also found that increased body surveillance and body shame negatively affect feelings of internal political efficacy for both males and females. This effect was stronger for the measure of body shame, and it affected women more significantly than men. Further, as the findings in Table 3 indicate, the frequency of self-objectification is more common in females than males, which is echoed by scholarship on the phenomenon of self-objectification.


The negative consequences of the phenomenon of self-objectification on internal political efficacy is of particular concern, as increased body surveillance and body shame negatively affect individual feelings of self-worth within the political realm. This illustrates the concept that feelings of inadequacy related to personal body image can translate into feelings of inadequacy in other areas of life, demonstrated by the negative correlation between measures of self-objectification and internal political efficacy.


The implications of the reduction of internal and external political efficacy due to increased body shame, as well as the reduction of internal political efficacy related to increased body surveillance, are significant. Considering that women feel the effects of self-objectification more substantially than men, it affects their perception of their role in a democratic society. It may discourage them from running for office, or even participating in politics. Previous research indicates that there is a negative correlation between political efficacy and political apathy (Pinkleton & Austin, 2004). In understanding this concept, it is apparent that reduced political efficacy results in increased apathy regarding politics. People who are apathetic are less likely to participate in politics, and this is especially problematic in light of the findings within this study, as women experience the phenomenon of self-objectification, and, in turn, the negative consequences associated with the phenomenon, more significantly than men, indicating they are less likely to participate in politics as a result of the negative implications of increased body surveillance and body shame.


If an entire portion of a society fails to participate in a democratic governmental institution because their personal feelings of self-worth are reduced, that society is not democratic by definition. Democracies, by nature, are intended to represent the interests of those within the society, but if a portion of society does not believe their government cares about them or that politics is too complicated for them to understand, their lack of input into the political system will cause the government to be unresponsive to their needs, further encouraging feelings of inadequacy.


Additionally, if women experience the phenomenon of self-objectification more prominently than men, as this study indicates, then they are less likely to participate in the political process. This idea is reinforced by findings related to female perceptions of their qualifications to hold public office. According to findings by Lawless and Fox (2004), “…[M]en are roughly two thirds more likely than women to assess themselves as ‘qualified’ or ‘very qualified’ to run for office. Women…are twice as likely as men to rate themselves ‘not at all qualified.’” Women, generally, do not see themselves as qualified to run for office significantly more frequently than men. This is likely due to a reduction in internal political efficacy due to the increased phenomena of body surveillance and body shame they experience. If women have reduced internal political efficacy, they are less likely to see themselves as qualified political candidates and are less likely to participate in the political process as a candidate.


Research by Atkeson and Carrillo (2007) indicated that descriptive representation improves external political efficacy rates for both males and females. In essence, an elected body that is demographically similar to the population it represents will result in increased feelings of government responsiveness to individual concerns. In the democratic republic political system, high external political efficacy rates are incredibly important, as they determine the validity of the governmental institution, as democratic governmental bodies derive their authority from the people they serve.


With this in consideration, if fewer women run for office due to feelings of inadequacy, stemming from reduced internal political efficacy as a result of the phenomenon of self-objectification, reaching parity within a governmental institution will not be possible in the near future. Because women represent roughly half of the population, descriptive representation would call for a similar ratio in governmental institutions, but it is substantially less in American politics today. This is concerning, as reduced internal political efficacy rates among women discourage their participation in politics, and their reduced participation lowers political efficacy rates among both males and females. For this reason, the result of the internalization of objectification is harmful to the function of society as a whole, as it damages the validity of the governing body by reducing external political efficacy rates across the population.


Beyond the consequence of reducing governmental validity through a reduction in external political efficacy as it pertains to a failure to achieve descriptive representation, a shortage of women running for office additionally damages other young women’s perceptions of their ability to run for public positions. Campbell and Wolbrecht (2006) determined that, through the role model effect, an increase of females running for office positively affects young women’s personal perceptions of political adequacy through the encouragement of discussions regarding female political involvement in the home. These discussions alter the socialization patterns of girls and young women and encourage a positive mindset regarding the capability of female leadership in politics, as well as their own competency to pursue a career in politics. Because the phenomenon of self-objectification reduces feelings of political adequacy more substantially among females than males, resulting in fewer women pursuing the attainment of public office, these discussions are not occurring within the family unit at as great of frequency as they would if more women were running for public office. This is problematic, as fewer women running for elected positions reduces the frequency of conversations regarding female capability in the political realm within the family unit, which, in turn, further limits female political involvement by failing to instill feelings of political adequacy within potential future female political leaders.




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