In the zeitgeist of our times a woman is showered with constant inputs from various quarters of her life regarding the ideal identity she needs to establish. When a woman is evaluated only as a body, she loses her individuality. Although norms of culture have varied considerably with time, yet the contemporary Indian urban society is inadvertently evaluating females largely “desirable” or “undesirable” based on stereotypical standards of physical attractiveness. Even harmless feedback from friends, family and sometimes, even strangers, unwittingly heightens the need for extra concern towards physical appearance overshadowing her inherent attributes such as talent and ability.
Women come to view themselves through the lens of an external observer, habitually monitoring their own appearance whether in public or private settings. Women in modern societies are living by looking at themselves from the eyes of others which has been rightly termed as “double consciousness” leading to chronic self-surveillance. Beauty standards presented by media pressurize women to mindlessly conform to inconsiderate physical standards of evaluating oneself gradually damaging perceptions of self-worth. Self-objectification thus results from an image-driven culture where popular media guides women to constantly see themselves as objects whose value can be enhanced by glossing the cover.
Clichéd notions of size zero figure, “thin is in”, “crash diets” are generally seen splattered across different media pointing towards this trend influencing a woman to view herself, predominantly, through an objectified social lens. The negative effects associated with self-objectification are body shame, appearance anxiety, bodily self-alienation, depression, disordered eating and lowered self-esteem, poor health related behaviours and strained social relationships. It has been silently corroding away the psyche of women who aim to be like mannequins possessing desirable proportions yet consequently become devoid of “life”.
With India emerging as one of the fastest growing economies (Highlights of economic survey of India, 2012-2013), the young population involved in the developmental strides is undergoing an identity transformation with self objectification spreading alongside like a silent epidemic under the garb of modernity and globalisation. Diametrically opposite to the need for self-objectification is the need for self-actualization. Self-actualized women rely on their deeper understanding of themselves, do not put on any pretence and possess an efficient perception of reality thus buffering against self-objectification.
Each time we apathetically judge a woman on her looks simply like the cover of a magazine, we retarded her journey to self actualisation. Let’s make our world more empathetic and encouraging by gently nudging women plagued by objectification to go beyond what the mirror tells them.
About the author
Tarika Sandhu is a Patiala-based psychologist and teaches at Punjabi University. She is currently working on a UGC project and writes on contemporary issues such as personality assessment, creativity and women’s issues, to list a few.