Self-Objectification, Body Awareness, and Perceived Stress Among Physically Active Women

by Karli R. Brackenreed

Sexual objectification is a cultural phenomenon that has led many women to monitor their own bodies through an internalized third person perspective (Fredrickson & Roberts, 1997). According to the Objectification Theory proposed by Fredrickson & Roberts, self-objectification can lead to many consequences, including a loss of body awareness. When women focus attention on body appearance, as opposed to body function, an imbalance in consciousness results. This metaphorical imbalance bears resemblance to the physiological imbalance that results with stress. Therefore, stress may be intricately linked with both self-objectification and lowered body awareness.

Although exercise has been proposed as a means of guarding against self-objectification and its negative consequences, there may be variability between exercise types in regards to this protective factor. Yoga is the pursuit of a transformation from ordinary consciousness into a unified, ecstatic consciousness (Feuerstein, 1974). Hatha Yoga is a particular branch of yoga, which focuses on the pursuit of unification through mindful movements and even breathing (Feuerstein, 1998). Cardiovascular-based workouts may be more self-objectifying based on the nature of fitness center environments and the nature of the workout itself (Prichard & Tiggermann, 2008).

A sample of 100 active women from Brandon and the surrounding area were collected. Half of the sample was currently involved in Hatha Yoga and half was currently involved in a cardiovascular-based workout. Telephone interviews were conducted with the women to collect data on their levels of self-objectification, body awareness, and perceived stress.

It was predicted that self-objectification and body awareness would be negatively related. In fact, the results of the present study suggest that the more women self-objectify, the less likely they are to have high body awareness. The present study also predicted that body awareness and stress would be negatively related. Results indicated that the more a woman was aware of, and able to predict, her bodily processes and sensations, the less likely she was to experience stress. The present study hypothesized that stress and self-objectification would be positively related. The results validated this hypothesis in that women who perceived their lives as stressful were more likely to associate their bodies with appearance related attributes, as opposed to competency-based attributes.

The present study also predicted and uncovered differences in self-objectification, body awareness, and perceived stress between women that did Hatha Yoga and women that did cardiovascular-based workouts. Women practicing Hatha Yoga had lower levels of self-objectification, higher levels of body awareness, and lower levels of perceived stress, relative to women practicing cardiovascular based exercises. It is important to note however, that none of the aforementioned results achieved statistical significance. Although there were apparent relations between variables and differences between the exercise groups, results were not extreme enough to thoroughly support the predictions made by the present study.