5 min read

What does it mean to objectify yourself?  What does it actually entail?

First of all, let’s get clear on what we mean by the word ‘objectify’.  The Cambridge dictionary defines ‘objectify’ as follows: ‘to treat a person like a tool or toy, as if they had no feelings, opinions, or rights of their own’.

Of course, it’s painful when we’re treated this way by other people. But I think the deepest suffering comes from when we do this to ourselves. 

What self-objectifation looked like in my life

I know all about self-objectification because it’s what I did to myself for so many years.  Here’s how it played out:

  • I thought a lot about what other people might think of my appearance and I gave the opinions of strangers enormous power over me.
  • I made eating and exercise choices that were aimed at improving the way I looked in the eyes of others.
  • I chose clothes that I hoped wouldn’t make me look ‘ridiculous’ in the opinion of other people.
  • Sexually, I focussed a lot of my attention on what my partner thought of my body and allowed that to detract from my own pleasure.

As you can see, there’s a recurring theme here: far too much of my attention was focussed outwards on what other people might think of me, and especially, of my body. 

I forgot that I was entitled to my own interests and passions.  I failed to honour my right to nourishment and enjoyable movement, as if my needs for health and happiness were less important than the passing judgments of people whom I barely knew.

You can read a poem I wrote entitled Objectified about my journey towards, through and away from self-objectification.


I wasn't aware that my opinions on what is beautiful and attractive were not my own.

My self-objectification went even deeper.  Other people's ideas about what was beautiful and what was not became implanted in my head without my conscious awareness.  

Although I wrote above that I made choices that were aimed at improving the way I looked in other people's eyes, I often mistakenly believed that I was trying to conform with my own ideas about what makes a woman physically attractive.

So I didn't just think I cared about what other people thought of how I looked, I actually believed that the standards I was trying to meet, were simply my own.

I didn't realise that the standards against which I judged my attractiveness weren't mine.  I was objectifying myself by taking on external rules about beauty.  But I didn't know that that was what was happening.

I just thought I didn't like the way I looked.  And I felt disgusted by my body when I didn't think it measured up.

If someone were to have encouraged me to care less about what other people thought of my appearance, I would have said that I was just trying to make myself look beautiful for me.

I guess I thought that I just happened to have been born with very similar views on what makes a woman look attractive to most other people!  And perhaps this was because I unconsciously believed in the idea of 'objective' beauty, something I've since realised doesn't exist.  (See my other blog posts, What is beauty? and No one looks any better or worse than you. in which I refute the notion of objective beauty in more detail.)

I objectified myself further by putting my own aspirations and interests to one side in favour of other people's priorities for my life.

Not only had I taken on other people's ideas about what constitutes beauty, but the importance I ascribed to these ideas, was also foreign to me.  

I was not born believing that a woman's appearance was the most interesting or important thing in life.  And I was certainly not born with a critical, fault-finding attitude towards bodies.  Turning my body into a project and making my appearance my life's work was not in line with what I truly cared about.

As a young child, I'd enjoyed dancing and learning.  I was enamoured with colour and music and tasty food.  I wanted to explore possibilities and have fun.  I wanted to be close to other people.  My interests were broad and fluid.  I was excited by life.

The narrowing down of all my focus onto the stultifying pursuit of making my body fit into other people's 'rules' for looking 'attractive' was a betrayal of my aspirations for my own life.

It is this self-betrayal that is the cause of the deepest suffering.  The positive flip-side of this is that once we realise what we're up to, we hold the key to our own freedom.  

Why do so many of us fall prey to the habit of self-objectification? 

Human beings are social creatures who want to feel accepted,  appreciated and loved by other people. If we pick up the idea that conformity with certain standards of appearance is a prerequisite for the intimate, loving relationships we crave, it makes sense that we will start to sacrifice our other priorities and interests if they conflict with our primary objective of fitting in.  

Practically, this might mean that we'll choose to go to the gym instead of reading a book, or we'll spend a long time applying makeup before leaving the house instead of talking to our family, doing some gardening, writing a poem or enjoying watching the leaves on the trees outside our window sway in the breeze.  

What we think about, how we spend our time and the choices we make for our lives all become focussed on how we can guarantee our place in the hearts of others.

The root of the problem therefore is a desire for intimacy burdened by the gnawing fear that who we are, and how we naturally look, is not enough to secure it.  We don't trust that if we pursue our own interests we'll be loved.  And we all desperately want to be loved.  

A capitalist mindset, dominated by notions of competition and scarcity, has infiltrated the way we perceive romantic relationships.

Many of us bow to the dictates of a culture that tells us that to get a partner, we must work hard on ourselves, including on how we look, and compete with other people who are all doing the same.  And only the best and most beautiful will get chosen.  

I have been very romantic from a young age, and always yearned to have an intimate, passionate, monogamous relationship.  This desire for closeness with a special someone has been incredibly important to me since I was child.  I view this as a healthy drive which led me to seek out my husband and form a wonderful, fulfilling relationship with him, and later, to have a child together and enjoy the rich rewards of parenting and family life.

So, the desire for intimacy is not a problem in itself.  It is the insecurity which too often accompanies that desire that can lead us astray and take us down the path of self-objectification. It also makes us vulnerable to nefarious influences which stand ready to exploit and feed our fears of not being good enough.

Since the culture I grew up in gave me the impression that to form and maintain the kind of relationship I wanted I'd have to look a certain way - a way that is almost impossible to achieve and requires a huge amount of time and effort - it was hardly surprising that I ended up neglecting my own priorities and interests.  

It seemed that self-objectification was necessary to give me what I most wanted in life.

Real love doesn't require us to objectify ourselves.

Fortunately, in the course of getting to know my husband over these past twenty years, I have steadily learnt ever more deeply that real love doesn't ask us to objectify ourselves.  In fact, real love is about delighting in the precious individual before us and marvelling at how  their unique journey unfolds.  Rather than putting pressure on them to please us by fulfilling our expectations, we enjoy watching more of their potential materialise as they listen within to the callings of their own heart and follow where they lead.

I place no requirements on my husband's body.  My attraction to him is not conditional upon his body conforming with any physical metric.  I will not stop loving him as it changes. I enjoy and appreciate his body however it looks.  

This is a freeing attitude which gives our loved one permission to focus on the things that matter most to them and gives them confidence that they will be supported and appreciated in any decision they make.   People tend to thrive when they're loved like this.  I know because I'm happy to say that I've been on the receiving end of this kind of respectful and nourishing love myself!

It took me a long time to realise that I didn't have to objectify myself to make myself lovable.  I'm so grateful that the penny finally dropped.  I’m loving discovering more of who I am and following my inner compass when going about my life.  Moreover, I sense that I'm much more interesting and attractive now that I'm no longer living from a crippling fear of inadequacy.  

Watching someone you love blossom and express more of who they are in the world, is one of the greatest joys in life, after all.  

Not everyone will love you unconditionally, but you won't care when you stop objectifying yourself.

Of course, you will probably encounter many people in life who will tell you that you need to change the way your body looks to attract and/or keep a mate.  And you may be rejected by many people because of the way your body looks.  Today's so-called 'beauty' standards dominate many people's outlook on attractiveness after all.

However, once you stop objectifying yourself, you will feel less concerned about this because being true to yourself will simply feel too good!  And you'll become very reluctant to give up your freedom to focus your attention where you want.  You'll become much more discerning about which opinions you respect.  And you'll give less weight to any views that discourage people from living authentically.  

This has been my experience of healing.  I'm no longer interested in what most people think of my appearance.  And I couldn't care less if a stranger wouldn't want to have sex with me because I have cellulite and wrinkles, or fat in places they don't think I should!  

Furthermore, being yourself will make it easier for someone who is capable of appreciating you to find you.  And if you're already in a loving relationship, it will make it more enjoyable for you and your partner because you'll be less distracted by insecure self-obsession and more present to experiencing the joy of being together.


  • You deserve to be the subject of your own life.
  • Although self-objectification is a very common trap that most of us fall into in some way or other, it is entirely impossible for us to break this harmful habit and reclaim our lives for ourselves.
  • The wonderful truth is that you don't need to objectify yourself to get what you want in life.  You may not always get what you think you need in any given moment, and you may experience rejection, as all of us do.  But you will not miss out on anything that is truly worthwhile if you listen, and act upon, your own inner compass.
  • Real love and genuine intimacy celebrate our uniqueness and encourage us to express more of what makes us special.  When you offer this kind of love to someone else, they often like it, and reciprocate.  Not always.  But if they don't, there is very likely to be someone else who will.  You may need to end some relationships to make room for ones that are more life-affirming.

And now it's over to you.  Tell me about your experience of self-objectification.

  • Are you the subject of your life? 
  • If not, do you remember a time when you were? 
  • What prompted the change? Can you remember what made you think downgrading your own views, priorities and experiences below other people's was a good idea?

Let me know in the comment box below.  I'd love to hear about your experience and perspective.

Reach out if you'd like support

If you'd like my support in re-establishing yourself as the subject of your own life, check out my free resources or find out how you can work with me.

Subscribe to my blog

«To receive any new blog posts I write to support your body image healing via email, please click here. »

Share this blog post

If you think other people would benefit from reading this, you can share this post on social media by clicking on the relevant icons below.

* The email will not be published on the website.