Sex Roles

, Volume 69, Issue 1, pp 29–41

Body Surveillance and Body Shame in College Men: Are Men Who Self-Objectify Less Hopeful?

Authors

    • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • M. Meghan Davidson
    • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  • Sarah J. Gervais
    • University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Original Article

DOI: 10.1007/s11199-013-0282-3

Cite this article as:
Cole, B.P., Davidson, M.M. & Gervais, S.J. Sex Roles (2013) 69: 29. doi:10.1007/s11199-013-0282-3

Abstract

The current study examined self-objectification and hope in a sample of undergraduate men from a Midwestern university in the United States (N = 227). Specifically, an online survey utilizing self-report measures examined the associations between body surveillance, body shame, trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope were considered through the lenses of Objectification Theory and the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions. Consistent with Hypothesis 1, bivariate correlations showed that more body surveillance was associated with less trait agency, less trait pathways, less social relationship pathways, and less romantic relationship pathways. As well, more body shame was associated with less trait agency, less trait pathways, less social relationship pathways, less romantic relationship agency, and less romantic relationship pathways. Additionally, consistent with Hypothesis 2 and the model proposed by Objectification Theory, body shame explained relations between body surveillance and hope, specifically, trait agency, social relationship pathways, romantic relationship agency, and romantic relationship pathways in a path analysis. This work fills an important gap in the current literature, as it is the only study to date that examines relations between self-objectification and hope, and furthers objectification research among men. Results are discussed within the context of Objectification Theory and the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions. Implications and future directions are discussed.

Keywords

MenObjectificationHopeBroaden and buildPositive psychology

Introduction

A recent visit to menshealth.com, the website for the popular Men’s Health magazine, displayed two current articles adjacent to one another: “Get six-pack abs NOW” and “Have the sex of your dreams” (menshealth.com 2012). The website might not be directly stating that six-pack abs will help men have the best sex of their lives, but the implication seems apparent. Relatedly, the current media appears to be making connections between the importance of ideal appearance and success in relationships for men. Building on this anecdotal evidence, the purpose of the present work was to examine the relations between objectification and hope, including hope for relationships. Specifically, we examined whether men who reported more body surveillance and body shame would report less trait and relationship hope through the model proposed by Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997). Unless otherwise noted, cited studies include participants from Western cultures in the United States.

The present research extends Objectification Theory and research in two critical ways. First, it tests the utility of objectification theory in men. Although Objectification Theory was originally proposed to further understand the mental health consequences of objectification for women, limited studies show that self-objectification has negative consequences for men as well, including body dissatisfaction, excessive exercise, steroid use, and depression (Aubrey 2006 with a sample of U.S. students; Baird and Grieve 2006; Hallsworth et al. 2005 with a sample of Australian men; Harrison and Cantor 1997; Harvey and Robinson 2003; Martins et al. 2008 with a sample of Australian men; Wiseman and Moradi 2010). Second, it tests the objectification model with a novel outcome – hope. Understanding how objectification influences hope may provide valuable information on the ways that an individual’s agency and problem solving ability are impacted when they focus more on their physical appearance than their thoughts, feelings, and psychological needs. As well, given the emerging research regarding men’s experiences of objectification and suggestions that restrictive societal norms such as those associated with objectification of men’s bodies may negatively influence men’s relationships (Sanchez and Kiefer 2007; Zurbriggen et al. 2011). The current study also examined the associations between men’s experiences of self-objectification and hope for developing and maintaining relationships. Although Objectification Theory was originally posited as most pervasive in Western cultures (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997), recent findings suggest that men’s experiences of body dissatisfaction are increasing in Non-Western cultures (e.g., Frederick et al. 2007a with a sample of men from the U.S., Ghana, and the Ukraine). Thus, the cross-cultural implications of this work may be considerable. We return to potential implications and directions for future research in this area in the Discussion.

To examine these relations and derive novel hypotheses, we integrated Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions (Fredrickson 1998, 2001). To test hypotheses, undergraduate men from a Midwestern university in the United States completed measures of body surveillance, body shame, trait hope agency, trait hope pathways, social relationship hope agency, social relationship hope pathways, romantic relationship hope agency, and romantic relationship hope pathways. Bivariate correlations and path analysis were utilized to consider the relations between these variables, as well as the specific model posited by objectification theory.

Self-Objectification

As the societal influence of media increases, people are inundated with messages about the body as a sexual object. As a result, individuals learn to focus more on how their bodies look than how they feel. This process, known as self-objectification, occurs whenever people internalize others’ perspectives of their bodies, which results in a tendency to regard appearance and sexual body parts and functions as more important than thoughts, feelings, goals, and physical health (Bartky 1990; Berger 1972; de Beauvoir 1952; Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; McKinley 1998, 2006; McKinley and Hyde 1996). This self-objectification is often manifested through persistent body surveillance (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; McKinley and Hyde 1996; Moradi and Huang 2008), a process in which people habitually monitor the outward appearance of their bodies (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997). Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) posits that a variety of negative mental health consequences occur as the result of self-objectification. Past reviews of the literature, for example, indicate that people who report more self-objectification and body surveillance also report more body shame, appearance anxiety, and less flow experiences. Consistent with the causal path proposed by Objectification Theory, these immediate outcomes that are prompted by self-objectification set the stage for long-term mental health outcomes, including depression, disordered eating, and sexual dysfunction (see Calogero et al. 2011; Moradi and Huang 2008, for reviews).

Objectification of Men and Negative Body Consequences

Although Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) was proposed to further understand the mental health consequences of being a woman in Western societies where women’s bodies are often depicted and treated as objects, studies indicate that men’s bodies are increasingly objectified in the media (Bordo 1999; Kilbourne and Pipher 1999; Rohlinger 2002) and by other people (Strelan and Hargreaves 2005 with a sample of Australian students). Rohlinger (2002), for example, found that 36.9 % of print advertisements in U.S. magazines presented men’s bodies in objectifying ways (e.g., focused on their body parts to display products). Relatedly, men’s health magazines feature very muscular men, representing this highly toned body type as sexually attractive and highly desirable (Frederick et al. 2005). This objectification has been associated with several adverse consequences for men including body dissatisfaction, disordered eating, depression, steroid use, and excessive exercise (Aubrey 2006; Baird and Grieve 2006; Frederick et al. 2006; Hallsworth et al. 2005 with a sample of Australian men; Harrison and Cantor 1997; Harvey and Robinson 2003; Martins et al. 2008 with a sample of Australian men; Wiseman and Moradi 2010).

Despite this rise in objectification of men and evidence that male body dissatisfaction is increasing (Michaels et al. 2012; Parent and Moradi 2011; Schwartz et al. 2010), the current extension of Objectification Theory to men has been limited. Heimerdinger-Edwards et al. (2011) suggest that far more is known about men’s roles in perpetrating sexual objectification against women than about men’s experiences with self-objectification. Yet, objectification perpetration and self-objectification often co-occur; when people (including men) adopt an objectifying view of their own bodies, they frequently apply their objectifying perspective to other people as well (Bernard et al. 2012 with a sample of Belgian students; Strelan and Hargreaves 2005 with a sample of Australian students; Zurbriggen et al. 2011). Furthermore, consistent with the idea that men do self-objectify and experience negative consequences when their bodies do not fit cultural ideals of male attractiveness, men’s body satisfaction is related to height, leanness, and muscularity (Frederick et al. 2007b; Michaels et al. 2012; Ridgeway and Tylka 2005). Experimental studies also show that self-objectifying contexts are related to body surveillance and body shame for men, although these effects are more pronounced for gay men compared to heterosexual men (Martins et al. 2007 with a sample of Australian men; Michaels et al. 2012). In sum, self-objectification and its consequences have been understudied in men, and the limited research that has been done in this area shows that men self-objectify and this is accompanied by negative body-related consequences for men.

Self-Objectification, Positive Functioning, and Hope

Like most other theories in psychology, Objectification Theory was introduced to explain the potentially adverse consequences of self-objectification with a focus on maladaptive cognitions (e.g., disrupted cognitive functioning), negative emotions (e.g., body anxiety and body shame), and problematic behaviors (e.g., disordered eating). However, positive psychology scholars have recently advocated for the study of positive traits (e.g., hope) that facilitate positive emotional experiences that, in turn, build resilience and buffer against pathology (Magyar-Moe 2009). Fredrickson’s (1998, 2001) Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions, for example, posits that negative emotions serve to narrow one’s focus, whereas positive emotions broaden momentary thought action repertories and expand creativity and problem solving ability. Over time, these broadened thought action repertories build enduring physical, psychological, intellectual, and social resources, whereas a narrowed focus undermines one’s ability to broaden these resources. Additionally, the recurrence of positive emotional experiences serves to undo lingering negative emotions and rumination, as well as to build well-being, adaptive coping skills, resilience, and positive individual traits that buffer against negative emotional experiences (Fredrickson 1998, 2000, 2001; Fredrickson and Branigan 2005).

Applying this positive psychology lens to Objectification Theory, we suggest that an understanding of self-objectification is incomplete without a consideration of how self-objectification may be related to both maladaptive, but also adaptive psychological functioning. If self-objectification undermines positive thoughts and emotions, for example, then it may contribute to people’s inability to broaden their focus and build psychological and social resources. Consistently, a handful of studies have focused on relations between self-objectification and one area of positive functioning (i.e., well-being). McKinley (2006), for example, found that women who report more body surveillance, body shame, weight dissatisfaction, and dieting report less self-acceptance, an aspect of psychological well-being. Similarly, Breines et al. (2008) demonstrated that women who report more self-objectification experienced less psychological well-being. Mercurio and Landry (2008) also found that women’s experiences of self-objectification negatively impacted their subjective well-being as a result of decreased self-esteem and increased body shame. Importantly, of these limited investigations, very few studies have focused on self-objectification and men’s positive functioning (c.f., McKinley 2006). In the present research, we built on this seminal work by investigating men’s self-objectification in relation to two novel positive functioning outcomes – trait and relationship hope.

Hope, which is conceptualized as “goal-directed thinking in which people perceive that they can produce routes to desired goals (pathways thinking) and the requisite motivation to use those routes (agency thinking)” (Lopez et al. 2003, p. 94; see Rand and Cheavens 2009; Snyder 2002 for reviews), is related to several important outcomes. For example, individuals’ trait levels of hope predict their academic performance (Chang 1998; Curry and Snyder 2000; Snyder 1999) and physical health (Berendes et al. 2010; Berg et al. 2007; Snyder et al. 2005). As well, people’s levels of trait hope exhibit critical associations to markers of their mental health (Cramer and Dyrkacz 1998 with a sample of Canadian men and women; Irving et al. 2004; Snyder et al. 1996; Tennen and Affleck 1999; Wrobleski and Snyder 2005); for example, individuals with more trait hope exhibit less depression, avoidant coping, and rumination (Cheavens et al. 2006; Hagen et al. 2005; Michael and Snyder 2005; Snyder et al. 1996).

Within the context of relationships, hope and objectification may be related. Indirect evidence comes from research both hope and objectification studies. For example, people with more trait hope report more social adjustment, healthy attachment styles, social competence, and perceptions of social support, and less loneliness (Barnum et al. 1998; Kwon 2002; Snyder et al. 1991, 1997; Sympson 1999). Regarding objectification, past studies indicate that body surveillance and body shame may influence men’s experiences in relationships by decreasing their relationship satisfaction (Sanchez and Kiefer 2007; Zurbriggen et al. 2011). Relatedly, researchers in the field of men and masculinity suggest that restrictive masculine norms, including societal messages about how men’s bodies should look, reduce men’s capacity to form meaningful relationships (APA Division 51 2013). In light of these suggestions that restrictive societal norms such as those associated with objectification of men’s bodies may hinder men’s goals for relationships and that hope may serve as a protective factor in relationships, the present work examined whether self-objectification influences men’s hope for social relationships and romantic relationships. For example, it may be that men who self-objectify recognize fewer pathways to build and/or maintain social and romantic relationships as a result of perceived barriers related to their physical appearance. Furthermore, men may also report less agency to pursue relationship pathways due to reduced efficacy beliefs stemming from body shame.

In addition to its association with a host of important psychological outcomes, trait and relationship hope may be key constructs to understanding the consequences of self-objectification. When objectified, people are stripped of their agency – they are instead treated as objects meant to satisfy the needs and desires of other people (Nussbaum 1999). Thus, when people adopt an objectifying view of themselves, focusing on their external appearance rather than their internal thoughts, feelings, and goals, then they should have less ability to engage in the pathways and agentic thinking required for hope. Emotional feedback also influences momentum toward goal pursuits; positive emotions increase agency and provide additional energy to continue toward goal attainment, whereas negative emotions diminish agency and reduce perceptions of available pathways toward goal attainment (Snyder 2002). Negative emotions resulting from internal stressors, such as self-objectification, may serve as barriers during the process of goal pursuit. For example, emotions such as the body shame associated with self-objectification may serve to alter schemas by changing individuals’ knowledge of what does and does not work and by modifying their self-efficacy toward various goal pursuits (Lopez et al. 2003; Snyder 2002).

Although past studies have examined the implications of agency on objectification (e.g., Bartky 1990), the notion of agency is absent from most psychological objectification models (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; see also Calogero et al. 2011; Moradi and Huang 2008 for recent reviewers and articulations of the original objectification model). However, consistent with the notion that self-objectification may be associated with less trait and relationship hope, Schwartz and colleagues (2010) found that men reporting less autonomy (which is an important correlate of agency; Beyers et al. 2003 with a Belgian sample) report more self-objectification. Extending this work, we examined relations between self-objectification and hope in the present investigation.

Overview and Hypotheses of the Current Study

As discussed previously, there is a dearth of research on the relations between self-objectification and positive functioning, as well as scant examination of self-objectification among men. Furthermore, the literature exploring the association between self-objectification and positive functioning in men is nearly non-existent. Given the increase in men’s reports of body image concerns and evidence that aspects of positive functioning (i.e., trait hope) predict both mental and physical health, this is a critical area of research. The current study integrates Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions (Fredrickson 1998) to test a model (see Fig. 1) which suggests that body shame and body surveillance are related to less trait hope, less social relationship hope, and less romantic relationship hope among college men. Consistent with previous research on self-objectification (see Calogero et al. 2011; Moradi and Huang 2008, for reviews), the experience of body surveillance is expected to be positively related to experiences of body shame. This body shame is considered a negative psychological consequence of body surveillance (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997). As articulated above, Broaden and Build Theory (Fredrickson 1998) posits that positive emotions broaden thought action repertories and build resilience and self-efficacy, whereas negative emotions lead to rumination about one’s problems (Fredrickson 1998; Fredrickson and Branigan 2005; Fitzpatrick and Stalikas 2008). Thus, the current model proposes that negative emotional experiences stemming from body surveillance and body shame will lead to decreased thought action repertories which will manifest in the form of decreased hope. More specifically, negative emotional experiences stemming from self-objectification will reduce the number of available pathways men see as plausible ways to reach their goals as well as reduce their agency to utilize pathways toward their general life goals, goals for social relationships, and goals for romantic relationships.
https://static-content.springer.com/image/art%3A10.1007%2Fs11199-013-0282-3/MediaObjects/11199_2013_282_Fig1_HTML.gif
Fig. 1

Empirical model of relations derived from objectification theory. Values represent the unstandardized coefficients and standard errors. *p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001. Solid lines indicate a positive relationship. Dashed lines indicate a negative relationship. All relationships were hypothesized in the directions indicated above and were expected to be statistically significant

Additionally, it is hypothesized that specific domains of hope are more susceptible to the negative effects of objectification than others. Specifically, general trait hope is hypothesized to be less strongly associated with negative emotions resulting from body surveillance and body shame because trait levels of hope are based upon past learning experiences that are not necessarily inclusive of those related to beliefs about one’s body (e.g., academic and career performance). In contrast, it is hypothesized that relationship hope will be more strongly associated with body surveillance and body shame as beliefs about physical attractiveness directly influence hope for relationships because past learning experiences regarding relationship pursuits (e.g., rejection by potential partners) are more likely to be related to physical attributes (e.g., criticism of body by potential partners, decreased relationship self-efficacy beliefs attributed to body image).

We first considered these relations by estimating bivariate correlations between each of the variables. We then conducted a path analysis to (a) consider the unique variance explained by each of these variables and (b) test the applicability of relations posited by our novel integration of Objectification Theory and Broaden and Build Theory (Calogero et al. 2011; Fredrickson 1998, 2001; Fredrickson and Roberts 1997; Moradi and Huang 2008) by examining the mediating role of body shame between body surveillance and hope outcomes (see Fig. 1). Body surveillance was the proposed predictor variable (X), body shame was the proposed meditator (M), and hope (trait, social, and romantic), including pathways and agency (Y1-Y6), was the outcome variable. Specifically, the following hypotheses were tested:
  1. 1.

    More body surveillance will be associated with more body shame.

     
  2. 2.

    More body surveillance will be associated with less (2a) trait hope agency, (2b) trait hope pathways, (2c) social relationship hope agency, (2d) social relationship hope pathways, (2e) romantic relationship hope agency, and (2f) romantic relationship hope pathways.

     
  3. 3.

    More body shame will be associated with less (3a) trait hope agency, (3b) trait hope pathways, (3c) social relationship hope agency, (3d) social relationship hope pathways, (3e) romantic relationship hope agency, and (3f) romantic relationship hope pathways.

     
  4. 4.

    The mediating effects of body shame will explain the relations between body surveillance and (4a) trait hope agency, (4b) trait hope pathways, (4c) social relationship hope agency, (4d) social relationship hope pathways, (4e) romantic relationship hope agency, and (4f) romantic relationship hope pathways.

     

Method

Participants

A total of 287 young undergraduate men from a large, Midwestern university in the U.S. were recruited from the Psychology Department research pool and several fraternity chapters. After removing participants that failed to correctly endorse a series of items that served as validity checks, 227 participants remained in the sample. Participants either received course credit or were entered into a raffle for $20 gift certificates for participating. All participants were under the age of 30, with ages ranging from 17 to 29 years (M = 19.86, SD = 1.72). With regard to racial demographics, the majority of the sample described themselves as White (89.4 %). Biracial or multiracial men constituted 4 % of the sample, 3.1 % were Latino, 1.3 % were Asian American, and .4 % designated “Other.” Regarding sexual orientation, heterosexual men made up 96.5 % of the sample, 1.8 % identified as bisexual, and 1.8 % designated “Other.”

Procedures and Instruments

Institutional Review Board approval was obtained prior to study recruitment. Participants provided informed consent and completed the instruments with order counterbalanced online via Survey Monkey.

Body Surveillance and Body Shame

The Objectified Body Consciousness Scale (OBCS; McKinley and Hyde 1996) assesses body surveillance, body shame, and control beliefs. Because of our focus on appearance-monitoring and shame and ambiguity regarding the meaning of the control beliefs sub-scale (Calogero et al. 2011), consistent with previous research, only the body surveillance and body shame subscales were completed by participants (Gervais et al. 2011; Muehlenkamp and Saris-Baglama 2002; Tiggemann and Kuring 2004; Tiggemann and Slater 2001). More specifically, participants completed the eight-item body surveillance (e.g., “I am more concerned with what my body can do than how it looks – reverse coded) and the eight-item body shame (e.g., “I would be ashamed for people to know what I really weigh”) subscales of the OBCS. A 7-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree) with a not applicable option is used as the response format for participants to rate their level of agreement with each statement. Per McKinley and Hyde’s (1996) instructions, not applicable responses were coded as missing data and negatively worded applicable items were reverse-coded. Scores on the OBCS have shown acceptable internal consistency reliability for women on body surveillance (α = .76) and body shame (α = .70; McKinley 1998; McKinley and Hyde 1996), in addition to convergent validity with body esteem (Moradi and Huang 2008). Similarly, scores on the OBCS have shown acceptable internal consistency reliability in samples of gay men on body surveillance (α = .76 to .90) and body shame (α = .81 to .87; Martins et al. 2007; Michaels et al. 2012; Wiseman and Moradi 2010), as well as in samples primarily consisting of heterosexual men on body surveillance (α = .79 to .84) and body shame (α = .70 to .73; McKinley 1998; Michaels et al. 2012). Mean body surveillance and body shame scores (see Table 1) were calculated and showed good internal consistency reliability (α = .85 and α = .80, respectively).
Table 1

Means and standard deviations for outcome measures (N = 227)

Variable

M

SD

1. Body surveillance

4.34

1.18

2. Body shame

3.24

1.00

3. Trait agency

25.76

4.39

4. Trait pathways

25.12

4.20

5. Social agency

17.57

4.72

6. Social pathways

17.89

4.92

7. Romantic agency

17.87

4.51

8. Romantic pathways

16.99

5.37

Body Surveillance and Body Shame (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), and Trait Hope Agency, Trait Hope Pathways, Social Relationship Hope Agency, Social Relationship Hope Pathways, Romantic Relationship Hope Agency, and Romantic Relationship Hope Pathways (1 = definitely false, 8 = definitely true)

Adult Trait Hope Scale

(ATHS; Snyder et al. 1991) is a 12-item scale that measures goal setting and attainment. The ATHS is comprised of two subscales: pathways and agency. The four-item pathways subscale (e.g., “I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are most important to me”) measures the ability to develop routes to desired goals. The four-item agency subscale (e.g., “I energetically pursue my goals”) measures motivation to use pathways in goal pursuit. The ATHS also includes four “distractor” items that are excluded from final scoring. Items are rated on an 8-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (definitely false) to 8 (definitely true). Subscale scores are derived by summing the four pathways and four agency items, respectively, and total hope scores are calculated by summing the pathways and agency subscales. Total scores range from 8 to 64, with higher scores indicating higher levels of trait hope. Scores on the ATHS have shown acceptable internal consistency reliability for the total scale (α = .74 to .88), pathways subscale (α = .63 to .86), and agency subscale (α = .70 to .84) (Babyak et al. 1993). Additionally, scores on the ATHS have demonstrated acceptable 10-week test-retest reliability for the total scale (r = .82), as well as convergent validity with measures of optimism and self-esteem and divergent validity with measures of depression and hopelessness (Snyder et al. 1991). Mean trait agency and trait pathways scores were calculated for the current study (see Table 1) and both demonstrated good internal consistency reliability (α = .85 and α = .81, respectively).

Domain Specific Hope Scale-Revised

(DSHS-R; Shorey and Snyder 2004) measures goal setting and attainment across nine life domains: (a) social relationships, (b) religion/spiritual life, (c) sports, (d) academics, (e) physical health, (f) romantic relationships, (g) family life, (h) psychological health, and (i) work. Each domain scale consists of nine items measuring three subscales: goals, pathways, and agency. The three-item goals subscale (e.g., “I have many goals relating to my love life”) measures the presence of domain specific goals. The three-item pathways subscale (e.g., “I can think of many ways to establish romantic relationships or nurture my existing one”) measures ability to develop routes to desired goals. The three-item agency subscale (e.g., “I am motivated to enhance my romantic relationships”) measures motivation to use pathways in goal pursuit. Items are rated on an 8-point Likert-type scale ranging from 1 (definitely false) to 8 (definitely true). Subscale scores are derived by summing the three goals, three pathways, and three agency items, respectively, and total domain specific hope scores are calculated by summing these subscales. Total scores range from 9 to 72, with higher scores indicating higher levels of domain specific hope. Scores on the DSHS-R have shown acceptable internal consistency reliability across domain scales (α = .87 to .96; Shorey and Snyder 2004). To date, there are no published studies of test-retest reliability. Scores on the DSHS-R have demonstrated acceptable convergent validity with measures of positive affect and self-esteem and divergent validity with measures of depression, anxiety, and loneliness (Hilleary et al. 2003). The current study utilized the social relationships and romantic relationships domain measures. Mean social relationship agency and social relationship pathways scores, as well as mean romantic relationship agency and romantic relationship pathways scores (see Table 1), were calculated for the current study and all demonstrated good internal consistency reliability (α = .87, α = .91, α = .77, and α = .91, respectively).

Results

Correlations

Consistent with Hypothesis 1, men’s body surveillance and body shame were positively correlated with one another. Bivariate correlations also revealed that more body surveillance among men was associated with less trait agency (Hypothesis 2a), trait pathways (Hypothesis 2b), social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 2d), and romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 2f; see Table 2), consistent with Hypothesis 2. Also consistent with Hypothesis 3, more body shame among men was associated with less trait agency (Hypothesis 3a), trait pathways (Hypothesis 3b), social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3d), romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 3e) and romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3f). Inconsistent with Hypothesis 2 and 3, although they were in the hypothesized direction, relations between men’s body surveillance and social relationship agency (Hypothesis 2c), body surveillance and romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 2e), and body shame and social relationship agency (Hypothesis 3c) did not reach conventional levels of significance.
Table 2

Correlations for outcome measures (N = 227)

Variable

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

1. Body surveillance

       

2. Body shame

.522**

      

3. Trait agency

−.174**

−.236**

     

4. Trait pathways

−.177**

−.186**

.568**

    

5. Social agency

−.077

−.126

.438**

.323**

   

6. Social pathways

−.145*

−.233**

.496**

.399**

.840**

  

7. Romantic agency

−.091

−.189**

.386**

.300**

.371**

.421**

 

8. Romantic pathways

−.166*

−.298**

.398**

.375**

.446**

.539**

.799**

*p < .05; **p < .01. df = 225. Body Surveillance and Body Shame (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), and Trait Hope Agency, Trait Hope Pathways, Social Relationship Hope Agency, Social Relationship Hope Pathways, Romantic Relationship Hope Agency, and Romantic Relationship Hope Pathways (1 = definitely false, 8 = definitely true)

Path Analysis

Path analysis was utilized to further evaluate the direct relations between both body surveillance and body shame and trait social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope among men as described in Hypotheses 2 and 3, and to directly test Hypothesis 4, that the mediating effects of men’s body shame would explain the relations between men’s body surveillance and trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope. Multicollinearity among the predictors – body surveillance and body shame – was analyzed with results indicating that variance was not inflated (VIF = 1.324; Freund et al. 2003). The estimated path model that we tested is shown in Fig. 1, in which body surveillance was the predictor (X), body shame was the mediator (M), and trait agency, trait pathways, social relationship agency, social relationship pathways, romantic relationship agency, and romantic relationship pathways served as the outcomes (Y1 – Y6). This allowed us to consider each variable’s unique direct effects, as well as the extent of indirect effects of body surveillance to trait, social relationship, and romantic relationship hope through body shame. Path analysis is similar to structural equation modeling including a structural model, but path analysis does not include a measurement model. As well, the model is fully saturated (like hierarchical linear regression), and thus, testing model fit or examining fit indices is inappropriate.

Maximum likelihood estimation within Mplus Version 6.0 (Muthén and Muthén 1998-2010) was used to estimate the path analysis including body surveillance, body shame, trait agency, trait pathways, social relationship agency, social relationship pathways, romantic relationship agency, and romantic relationship pathways. Examining all of the variables in one path model simultaneously allowed us to consider each variable’s unique variance while controlling for the other variables. The unstandardized direct path coefficients and errors are depicted in Fig. 1, whereas a summary of the indirect effects appear in Table 3. Specifically, following recent recommendations for testing mediation (Mallinckrodt et al. 2006), 10,000 bootstrap samples were used to examine the significance of indirect effects. The bootstrapped unstandardized indirect path coefficients and errors and 95 % bias-corrected confidence intervals are reported (Williams and MacKinnon 2008). If the 95 % confidence interval does not contain zero, then the indirect effects are considered significant and indicate mediation (see Mallinckrodt et al. 2006).
Table 3

Bootstrap analysis of magnitude and significance of indirect effects

Predictor

Mediator

Outcome

B

SE

95 % Confidence interval

Lower bound

Upper bound

Body surveillance

Body shame

Trait agency*

−.402

.166

−.727

−.077

Body surveillance

Body shame

Trait pathways

−.246

.142

−.525

.033

Body surveillance

Body shame

Social agency

−.255

.159

−.566

.056

Body surveillance

Body shame

Social pathways*

−.487

.179

−.837

−.136

Body surveillance

Body shame

Romantic agency*

−.402

.160

−.716

−.089

Body surveillance

Body shame

Romantic pathways*

−.714

.190

−1.088

−.341

*Confidence intervals that do not contain zero are considered significant (Mallinckrodt et al. 2006). Body Surveillance and Body Shame (1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree), and Trait Hope Agency, Trait Hope Pathways, Social Relationship Hope Agency, Social Relationship Hope Pathways, Romantic Relationship Hope Agency, and Romantic Relationship Hope Pathways (1 = definitely false, 8 = definitely true)

Unique Direct Relations

Regarding direct relations when all variables were included in the model (see Fig. 1), positive direct relations emerged between men’s body surveillance and body shame (Hypothesis 1). As well, consistent with Hypothesis 3, higher levels of body shame among men were associated with lower levels of trait agency (Hypothesis 3a), social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3d), romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 3e), and romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3f). However, none of the other direct relations were significant when all of the variables were included in one path analysis, which is somewhat inconsistent with Hypotheses 2 (a – f), 3b, and 3c.

Mediation

To test Hypothesis 4 regarding the indirect effects of shame mediating relations between body surveillance and trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope, the indirect effects of shame explaining relations between body surveillance and various types of hope were investigated. In reference to men’s trait hope, their body shame significantly mediated the relation between their body surveillance and trait agency (Hypothesis 4a; see Table 3). Men’s body shame did not mediate the relation between their body surveillance and trait pathways (Hypothesis 4b). With respect to men’s social relationship hope, their body shame significantly mediated the relation between their body surveillance and social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 4d). However, men’s body shame did not mediate the relation between their body surveillance and social relationship agency (Hypothesis 4c). Finally, with regard to men’s romantic relationship hope, their body shame significantly mediated the relation between their body surveillance and romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 4e), as well as mediated the relation between their body surveillance and romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 4f).

Discussion

The overarching purpose of the present study was to integrate Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotion (Fredrickson 1998) to examine self-objectification and hope, specifically relationship hope, in college men. Below, we summarize the results from the current study and explain how these findings extend both Objectification and Broaden and Build Theories. We also discuss practical implications, limitations, and considerations for future research.

As in most previous research (McKinley and Hyde 1996), more body surveillance was associated with more body shame (Hypothesis 1). Regarding Hypotheses 2 and 3, and the relations between men’s body surveillance, body shame, and hope, the pattern of correlations demonstrated that (a) more body surveillance among men was associated with less trait agency (Hypothesis 2a), less trait pathways (Hypothesis 2b), less social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 2d), and less romantic relationship pathways for men (Hypothesis 2f), and (b) more body shame among men was associated with less trait agency (Hypothesis 3a), less trait pathways (Hypothesis 3b), less social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3d), less romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 3e), and less romantic relationship pathways for men (Hypothesis 3f).

These associations were explored further through a path analysis in which men’s body surveillance, body shame, trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope were included simultaneously. Results revealed that when both men’s body surveillance and body shame were included simultaneously, only body shame showed direct relations to (a) trait agency (Hypothesis 3a), (b) social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3d), (c) romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 3e), and (d) romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 3f). The strong positive association between men’s body surveillance and body shame likely explains the significant associations demonstrated by the correlation analyses that became non-significant in the path analysis. Thus, across all three types of hope measured in this study, the findings suggest that men’s body shame appears to have the most significant relation with men’s trait, social relationship, and romantic relationship hope as compared to their body surveillance. Applying Fredrickson’s (1998) Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotion, we propose that the negative emotions of body shame prevent men from experiencing the broadening necessary to build the psychological resources of trait hope agency. Similarly, we posit that the negative emotions stemming from body shame limits broadening and may lead men to see fewer ways to build and maintain social relationships (i.e., social relationship pathways), despite having similar levels of motivation to do so (i.e., social relationship agency) as compared to men experiencing less body shame (Fredrickson 1998). Lastly, we propose that the negative emotions related to body shame limits broadening for men, resulting in men becoming less hopeful that they can build and maintain romantic relationships. Specifically, these men report fewer strategies (i.e., pathways) for engaging romantic partners as well as less motivation (i.e., agency) to do so.

In testing for men’s body shame mediating the relations between their body surveillance and trait, social relationship, and romantic relationship hope, we found a series of indirect effects that were consistent with the model proposed by Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) and Hypothesis 4. Specifically, the mediation results demonstrated that men’s body shame mediated the relations between their body surveillance and (a) trait agency (Hypothesis 4a), (b) social relationship pathways (Hypothesis 4d), (c) romantic relationship agency (Hypothesis 4e), and (d) romantic relationship pathways (Hypothesis 4f). These findings suggest that body shame is a mechanism through which body surveillance is associated with hope, specifically trait agency, social relationship pathways, romantic relationship agency, and romantic relationship pathways, and supports the use of Objectification Theory as a framework for understanding the associations between body surveillance and body shame with hope among college men.

Cumulatively, the pattern of results with respect to men’s trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope indicate that body surveillance and body shame are associated with all three types of hope under investigation. Moreover, men’s body shame appears to serve as a mechanism that connects their body surveillance to various types of hope. Additionally, the most profound impact of men’s body surveillance and body shame appears to be on their romantic relationship hope. One possible explanation for these findings is that men perceive their own physical appearances as more critical to successfully engaging in romantic relationships compared to successfully engaging in social relationships and/or reaching life goals more generally.

Our findings link body surveillance to trait, social relationship, and romantic relationship hope through body shame, extending the utility of Objectification Theory for college men. Moreover, this study utilizes Objectification Theory (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997) to test the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions (Fredrickson 1998). Findings indicate that more self-objectification as manifested through more body surveillance predicts more negative emotion (i.e., body shame) and in turn, predicts less positive functioning and self-efficacy beliefs (i.e., trait hope and hope for social and romantic relationships) among college men. The current findings of more body shame predicting decreased social and romantic relationship agency and pathways are consistent with past studies of Broaden and Build, which found that negative emotional experiences led to decreased occurrence of novel thoughts and solutions, as well as decreased motivation to engage in tasks (Fredrickson and Branigan 2005). Relatedly, the current study builds on recent research that has demonstrated the influence of body surveillance and body shame on men’s relationship experiences (Sanchez and Kiefer 2007; Zurbriggen et al. 2011). In addition, these results are consistent with previous findings regarding the impact of negative emotions on social cognition. Negative emotions may lead individuals to feel less connected to others (Waugh and Fredrickson 2006), less attentive to building and maintaining friendships (Otake et al. 2013), and to decreased trust of others (Dunn and Schweitzer 2005). In contrast, positive emotional experiences have been linked to relationship commitment and satisfaction in couples (Gable et al. 2006).

The current study’s findings regarding the relations between self-objectification and hope among college men also furthers knowledge regarding men and masculinity by providing additional support for extending Objectification Theory to men. More specifically, the current study provides evidence that college men’s experiences of body surveillance are associated with body shame that are then negatively associated with hope, indicating that similar to women, men are also experiencing self-objectification and its resulting negative consequences. Our findings are especially relevant given the suggestion that traditional masculine socialization impairs men’s abilities to form meaningful relationships (APA Division 51 2013). The current study provides evidence that body shame, which occurs as the result of body surveillance and comparison to societal norms for the male body, may lead men to be less hopeful that they can foster and sustain meaningful social and romantic relationships. Thus, the current findings lend additional support to the importance of studying men’s experiences of objectification as a key aspect of masculine socialization.

Practice Implications

The current study’s findings regarding the relations between men’s self-objectification and hope can have immediate clinical application. For example, understanding that self-objectification is related to body shame and decreased hope for social and romantic relationships informs clinicians in exploring and intervening with clients in these areas. More specifically, when a man presents to therapy with concerns about his body image, clinicians may be inclined to explore the impact on self-efficacy and motivation for both social and romantic relationships. Given past research findings regarding the inverse relationship between psychological distress and hope (see Snyder 2002, for review), as well as evidence that men experience significant societal barriers to engaging in therapy (see Addis and Mahalik 2003, for review), exploring men’s body-related distress with respect to hope in relationships may provide a less threatening gateway to discussing more clinically problematic manifestations such as depression, sexual dysfunction, and eating disorders. The Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions (Fredrickson 1998) provides additional support for this approach to working with men as focusing primarily on men’s experience of body surveillance and body shame may lead men to focus on their problems, to experience negative emotion, and to ruminate, all of which is counterproductive to the development of resilience and well-being (Fredrickson 1998; Fitzpatrick and Stalikas 2008; Magyar-Moe 2009).

Limitations and Future Directions

The primary limitations of the current study include the use of self-report measures and the lack of diversity among participants. The use of self-report data raises questions with regard to the accuracy of responses. Additionally, the primarily White, heterosexual sample in this investigation limits the ability to apply and generalize the current findings to populations that are more racially and sexually diverse. Moreover, the lack of diversity in the men’s sexual orientation did not allow for specific examination of the hypotheses among heterosexual men versus sexual minority men. Although Objectification Theory is grounded in socialization processes present in Western cultures and more specifically the United States, future studies may benefit from taking a global perspective on objectification across cultures. For example, emerging research indicates that men’s levels of dissatisfaction with their muscularity are increasing across cultures (Frederick et al. 2007a); thus, it may be that men’s experiences of objectification are also increasing globally. Given that the participant sample consisted of college men, the generalizability of the findings to non-college men is limited. As well, the role of possible additional variables including low self-esteem and social anxiety should be explored. Finally, the causal links between variables should be interpreted with caution due to the correlational nature of this study.

The present investigation raises several directions for future studies. Given the scant literature focused on self-objectification and positive functioning, additional studies in these areas overall are sorely needed, and in particular among men. More specifically, subsequent research could examine whether the experience of being objectified by others, that is unwanted sexual advances and body evaluation (Kozee et al. 2007), differentially relate to hope-related variables. As well, future research could examine relations between objectification-related outcomes (e.g., body shame) and other aspects of positive functioning (e.g., subjective and psychological well-being). Moreover, Frederick et al. (2007b) suggest that subgroups of men experience different body surveillance outcomes. Thus, future studies may benefit from larger heterogeneous samples that allow for investigating relations between hope and objectification among various groups of men (e.g., based upon body mass and muscularity). Lastly, Franzoi et al. (2012) suggest that men are more optimistic than women regarding their beliefs that they can make future changes to aspects of their bodies with which they are not satisfied. Thus, future research could examine potential gender differences with respect to self-objectification and hope, as the experience of objectification may differentially relate to hope-related variables for men and women.

Conclusion

This investigation examined the associations between self-objectification and hope-related variables among a sample of college men. More specifically, college men’s body surveillance and body shame were investigated with respect to their trait hope, social relationship hope, and romantic relationship hope. In sum, findings indicate that more body shame may contribute to less trait hope as well as less hope for social and romantic relationships for college men. As well, the relations between body surveillance and hope appear to be explained by the mediating effects of body shame for college men. The current study begins to fill a critical gap in the literature as this is one of the few studies to empirically link self-objectification to decreased hope. Additionally, it is the first study to explore these relations in a sample of men. This research contributes to the emergent literature regarding the consequences of self-objectification, providing important information concerning the association with men’s perceptions of success in social and romantic relationships. Finally, the current investigation contributes to the knowledge and usefulness of both Objectification Theory and the Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013