Sex Roles

, Volume 74, Issue 1–2, pp 12–23 | Cite as

Contributions of Diverse Media to Self-Sexualization among Undergraduate Women and Men

  • L. Monique Ward
  • Rita C. Seabrook
  • Adriana Manago
  • Lauren Reed
Original Article


Although everyday exposure to media content that sexually objectifies women is believed to lead women to sexualize themselves, research testing this connection has produced mixed results. Most studies have focused only on the self-objectification component of self-sexualization, and on limited assessments of media exposure. Our goal was to extend tests of this component of objectification theory both to understudied media genres and to men, and to do so using broader measures of self-sexualization. Surveying 1,107 U.S. undergraduate students (658 women and 449 men), we used structural equation modeling to test the contributions of exposure to popular reality programs, romantic-themed movies, and music videos to self-sexualization (a latent construct comprised of body surveillance, enjoyment of sexualization, and importance of sexual appeal). Frequent consumption of reality TV programs consistently predicted self-sexualization for women and men, and music video exposure predicted self-sexualization only for men. Findings confirm pathways proposed by objectification theory and indicate unique contributions of understudied media.


Sexualization Media effects Self-objectification Body surveillance 


  1. Allen, J., & Gervais, S. (2012). The drive to be sexy: Prejudice and core motivations in women’s self-sexualization. In D. Russell (Ed.), The psychology of prejudice: Interdisciplinary perspectives on contemporary issues (pp. 77–111). Hauppauge, NY: Nova.Google Scholar
  2. American Psychological Association. (2007). Report of the APA task force on the sexualization of girls. Washington DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from Scholar
  3. Aubrey, J. S. (2006a). Effects of sexually objectifying media on self-objectification and body surveillance in undergraduates: Results of a 2-year panel study. Journal of Communication, 56, 366–386. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2006.00024.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Aubrey, J. S. (2006b). Exposure to sexually objectifying media and body self-perceptions among college women: An examination of the selective exposure hypothesis and the role of moderating variables. Sex Roles, 55, 159–172. doi: 10.1007/s11199-006-9070-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aubrey, J. S. (2007). The impact of sexually objectifying media exposure on negative body emotions and sexual self-perceptions: Investigating the mediating role of body self-consciousness. Mass Communication and Society, 10, 1–23. doi: 10.1080/15205430709337002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Aubrey, J. S., & Frisby, C. M. (2011). Sexual objectification in music videos: A content analysis comparing gender and genre. Mass Communication and Society, 14, 475–501. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2010.513468.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Aubrey, J. S., & Taylor, L. (2009). The role of lad magazines in priming men’s chronic and temporary appearance-related schemata: An investigation of longitudinal and experimental findings. Human Communication Research, 35, 28–58. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2958.2008.01337.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Callister, M., Stern, L., Coyne, S., Robinson, T., & Bennion, E. (2011). Evaluation of sexual content in teen-centered films from 1980 to 2007. Mass Communication and Society, 14, 454–474. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2010.500446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Calogero, R. (2013). Objects don’t object: Evidence that self-objectification disrupts women’s social activism. Psychological Science, 24, 312–318. doi: 10.1177/0956797612452574.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Coyne, S. M., Padilla-Walker, L. M., & Howard, E. (2013). Emerging in a digital world a decade review of media use, effects, and gratifications in emerging adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 1, 125–137. doi: 10.1177/2167696813479782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Dakanalis, A., Mattei, V., Bagliacca, E., Prunas, A., Sarno, L., Riva, G., & Zanetti, M. (2012). Disordered eating behaviors among Italian men: Objectifying media and sexual orientation differences. Eating Disorders, 20, 356–367. doi: 10.1080/10640266.2012.715514.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Dallesasse, S., & Kluck, A. (2013). Reality television and the muscular male ideal. Body Image, 10, 309–315.doi:  10.1016/j.bodyim.2013.02.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Egbert, N., & Belcher, J. D. (2012). Reality bites: An investigation of the genre of reality television and its relationship to viewers’ body image. Mass Communication and Society, 15, 407–431. doi: 10.1080/15205436.2011.583545.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fardouly, J., Diedrichs, P. C., Vartanian, L. R., & Halliwell, E. (2015). The mediating role of appearance comparisons in the relationship between media usage and self-objectification in young women. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0361684315581841.
  15. Ferris, A. L., Smith, S. W., Greenberg, B. S., & Smith, S. L. (2007). The content of reality dating shows and viewer perceptions of dating. Journal of Communication, 57, 490–510. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2007.00354.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Flynn, M., Park, S., Morin, D., & Stana, A. (2015). Anything but real: Body idealization and objectification of MTV docusoap characters. Sex Roles, 72, 173–182. doi: 10.1007/s11199-015-0464-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fox, J., Ralston, R., Cooper, C., & Jones, K. (2014). Sexualized avatars lead to women’s self-objectification and acceptance of rape myths. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0361684314553578.
  18. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. (1997). Objectification theory: Toward understanding women’s lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21, 173–206. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1997.tb00108.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Frisby, C. M., & Aubrey, J. S. (2012). Race and genre in the use of sexual objectification in female artists’ music videos. The Howard Journal of Communications, 23, 66–87. doi: 10.1080/10646175.2012.641880.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Gervais, S., Vescio, T., & Allen, J. (2012). When are people interchangeable sexual objects? The effect of gender and body type on sexual fungibility. British Journal of Social Psychology, 51, 499–513. doi: 10.1111/j.2044-8309.2010.02016.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gordon, M.K., and Ward, L.M. (2000). I’m beautiful, therefore I’m worthy: Assessing associations between media use and adolescents’ self-worth. Paper presented at the biennial meeting of the Society for Research on Adolescence, Chicago.Google Scholar
  22. Grabe, S., & Hyde, J. S. (2009). Body objectification, MTV, and psychological outcomes among female adolescents. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 2840–2858. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2009.00552.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grabe, S., Ward, L. M., & Hyde, J. S. (2008). The role of the media in body image concerns among women: A meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 460–476. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.134.3.460.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hatton, E., & Trautner, M. (2011). Equal opportunity objectification? The sexualization of men and women on the cover of rolling stone. Sexuality and Culture, 15, 256–278. doi: 10.1007/s12119-011-9093-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Johnson, V., & Gurung, R. (2011). Defusing the objectification of women by other women: The role of competence. Sex Roles, 65, 177–188. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0006-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Kim, J. L., Sorsoli, C. L., Collins, K., Zylbergold, B. A., Schooler, D., & Tolman, D. A. (2007). From sex to sexuality: Exposing the heterosexual script on primetime television network. Journal of Sex Research, 44, 145–157. doi: 10.1080/00224490701263660.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Kline, R. B. (2011). Principles and practice of structural equation modeling (3rd ed.). New York: Guilford Publications.Google Scholar
  28. Lindberg, S., Hyde, J. S., & McKinley, N. (2006). A measure of objectified body consciousness for preadolescent and adolescent youth. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 65–76. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00263.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Liss, M., Erchull, M., & Ramsey, L. (2011). Empowering or oppressing? Development and exploration of the enjoyment of sexualization scale. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37, 55–68. doi: 10.1177/0146167210386119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Little, T. D., Cunningham, W., Shahar, G., & Widaman, K. (2002). To parcel or not to parcel: Exploring the question, weighing the merits. Structural Equation Modeling, 9, 151–173. doi: 10.1207/S15328007SEM0902_1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Lucas, K., & Sherry, J. L. (2004). Sex differences in video game play: A communication-based explanation. Communication Research, 31, 499–523. doi: 10.1177/009365024267930.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mahalik, J., Locke, B., Ludlow, L., Diemer, M., Scott, R., Gottfried, M., & Freitas, G. (2003). Development of the conformity to masculine norms inventory. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 4, 3–25. doi: 10.1037/1524-9220.4.1.3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Martin, K. A., & Kazyak, E. (2009). Hetero-romantic love and heterosexiness in children’s G-rated films. Gender and Society, 23, 315–336. doi: 10.1177/0891243209335635.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. McKenney, S., & Bigler, R. (2014). Internalized sexualization and its relation to sexualized appearance, body surveillance, and body shame among early adolescent girls. Journal of Early Adolescence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0272431614556889.
  35. McKinley, N., & Hyde, J. S. (1996). The objectified body consciousness scale: Development and validation. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 181–215. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1996.tb00467.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Messineo, M. (2008). Does advertising on black entertainment television portray more positive gender representations compared to broadcast networks? Sex Roles, 59, 752–764. doi: 10.1007/s11199-008-9470-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Montemurro, B. (2003). Not a laughing matter: Sexual harassment as “material” on workplace-based situation comedies. Sex Roles, 48, 433–445. doi: 10.1023/A:1023578528629.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Moradi, B., & Huang, Y. (2008). Objectification theory and psychology of women: A decade of advances and future directions. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 32, 377–398. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.00452.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Morrison, T., & Halton, M. (2009). Buff, tough, and rough: Representations of muscularity in action motion pictures. Journal of Men’s Studies, 17, 57–74. doi: 10.3149/jms.1701.57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Morry, M., & Staska, S. (2001). Magazine exposure: Internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes, and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 33, 269–279. doi: 10.1037/h0087148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Motion Picture Association of America [MPAA]. (2014). Theatrical market statistics. Retrieved from
  42. Noll, S., & Fredrickson, B. (1998). A meditational model linking self-objectification, body shame, and disordered eating. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 22, 623–636. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.1998.tb00181.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nowatzki, J., & Morry, M. (2009). Women’s intentions regarding, and acceptance of, self-sexualizing behavior. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 33, 95–107. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2008.01477.x.
  44. Paik, H., & Comstock, G. (1994). The effects of television violence on antisocial behavior: A meta-analysis. Communication Research, 21, 516–546. doi: 10.1177/009365094021004004.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Pope, H., Olivarida, R., Borowiecki, J., & Cohane, G. (2001). The growing commercial value of the male body: A longitudinal survey of advertising in women’s magazines. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 70, 189–192. doi: 10.1159/000056252.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Rice, L. (2015). Most watched cable programs. Retrieved from
  47. Rohlinger, D. (2002). Eroticizing men: Cultural influences on advertising and male objectification. Sex Roles, 46, 61–74. doi: 10.1023/A:1016575909173.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Slater, A., & Tiggemann, M. (2014). Media exposure, extracurricular activities, and appearance-related comments as predictors of female adolescents’ self-objectification. Psychology of Women Quarterly. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1177/0361684314554606.
  49. Smith, S. L., Choueiti, M., Prescott, A., Piper, K., and The Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, USC. (2012). Gender roles and occupations: A look at character attributes and job-related aspirations in film and television. Marina Del Rey, CA: Geena Davis Institute.Google Scholar
  50. Smolak, L., Murnen, S., & Myers, T. (2014). Sexualizing the self: What college women and men think about and do to be “sexy”. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 38, 379–397. doi: 10.1177/0361684314524168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tiggemann, M., & Slater, A. (2015). The role of self-objectification in the mental health of early adolescent girls: Predictors and consequences. Journal of Pediatric Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1093/jpepsy/jsv021.
  52. Towbin, M., Haddock, S., Zimmerman, T., Lund, L., & Tanner, L. (2003). Images of gender, race, age, and sexual orientation in Disney feature-length animated films. Journal of Feminist Family Therapy, 15(4), 19–44. doi: 10.1300/J086v15n04_02.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vaes, J., Paladino, P., & Puvia, E. (2011). Are sexualized women complete human beings? Why men and women dehumanize sexually objectified women. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41, 774–785. doi: 10.1002/ejsp.824.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2012). Understanding sexual objectification: A comprehensive approach toward media exposure and girls’ internalization of beauty ideals, self-objectification, and body surveillance. Journal of Communication, 62, 869–887. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-2466.2012.01667.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2013). Sexualization of adolescent boys: Media exposure and boys’ internalization of appearance ideals, self-objectification, and body surveillance. Men and Masculinities, 16, 283–306. doi: 10.1177/1097184X13477866.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Vandenbosch, L., & Eggermont, S. (2015). The role of mass media in adolescents’ sexual behaviors: Exploring the explanatory value of the three-step self-objectification process. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 44, 729–742. doi: 10.1007/s10508-014-0292-4.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Vandenbosch, L., Vervloessem, D., & Eggermont, S. (2013). “I might get your heart racing in my skin-tight jeans”: Sexualization on music entertainment television. Communication Studies, 64, 178–194. doi: 10.1080/10510974.2012.755640.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Vandenbosch, L., Muise, A., Eggermont, S., & Impett, E. (2015). Sexualizing reality television: Associations with trait and state self-objectification. Body Image, 13, 62–66. doi: 10.1016/j.bodim.2015.01.003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Visser, B., Sultani, F., Choma, B., & Pozzebon, J. (2014). Enjoyment of sexualization: Is it different for men? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 44, 495–504. doi: 10.1111/jasp.12241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Ward, L. M. (1995). Talking about sex: Common themes about sexuality in the prime-time television programs children and adolescents view most. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 24, 595–615. doi: 10.1007/bf01537058.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Ward, L. M., & Carlson, C. (2013). Modeling meanness: Associations between reality TV consumption, perceived realism, and adolescents’ social aggression. Media Psychology, 16, 371–389. doi: 10.1080/15213269.2013.832627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Ward, L. M., Rivadeneyra, R., Thomas, K., Day, K., & Epstein, M. (2012). A woman’s worth: Analyzing the sexual objectification of black women in music videos. In E. Zurbriggen & T.-A. Roberts (Eds.), The sexualization of girls and girlhood: Causes, consequences, and resistance (pp. 39–62). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Zurbriggen, E., Ramsey, L., & Jaworski, B. (2011). Self- and partner-objectification in romantic relationships: Associations with media consumption and relationship satisfaction. Sex Roles, 64, 449–462. doi: 10.1007/S11199-011-9933-4.PubMedPubMedCentralCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • L. Monique Ward
    • 1
  • Rita C. Seabrook
    • 1
  • Adriana Manago
    • 2
  • Lauren Reed
    • 1
  1. 1.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Western Washington UniversityBellinghamUSA

Personalised recommendations