The Relationship Among Identity Development, Sociocultural Ideals of Beauty, and Self-Objectification Among Females in Early Adulthood

Hillary Lambert, George Fox University


The sexualization of women and girls in Western society has been widely studied and has been shown to contribute to a number of different negative outcomes for women, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety disorders, and low self-esteem. Two prominent theories have emerged to explain how sexualization leads to pathology. Sociocultural theory states that women internalize unrealistic ideals of beauty obtained through media outlets and interpersonal interactions. Likewise, self-objectification theory states that women are socialized to view themselves as objects to be evaluated and looked at by others and incorporate these ideals into their view of self. Because identity achievement is a significant protective factor against psychological distress in early adulthood, the objective of the current study is to explore the relationships among self-objectification and the internalization of societal ideals of beauty in relation to Marcia's four facets of identity development (diffusion, moratorium, foreclosure, identity achievement). The first hypothesis was that identity achievement would be significantly and negatively correlated with both self-objectification and internalization of societal ideals of attractiveness. The second hypothesis was that identity moratorium would be significantly and positively correlated with both self-objectification and internalization scales. One hundred seventy-nine females between 18 and 26 years completed the Extended Objective Measure of Ego Identity Status, the Societal Attitudes Towards Attractiveness Questionnaire, and the Body Surveillance scale of the Objectified Body Consciousness Scale. Pearson R correlations indicated no significant relationships between identity achievement and self-objectification or internalization, suggesting that even women who have developed a strong sense of identity may still be susceptible to objectifying messages. Results also indicated that women who endorsed higher levels of identity moratorium endorsed higher levels of internalization of societal view of beauty. Without a clear sense of identity, these women are more likely to utilize societal messages to construct an understanding of self and may be at a greater risk of body image difficulties. These findings suggest that focusing on identity development in order to protect against self-objectification may not be a productive approach, as none of the identity statuses, including identity achievement, showed a negative relationship with self-objectification.